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Cold weather, holiday schedules wreak havoc with garbage collection

Waste collection in the townships was delayed last week because of the extreme cold weather, leaving garbage bags and bins on the roadsides over the New Year’s weekend until pickup Tuesday. The delays were further compounded by the scheduled breaks in service because of the holidays, which pushed back by a day all garbage collection in the region.

“The holiday times are always a little bit challenging for us with waste collection because we deal with higher volumes – people have lots of company, so that tends to slow things down,” said Cari Rastas-Howard, project manager for waste collection services for the region. “And unfortunately, we had a couple extra challenges going on with the weather, and particularly the cold.”

The region, as well as the province, was hit by severe cold weather last week as temperatures routinely dipped below the minus-30C mark with wind chill, causing Environment Canada to issue several extreme cold weather alerts.

“The weather is always a challenge at this time of year. … When we get those cold, negative temperatures, we have to allow for longer breaks and for the workers to be able to sit inside their trucks to warm up,” said Rastas-Howard.

Besides the cold weather, the waste collection services may have had a shortage of workers over the week.

“From what I understand, from also speaking with [region] staff, we’ve also heard that they had some people call in sick following the holiday, so unfortunately that’s a challenge all employers have to deal with,” she said, adding that the region would be bringing this up in talks with the waste collection contractors.

With Christmas falling on a Monday last week, waste collection was scheduled to start a day later than usual, on December 26, and run until Saturday. However, inclement weather at the start of the week prevented collectors from making all their stops on Tuesday, she explained, and the delays spilled over into subsequent days.

“There were a few neighbourhoods that were not completed [on Tuesday], and then there was a snowballing effect,” she said of the delays that added up.

Collection trucks tried to catch up over the week, but households normally scheduled for waste pickup on Friday, principally in the northern half of Woolwich township in Elmira, West Montrose and Floradale, were not reached by the end of Saturday. With the Region’s landfill closed and unstaffed on Sunday, and Monday being New Year’s Day, collections for the remaining houses were scheduled for Tuesday instead.

“I’m not happy about the delays. And I can understand that things happen, and sometimes there’s a delay,” said Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz, the township’s representative on regional council, giving an example of the delays scheduled for Christmas and New Year’s, which she said were reasonable.

“[But] to be three days later seems very unreasonable. … And I do know that the region is definitely working with the contractor to try and make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Apart from the townships, the tri-cities also experienced delays in garbage collections last week, with some households that typically had garbage collected on Fridays not receiving collection services at all. Rather than try to catch up on the missed homes, the region is instead asking them to hold onto their waste for collection the following week to avoid further delays.

Waste collection in the townships is organized by the region, which in turn contracts the service out to a third-party. The collection for this Christmas and New Year’s was handled by a newly hired company, Emterra Environmental, which was awarded the contract in March 2017.

“Anytime an area gets missed, we do have clauses within our contract, and there are financial penalties for the company,” said Rastas-Howard. “So we’ll be meeting to discuss those as well, and they will be receiving some financial penalties because their performance was not up to the standard that the region expects.”

However, Rastas-Howard added that the ultimate responsibility for the program was with the region itself.

“Quite honestly, most of our residents have been very understanding, so we really do appreciate that. So one of the things we want to express to the community is we completely understand their frustration, particularly when everyone’s collection has already been bumped a day because of the holiday,” she said.

“At the same time, we do understand that we have a responsibility to our community. So we’ve already got some post-assessment meetings to discuss with them how we can prevent this from happening in the future, whether it’s additional trucks, additional staffing, things like that.”

Geoff Coulson, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, noted that the extreme weather could be even worse for waste collectors working on the back of a moving truck.

“They are in many cases on a moving vehicle so they’re feeling the wind forces even more so than you would be if you were standing still,” he said. “Certainly this is something that, the longer you’re exposed to these very cold conditions, the more increased chance there could be of things like frostnip and frostbite, especially to extremities.”

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