Public engagement could be ‘really difficult’ as county moves toward its zero-waste goal
Digging into public participation for Simcoe County’s solid waste management strategy got the green light from its councillors Tuesday.
County staff got the initial go-ahead to implement a plan to let residents have their say about the long-term strategy.
But it’s likely to be a challenge.
“It’s really difficult, I think, to get people out to any kind of engagement, let alone for waste,” said Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin.
Simcoe County’s solid waste management strategy is updated every five years and outlines actions taken to date, how to involve the public and key milestones. It’s to improve waste diversion programs, make progress toward zero waste and waste prevention, and to address processing and garbage disposal needs for the next 20 years.
The first round of public engagement would take place online in November 2020; this would assist with understanding consumer-driven lifestyles in the county and collect high-level information about what residents feel is important in the future of waste in Simcoe County.
The second round would be in April 2021 and is proposed for in-person engagements, pending the COVID-19 situation. These sessions would offer options and initiatives that would form the solid waste management strategy. Residents would have an opportunity to provide feedback before the strategy is finalized in June 2021.
But Tiny Township Deputy Mayor Steffen Walma doesn’t see the two meetings as necessarily compatible.
“When I think about that, I think you’re going to get two very different audiences,” he said. “The people that generally show up in-person are not the same people that are going to show up on-line. And I see that as potential conflict.”
County staff said online engagement could be done in April 2021 as well and there might not be much choice, depending on the pandemic. Councillors were also told the strategy right now is only a general outline of a plan, and that the actual plan has not yet been designed.
The review and update is, in part, to shift focus back to Simcoe County’s goal of waste prevention and reduction.
A facility service level study undertook a series of data collection exercises, including more than 1,500 completed user surveys, to identify improvements to facilities — which could include modifying hours of service, materials accepted, traffic flow, site layout, signs and potentially the development of new facilities.
Waste management is an essential service and the county says it must explore opportunities and initiatives beyond traditional waste management, including a focus on prevention and reduction.
The county still faces a number of challenges in waste management, staff say, including its diversion rate remaining relatively stagnant. Preliminary results of garbage collection frequency have increased organics diversion, but it’s difficult to distinguish what change is attributed to the program change versus the pandemic.
The per capita waste generation rate has increased since 2010, averaging +2 per cent per year, which doesn’t meet the county council-approved target of a minimum one per cent annual decrease. An increasing population is also a challenge.
Remaining landfill capacity in Ontario, and elsewhere, is diminishing — with the county’s landfills estimated to be closed by 2027, according to pre-pandemic estimates. Required changes at county sites during 2020 will most likely result in earlier landfill closures and earlier requirements to export 100 per cent of county generated waste.
And the 2018 curbside audit indicated that 65 per cent of material found in a typical residential garbage bag could have been diverted, and 50 per cent of it could have gone to the green bin.