December 17, 2008

New push for rural garbage collection

As published in The Erin Advocate

I am tired of driving to the dump.

Of course, I know it is not really a dump, just a transfer station on top of a old dump, where I dump my trash into dumpsters, so big trucks can take it to Guelph and dump it into a modern sanitary landfill site.

The Hillsburgh Transfer Station really is a bit of a dump – crowded, inefficient and often very muddy. Wellington County quite properly treats it as a temporary location, since it sits atop an old landfill site that must eventually be properly capped and sealed off. But surely we could afford a layer of crushed stone, so people would not have to slide around in the muck.

I have made the 30-kilometre round trip every almost every Saturday for the last 23 years, and though now it is down to once every two weeks, I have still wasted a lot of gas and time. I would be willing to pay slightly more in taxes or fees to have my garbage picked up at the end of my driveway.

County Councillor Lou Maieron, who hosted a public meeting in Erin last week on waste issues, says I should not have to pay any more in taxes. He argues it would be possible to provide roadside collection of household waste and recyclables every two weeks to rural residents and maintain weekly collection for urban residents, by cutting back the functions of transfer stations.

They could be converted to recycling centres, open only one day a week, with a lot less staff. Regular trash would go direct to the landfill, while the local centres would accept bulky items, household hazardous waste and useable goods that could be re-sold at low cost.

“If you make it convenient, people will produce less garbage,” said Maieron. “Space in our landfills is precious – we can’t just fill them up.”

Several years ago, the County bought up the land surrounding the old Hillsburgh Landfill Site because of pollutants seeping underground. Recently, it sold the southern 41 acres of that land to the Town of Erin for $300,000, so the Barbour recreational complex can be expanded.

Maieron says the County-owned lands just to the north of the existing transfer station would be perfect for a new recycling centre or transfer station, since that type of land use is already accepted in the area.

He seems to have support in Erin, but the majority of county councillors do not agree with him on the cost-effectiveness rural pick-up. The County had hoped to serve both Erin and Guelph-Eramosa with a large transfer station near Ospringe, but opposition in Erin has put that plan on hold.

Alan McGeary of Erin, who last year organized a 1,400-name petition to keep the Hillsburgh Transfer Station open for now, applauded Maieron’s efforts to promote curbside collection and improve recycling.

“It is time for the county council to listen to the people who pay their salaries,” he said, earning a round of applause at the meeting.

I like Maieron’s plan, both for the convenience and the environmental benefits, but I think some rural people may object to only getting pickup only every two weeks, and may actually prefer to drive to the transfer station.

“Maybe municipalities should have a choice of service levels,” he said. “Living in the higher-assessed areas, we’re paying the ticket.”

The recently-ended rural collection pilot project found most residents in Minto were not interested in pick-up, since they have an excellent transfer station nearby, while those in Guelph-Eramosa appreciated the service, and will continue to get it, since they have no transfer station.

“The ice is cracked, with Guelph-Eramosa getting collection,” he said.

About 20 people attended the meeting, which was broadcast live on Erin Radio, and many said the waste service in Wellington County is very poor compared to neighboring regions. Some were skeptical that universal pick-up could be provided without an increase in taxes, especially since Maieron said he has been trying for years, without success, to find out the exact costs of running transfer stations.

Erin homeowners already pay an average of $4.50 per week through their property taxes for county waste services. Rural residents then pay $1 per bag at the transfer station (no charge for recyclables). Urban residents can pay $1.75 per bag for curbside pickup, but each week, hundreds of them opt to drive to the transfer station, saving 75 cents per bag.

You can let Maieron and other county officials know your opinion on current waste services, and what you hope to see in the future, by filling out a survey. Have it sent to you by contacting him at, or check the Town website,, where Mayor Rod Finnie hopes to have it available soon.