Southgate Does More with Less

Photo source: Southgate Township

Imagine a rural municipality with an automated cart collection system, bi-weekly garbage and recycling pickup, a robust compost program, two transfer stations, a diversion rate over 50% and 74 years left of landfill space…and a tax base of less than 3,000 households. The Township of Southgate has demonstrated that you don’t need to be a big player in the industry to push the envelope and small municipalities can, in fact, run effective waste diversion programs within their own staff and budget constraints. They do this by making capital investments that save in operating costs and pushing back on residents to do their part.

Southgate was a pioneer of automated cart collection, rolling out the system in 2003 (pun intended), which includes bi-weekly alternating garbage and recycling collection. Since it launched, it has had zero lost-time incidents and operates the entire curbside collection with just 2 vehicles that operate a combined total of 6 days  per week.

Beyond that, the system is designed to squeeze as much diversion as possible out of each lift. The green carts are a hefty 240L capacity, and residents may fill them with both kitchen food waste and yard waste. The extra capacity allows residents to use their green carts for garden trimmings and Southgate gets valuable carbon rich yard waste for their composting facility without having a separate collection system. As for the blue carts, the 240L size comes standard, but residents can upgrade to 360L carts for free if they need the extra room. Southgate asks residents to crush their bottles and cans to fully maximize the containers. These strategies add up to fewer lifts by the collection truck, saving time on the collection route and wear and tear on the equipment.

Instead of relying heavily on promotion and education efforts, Southgate has found simple ways to place fair but firm expectations on their residents. For “missed” collections, they installed cameras on each truck to record the day’s events and remove the ‘he-said-she-said’ factor from missed collection calls. For less than $900 per truck, the cameras have greatly reduced the times the driver has gone back to an address, and the number of collection inquiries, to about once per week. For new builds, or when people move in to discover the carts have disappeared, a new cart bundle now costs residents $250 (one grey, green and blue cart, and one kitchen container), offsetting some of the costs of maintaining an automated system and encouraging residents to take ownership of their participation.

Southgate has shown having a small population need not correlate to a small diversion rate and it continues to make investments in the system. In 2016 a compactor was purchased for their remaining active landfill. Seven years ago, Southgate’s landfill life was estimated to be about 54 years – a healthy figure among Ontario landfills. Today, with improvements to its diversions programs, they’re looking at 74 years remaining in landfill life. With a compactor and some other improvements to the site, staff are hopeful to see that number rise into the triple digits.

It’s a lofty goal to have – 100 years of landfill space – but, if any small municipality is capable, it’s Southgate.