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Pilot for Calgary black bin use takes next step forward

Citizens in some Calgary neighbourhoods may soon get the chance to save cash by limiting the use of their black bin.

Councillors heard a plan during Wednesday’s Utilities and Corporate Services committee meeting for a 2021-2022 pilot project that would see the city track black bin usage with radio frequency identification (RFID).

Kate Trajan, leader of strategic planning and policy with Waste and Recycling at the City of Calgary, took committee members through the variable set out proposal, which would see customers billed only when their cart was put out on the curb or in the alleyway for collection.

“The pilot that we’re proposing is set to answer a question for us. Is this a beneficial program for Calgary? And, when we say it is beneficial, we wonder, is it going to actually save our customers money and is it going to work well for our customers, and is it going to help us divert waste,” Trajan said.

Black bin pre-pilot through 2021

Through next year and into 2021, the city will pre-pilot the idea and gather specific information on customer behaviour. While this is happening, the city’s fleet trucks will be outfitted with data collection technology that eliminates paper tracking in waste and recycling vehicles.

Should the full pilot be approved, a database and billing system would need to be set up, perfected and then the system would be rolled out in select Calgary communities. The cost for the pre-pilot is estimated at $140,000, while the billing and database/billing system has a cost of between $800,000 and $1.1 million.

Trajan said driver have no idea how much is in any one bin, though recent information shows that 40 per cent of black bins are less than half full upon pick up.

“So, they have to stop at every cart that’s out in the alleyway even if there’s nothing in it, or there’s one small bag in the bottom and that’s not a great use of our of our time or resources,” she said.

“Putting a price on each time you put your cart out for collection would be to encourage people to pull those empty carts back and really only put them out when there’s enough material to make it worth it.”

Coun. Farkas skeptical of cost-benefit

Coun. Jeromy Farkas worried there wouldn’t be a significant return on this investment in either city savings or reduced cost for citizens.

“I am a bit skeptical, to be honest. When I take a look at what those ramp up costs would be, to get this even piloted for just a year, I come to a place where I question whether or not it’s valuable at this time to go down this road,” Farkas said.

Farkas did say his office has fielded many calls from constituents suggesting they shouldn’t be paying as much if they don’t put their bins out.

“The idea for this program is addressing the households such as the ones that are calling your office, who put very little garbage in, and how do we reward them, and again reflect the small amounts of garbage that they’re that they’re putting out,” said Trajan.

“And this is an attempt to address that.”

There’s no information yet on the savings citizens might see with this program. Should this plan meet city council’s approval a report would be produced for the first half of 2021 on proposed pilot communities, rates and funding plan.