Winnipeg's long-awaited plan to roll out new garbage bins is finally in the can.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/9/2012 (3117 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg's long-awaited plan to roll out new garbage bins is finally in the can.

On Monday, Winnipeggers will swap their old garbage cans and blue boxes for automated garbage and recycling carts. Crews will start cart collection and yard-waste pickup for 190,000 locations city-wide next week -- the biggest change in Winnipeg's garbage and recycling collection since curbside blue boxes were rolled out in 1995. Set days of the week will replace the old schedule, and city residents will have tree clippings and grass trimmings picked up every other week.

An old garbage can and new garbage bin. Oscar the Grouch seems happy with the change.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS PHOTO ILLUSTRATION

An old garbage can and new garbage bin. Oscar the Grouch seems happy with the change.

The changeover comes one year after city council approved a garbage and recycling overhaul that aims to improve the city's dismal trash-diversion rates. Only about 15 per cent of all waste is diverted away from landfills -- one of the lowest rates in the country -- and the move is expected to increase the diversion rate to more than 50 per cent over the next decade.

But the transition may not be a smooth one. Last month, 24,000 households switched from autobins to automated carts, prompting a surge in illegal dumping and delayed pickups. Operators missed two out of three garbage pickups for dozens of residents in the former autobin areas, and there was confusion among residents in other parts of the city, who mistakenly put the carts out on the street.

Solid-waste manager Darryl Drohomerski said he expects things will be different this time around, since the city will not have to simultaneously introduce a new system and take an old one out. However, collection crews will be driving new garbage and recycling trucks on new routes, which may cause some initial delays.

"We're going to have a bit of hiccups as (operators) learn the routes and people get used to putting their carts out on the day they're supposed to," Drohomerski said, noting residents in the city's northwest complained it took longer to get their garbage removed when the carts were first introduced in 2010. "We're expecting to have a bit of delays in collection."

If residents find their carts have not been emptied by 8 p.m. on their collection day, they should bring their carts in from the curb and phone 311, Drohomerski said. Crews will pick them up the following day.

Winnipeg awarded Emterra a five-year, $59.5-million contract to collect the city's garbage, recycling and yard waste. Emterra business-development manager Paulina Leung said the problems encountered during the August rollout in the autobin areas will make them better prepared for the city-wide overhaul. She said crews have been training every weekend to learn and refine the new collection routes and schedules to ensure they're ready for the Oct. 1 launch.

"People have to get used to changing their entire recycling and garbage habits: the day they put stuff out, how they put stuff out, what they put out. It's a learning curve for all of us," Leung said.

A fleet of 60 new collection trucks that run solely on natural gas will roll out on city streets next week. More than half of the trucks have a side arm that automatically picks up a cart and empties it. The others are rear-loaders, which need crews to load the carts at the back before they're emptied.

Leung said the trucks are equipped with technology that will scan each cart. She said the city could use the data to target educational or other interventions in certain neighbourhoods. Switching from diesel to natural gas is cheaper and will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 20 per cent, which adds up to about 2,000 metric tonnes of C02 over the next five years.

The city said it has already seen the environmental benefit of the cart system.

Neighbourhoods in the city's northwest were the first to test the new garbage carts in 2010. After one year, the area saw the amount of waste sent to landfill drop by nearly 11,000 metric tonnes compared with the previous year.

Despite a slew of problems introducing the carts in the former autobin areas, Drohomerski said the number of households that recycle has nearly doubled. Previously, area residents did not recycle much, in part because of the convenience of the big bulky bin in the back lane.

That changed in the first week of the cart system, when more than 90 per cent of people put out a recycling cart. Previously, between 40 to 50 per cent of area residents participated in the city's blue box program.

"We've seen a phenomenal increase," Drohomerski said, noting cities such as Calgary, Vancouver, Fargo, Minneapolis and Toronto have been successful at increasing recycling with the carts. "Really what these things have done is drive the amount of recycling up."

While other areas of Winnipeg already have a large number of people who recycle, Drohomerski expects the city will see a surge in the volume of recyclables in the coming weeks. The 240-litre carts hold the equivalent of four blue boxes.

Residents will pay 14 cents a day for the collection changes, which adds up to $50 a year. The fee, which will be tacked on to water bills, will go into a special account for waste minimization efforts to offset the cost of additional services.

The city plans to expand its recycling-processing capacity, create "resource-recovery centres" where construction materials can be dropped off in 2013, and start a kitchen-waste collection pilot project in 2014.

Public works chairman Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) said problems are likely to arise any time there's a big conversion, but he expects next week's switch will be smoother than changes in the autobin areas. However, he said he wants to see the city's administration do a better job of sorting out problems with automated carts for rooming homes in Winnipeg's older neighbourhoods.

Vandal said the city has assigned carts to residents in each household, which has caused problems in homes divided into seven suites or less. There is not enough room to line the carts up in the back lane, he said, and in many cases, there is no need for so many carts.

The city has agreed to remove some of the unnecessary carts at the request of residents, but administration still plans to tack the new fees on to their water bill. Vandal said he will bring forward a motion at council's public works committee for a new policy to reasonably accommodate residents in these situations so they will not be charged for a collection service they don't use.

"We can't be telling people we're going to take your cart, but we're going to charge you anyway," he said.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca