I hadn’t paid attention to the matter until recently, but apparently the city of Montreal has a problem with its recycling bins.
Actually, a few problems.
The first is that after prolonged use they tended to crack and break. That’s okay though, the recycling bins themselves are recyclable, and there are new, stronger bins like the one above (after three years of use, it’s dirty, but completely intact).
The second is that they’re difficult to carry outside, requiring the use of both hands. More of an annoyance to everyone else really, requiring them to put the bin down as they open and close doors (or awkwardly wedge the bin against something to free up the other hand). But for people with limited mobility, it’s a more serious problem.
Finally, the most pressing issue, it seemed, was that papers and light containers would fly out of the recycling bins and litter the surrounding streets. Though I’m pretty good about packing my bin and haven’t seen any of my recyclables tumbling down the street, my job at the coop I live in requires me to clean up the front yard on a nearly daily basis, and it’s obvious that garbage is piling up there from somewhere, most likely other green bins.
To solve all three of these problems, the city of Montreal has looked at three different solutions, which are being implemented in various boroughs. The city is studying each carefully to see which is more successful.
The first solution is this contraption, a redesign of the recycling bin that allows it to carry more stuff but also be carried with one hand, and be easily emptied by collection crews. It seemed perfect, and the city was really excited about it, so they started a pilot project in three boroughs.
Blue-collar workers quickly predicted that the redesigned bins wouldn’t last through the winter. Flexibility doesn’t mean much when you’re encased in ice, and the meshy sides of the container are just an invitation for a freeze-thaw cycle to permanently bond it to a snowbank.
Sure enough, in January, residents using the “bac-sac” (the city didn’t want people to call it that) complained that it was too high, too difficult to carry and would break easily. In fact, most of the ones on the street were already broken in some way, as this Canoe.tv video shows. Residents wanted their old bins back.
It’s a failure, but not one I feel too badly about. As predictable as it was, this is a pilot project, and you have to expect failures when you’re testing something new.
Hopefully the city will learn from this and design a new container that is more sturdy and easier to transport.
Thinking, I suppose, that bigger is better, the Saint-Laurent borough is testing a large recycling container on wheels that has a lid and can be easily (even automatically) picked up and emptied into recycling trucks. The fact that the bins are in some cases larger than their owners is a bit of an issue though. You can’t take them down a flight of stairs, so they have to stay outside at all times. That’s okay if you live in a single-family house, but in an apartment building in a high-density area, it’s a solution that doesn’t work.
The final solution to the garbage problem was to get rid of the idea of bins altogether and just have people put their recyclables in clear plastic bags. The Ville-Marie borough started this in 2007, and now the Plateau borough is climbing on board, with green guys Projet Montréal (who control the borough council) thinking it’s the best option as they announced their environment plans this week. The big containers won’t work in the dense borough, the bac-sac isn’t strong enough, and the garbage problem caused by the old bins can’t be left to continue.
An initial supply of bags will be handed out by June. After that, residents will need to buy their own bags, at a cost of between 10 and 50 cents a bag. Considering how people complained about the five cents a bag it costs for groceries, you can imagine how they’d feel about this. Some might decide they don’t want to pay for the bags and just hide their recyclables in garbage. Or a household might run out of the bags and decide to throw a few recyclables in the trash because they won’t be able to make a trip to the store for another day or two.
What’s more, the bags themselves aren’t recyclable. It’s just plain wasteful.
And, to top it all off, there are problems with this system that are just as predictable as the problems with the bac-sac. Crews can be confused between the recycling bags and the garbage bags. Poor people scavenging for refundable containers can rip open the bags to get at that soda can or two-litre bottle, leaving a big mess. Or the bags can get stuck in the ice.
Still, Luc Ferrandez and the Projet Montréal people are smart, and I respect their opinions on matters such as these. It’s very possible that this is an imperfect solution that is the lesser of many evils, and will only need to last a few years until a better one comes along. And statistics show that the boroughs using the bags (Ville-Marie and Verdun) show increased recycling by 10 to 15 per cent so far, which is pretty encouraging.
The short-term fix: more collection
Fortunately or unfortunately none of these have come to my borough yet, so we’re still using the little green bins that could, and I’m still picking up garbage every day from the front lawn.
I certainly am not crazy about this idea of plastic bags, and I think the bac-sacs still need a redesign. A large bin on wheels might work for the small apartment building I’m in, something I can empty recyclables into and wheel to the curb once a week.
But one solution to the problem of overflowing recycling bins would seem to me to be to just collect them more often. Instead of two garbage pickups and one recycling pickup a week, have two recycling pickups and one garbage pickup. I already have more recycling waste than pure garbage, and once a composting option becomes available to me that will become even more so.
Then again, it takes two minutes to clean up the front yard, and my recycling bin works just fine. So I’m not exactly losing sleep over it.