COLUMN: City garbage plan trashed

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it usually doesn’t solve problems.

At the moment, the City of Surrey has a big problem on its hands. The handover of the garbage and recycling pick-up contract to International Paper Industries on Jan. 1 has been anything but smooth. People have been waiting for days, in some cases more than a week, to have garbage and recycling picked up.

Rob Costanzo, city manager in charge of solid waste contracts, says now that Jan. 1 was probably not the best transition date. There are extra volumes of garbage due to Christmas; the pick-up schedule is out of whack because of more statutory holidays; and to top it off, the city instituted a new program for yard waste and changed the regular pick-up dates in many neighbourhoods.

This latter move was made due to Surrey’s growth. The city produces too much trash to be handled in four days.

In addition, Waste Management crews didn’t all show up for work at the very end of December. As the company had lost the contract, and many people who work for it are subcontractors, some said “Why bother?” This was particularly challenging on Monday, Dec. 31 – the first day of the pick-up week and the last day of the contract. It’s no surprise that the timing created problems.

City decision-makers probably aren’t aware that people can only accept so much change at any one time. This wholesale shift to a new contractor, new rules and new pick-up days, all at a time when most people are very busy with holidays, was too much.

The change may also have been too much for the new contractor. What Surrey may not have known is that IPI has taken on at least one other new contract, for the City of Langley, at exactly the same time.

That contract is much smaller than the Surrey one. However, the combination of the two put lots of pressure on IPI to have enough trucks and crews ready to hit the streets.

The company has taken on many more responsibilities quickly and it is obvious it hasn’t been able to handle them all in a smooth and efficient manner.

Last Saturday, I took a long walk through my corner of Surrey, and found garbage and recycling strewn all over the streets. This was due to high winds, crows and other scavengers, and improperly sealed trash containers.

The garbage was eventually picked up later that day – the day actually designated for pick-up, because of the New Year’s Day holiday. Pick-up was much later in the day than had been the case under the former contractor, Waste Management, but it was done on the day specified.

The recycling pick-up is another matter. Many people in my neighbourhood put their blue boxes out on Friday – actually a day early, but the correct day under the old contract.

Mine went out Saturday. After four days of no pick-up, I called the city’s designated garbage and recycling phone line, only to hear a recorded message stating that pick-up would not be on time, and that citizens should leave the full trash and recycling containers at curbside until at least Sunday.

The message from a pleasant-voiced city employee on the recording stated the city intends that garbage and recycling will be picked up on the proper day next week. Of course, that day is now different for many residents, now that the city has gone to a five-day pick-up schedule.

We will all have to wait and see what actually happens. But it seems very strange to me that the pick-up of recyclables is so far off schedule. How can the contractor, a longtime Surrey business which has specialized in recycling for years, be so unprepared to pick up recyclables?

How will everything automatically be back on schedule next week?

It’s far too early to lay blame. There were many factors at work here. But Surrey needs to very carefully monitor the garbage and recycling pick-up over the next few weeks. Citizens need to be prompt in calling in their concerns.

The garbage and recycling hotline number is 604-590-7289.


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