City could save a bundle if residents switched clear leaf bags to paper

Cathy Dobson

Sarnia’s new $7.9-million garbage contract contains numerous cost increases, but the biggest is a staggering 78% hike in the bill for yard waste collection.

That’s because Sarnia is one of the few Ontario cities in which residents can still use clear plastic bags to gather leaves and lawn clippings.

Each bag must be ripped open and emptied by hand at the St. Andrew Street composting site, and labour costs have skyrocketed. That’s due in large part to increases in Ontario’s minimum wage, said public works operations manager Bryan Prouse.

“It’s a difficult and smelly job and it’s hard to get people to stick it out down there,” he said.

Community Living clients once did the work, and temporary employees from a job service have been used in recent years.

“If – and it’s a big if – council chooses to eliminate debagging, the city would save about $225,000 a year,” Prouse said.

Such a move would require city residents to switch from clear plastic bags to paper bags for curbside collection of yard waste.

The large paper bags are available at local stores but cost considerably more — about 50 cents each compared to about 12 cents for plastic.

However, residents would collectively save by shaving nearly a quarter of a million dollars from the city budget.

Prouse said commercial yard waste bags made of paper are designed with double walls to resist moisture. Residents wouldn’t be allowed to substitute other paper bags should council go in that direction, he said.

City Hall already gets numerous complaints from irate residents upset when neighbours put their leaves out long before collection day, said Sarnia’s chief engineer Mike Berkvens.

More complaints would arise if thin paper bags that disintegrate in the rain were used, he said.

“Sometimes we get as many as 100 bags put out on the monster lots in the north end, and if they are out there days before pick-up on the street, it’s a major problem.”

Council approved the new four-year deal for curbside waste collection on May 28 but the contract doesn’t kick in until July of 2019.

Marcotte Disposal, the company that currently holds Sarnia’s garbage contract, was selected from nine proposals to collect everything but recyclables.

The contract includes an 8% increase for curbside bulk and waste collection, a 5% increase for Christmas tree collection, a 7% increase for brush collection, and the 78% increase for yard waste collection and debagging — unless the switch is made to paper bags.

That decision might wait until next year’s budget deliberations.

The new contract will provide Sarnians with four more yard waste collection days, for a total of 18 a year.  However, brush collection is cut to three from five pick-ups annually.

Marcotte has proposed a change in the process that could reduce what’s sent to landfill in Watford. The company will transport all garbage to a transfer site on McGregor Sideroad, then sort through it for large recyclable materials householders may have overlooked.

The recycling contract is expected to come up at council’s July 16 meeting. A much-talked-about phase-in of a food and organic waste ban isn’t anticipated until 2022.