North Cowichan is moving forward with plans to transition to automated-garbage collection, council decided at its meeting on Dec. 15.
As a result, the approximately 10,000 residential homes in the municipality will see a $15 increase in their waste-collection fee, from $111 to $126 per year, in 2022 to cover the costs associated with creating the implementation plan to allow for the transition to an automated-truck collection system in 2023.
But if council decides to go ahead with the transition to automated-garbage pick up after staff completes the implementation plan, which is expected to take from six to 12 months, residents can expect their garbage fees to increase more substantially in 2023, from $126 to approximately $182 per year, to allow for the purchase of the automated trucks and up to 30,000 bins that will be needed for the transition.
Council decided to move forward with the implementation plan after a survey was completed by more than 2,300 residents, with 66 per cent indicating they are in favour of an automated garbage pick-up system.
Residents in favour identified workers’ safety, larger carts, and better mobility as their justification.
Residents who did not favour the automated system identified the increased costs, difficulty of cart storage, and mobility/accessibility challenges as the main reasons they were opposed.
Mayor Al Siebring, who voted against the implementation plan along with Coun. Debra Toporowski at the council meeting, said he has had concerns with switching to automated-garbage pick up since it was first discussed earlier in 2021.
He said he tried to balance the increased costs of the transition against the health and safety of the municipal workers who pick up the garbage.
“I get that [there are more injuries with manual pick up], I really do, but we’ve looked at the budget numbers and we’re looking at the potential of tax increase in 2023 of over seven per cent, and I’m really struggling with putting the increased cost per household of this function on top of that,” Siebring said.
“Maybe the wise thing to do is to get one more cycle out of our conventional garbage trucks and maybe our budget lines will be more stabilized by then. Right now, we have all these increased costs in other areas that we can’t control and, at some point, our taxpayers will say ‘wait a minute’ when we compound all these costs together. That’s my concern. It’s not that I don’t like the plan, but I have to look at it in context of all the other stuff going on.”
If North Cowichan decides to move forward with automated-pick up after the implementation plan is completed, it would involve replacing the four aging manual garbage trucks the municipality uses for the curbside collection of residential garbage and organics with automated ones, which would allow the truck drivers to collect the garbage cans from inside the cab using a fully automated arm that tips into the truck hopper.
The existing manual collection system has resulted in significant cost to North Cowichan from injuries to staff, resulting in 116 lost work days in 2016 and 2017.
North Cowichan’s director of operations Shawn Cator said in May that another of the proposed program’s goals would be to increase resident participation and maximize the diversion of material from the landfill, and it’s believed the new system would help do so.
The estimated cost for the replacement of the existing four manual garbage trucks, which are already scheduled to be replaced over the next five years, is approximately $1,340,000, while the estimated cost for four automated-collection trucks is approximately $1,380,000, Cator said in May.