Photo C/O Grant Holt

I live in a twelve-bedroom student house. In a single week, we have, at minimum, between two and three large bags of garbage. So far, the city has taken our bags, but this will soon change once we run out of trash tags. While my crowded housing situation might be unique, many other students are in a similarly tight position in regards to Hamilton’s garbage and recycling policy.

Since 2010, Hamilton has had a one-bag per limit policy for homeowners. This means that the city will collect only one bag of trash during the weekly curbside collection, with no limits placed on the amount of recycling collected.

The policy was created to improve the city’s waste diversion efforts, with a goal to divert 65 per cent of residential garbage away from landfills by 2021. With the city’s waste diversion rate currently standing in the mid-40 per cent, it is evident that there is still much work to be done.

The policy has undergone several revisions since its initial implementation but has stayed firm in its one-bag limit. The most important revision has been the increase in available trash tags. If more than one garbage bag needs to be picked up for the week, the additional bags require trash tags.

Each household receives 12 trash tags and can request once per year, with no fee, up to 14 more. Once requested, no more trash tags can be ordered until the following year.

This translates to 26 additional bags of trash that can be collected per year. While this seems like a lot, that is not enough to sustain a house that produces at least two bags of trash per week for a year. Untagged bags of trash are not collected, so where does this excess trash go?

The city’s recommendation is that excess waste is dropped off at the nearest community recycling centre, with an associated fee. Unfortunately, many students lack the time, resources and finances to utilize these centres. What typically results then is either illegal dumping or the storing of excess waste somewhere in the household, with hopes that it will be collected during the next collection period.

Both alternatives have their consequences. Illegal dumping often counteracts any environmental benefits that a one-bag limit creates. While storing excess waste in one’s house can temporarily solve the issue, this can lead to a build-up of trash that has the potential to cause a number of health and safety concerns.

It is not feasible for large student households to greatly reduce their total waste to meet a one-bag limit. There ought to then be a balance between reaching the city’s waste-reduction goals and forcing students to look for alternative, costly means to dispose of their waste. Until changes are made, these issues will continue to plague the city.  

A complete elimination of the one-bag limit is not necessary; what should be developed is a special consideration for student households. A special consideration policy has already been developed for certain individuals that are likely to have more than one garbage bag every week.

Households that involve people with medical circumstances, families with two or more children under the age of four, registered home day cares, or agricultural businesses can apply for special consideration. Upon approval, these households are given extra trash tags that can be used on a need-be basis. By listing student households as one of the accepted special consideration cases, this can allow large student households to request additional support from the city as needed.  

While obviously the one-bag trash limit was founded with good intentions, it is ultimately an unrealistic policy for every student house to abide by. With the appropriate change, however, the city can continue to strive towards its environmental goals while accommodating its large student population.

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