Monday, September 5, 2011

Missed Garbage Pickups - Old Problem, New Hassle

Previously, if your garbage was not picked up you could call directly to the responsible department. They would send a truck that afternoon or in the morning. Now, however, with the city's implementation of the "convenient" 3-1-1 number, things have gotten inconvenient.

Here's what the city says about this situation on its web site:
My garbage (or recycling) wasn't picked up on my regular collection day - who should I call? Call 3-1-1 (or 604.873.7000 from outside Vancouver) to report any missed pickups. Please provide your address, a daytime phone number, what time your recycling was set out, and whether it was just your home or the entire block that was missed.

That is the information we've always been asked, and seems completely reasonable. However, the website doesn't mention that the 311 operators will also interrogate you intensely and try to give you a scolding.

On August 31, the garbage was not picked up on our block, when we got home it was too late to call. The morning of September 1, I gave the man who answered the 311 line my name, address, phone number, and the information that I had set my garbage out the night before the pickup date and that it was the whole block that was skipped - seven cans. He then asked me if the lid of my can was closed, if it was overfilled, and if there a metre (3 feet) of space on each side of my cans. I went out to look at the can placement, and when I came back he asked me if there was also a meter in front and in back of the can. I said that there were cans all up and down the block placed just as they were every week and that nobody's can had been picked up - wasn't that enough information already? He said no, it wasn't. I said I was sorry, but I couldn't answer any more questions, that I had to go to work now. The garbage on the block wasn't picked up that day, and when I called back the next morning the woman who answered said there was no record of his ever having put in my request.

She asked me the questions again, and at last told me that I couldn't expect the garbage to be picked up that day or the next, because the city had three working days from the date the report was filed to pick up missed collections. Because of the statutory holiday coming up, three working days from the date she accepted the request would have been six days from the date it should have been picked up.

This is no small inconvenience, I explained, because our block doesn't have back laneways, the cans sit on the other side of parked cars, in the middle of the street, where they are vulnerable to being hit by speeders and have to be moved for people to park and to drive away. She said that possibly the city might pick up the garbage sooner, but it might not, that they had three working days, so we should keep putting the cans out every day that was not a holiday, just in case.

I talked to other neighbours and at least two of them also called 311. One of them was told that the garbage "might" be picked up the next morning (only two days late). It was.

This incident would have been way less frustrating if 311 operators were not standing in the way of our discussion with someone actually at the responsible department. Our block often gets skipped for garbage pickup for some reason, and the dispatchers at the department certainly know that. In the past, they were always able to give us a specific pickup time for correcting that mistake. Loading the 311 operators up with the mandate to teach a catechism and a rigid attitude about it is not helpful - it just feels like giving the ratepayers a hard time. According to one auntie, "Nowadays, they are always making everything be your fault."

Mattress, TV and Computer Dumping

The laneways in Mt. Pleasant have become chronic dumping sites for old televisions, mattresses, other electronics, and broken furniture and clothes.

The city has washed its hands of picking up bulky items from residents, so there's currently no help there. Personally, I think the health and environmental needs of the city would warrant having these large and fairly dangerous items picked up as part of city service. Having regular pickup dates by the city would also be the most efficient way to deal with them. However, if we want that kind of service restored, it will presumably require a householders' campaign directed at city council.

At present, there is a patchwork of drop-off points where we are supposed to take different kinds of items. For mattresses, the city has now imposed a $20 per mattress drop-off fee. According to Vancouver's solid waste website:

The City will NOT pick up your old mattress or appliance. Vancouver residents can drop off a maximum of 4 mattresses and boxsprings at the Vancouver Transfer Station at 377 West Kent Avenue North. A $20 per unit piece applies to cover the cost of recycling. Residents may also drop off up to 8 mattresses and box spring at the Vancouver Landfill in Delta, where the same $20 per piece fee applies.

Dropping off mattresses will of course require use of a truck - something not too many people have these days. This has opened up a private sector recycling opportunity for people who do have trucks. Canadian Mattress Recycling on Annacis Island in Delta only charges $12 per mattress recycling fee, but they charge $60 pickup in the lower mainland. The pickup fee covers up to ten mattresses at a time.

If you'd like to keep a mattress that is suspected to have bedbugs instead of throwing it in the lane, you can buy a bedbug-proof mattress cover. In Mt. Pleasant, Parker's Mattress Factory Store sells both the bug-proof covers and new mattresses.

Televisions are an especially obnoxious thing to find in the lane. Often after they sit there a week or more, someone will find it irresistible to kick or batter them to pieces, leaving not only glass debris but also Electronic circuit boards, batteries and color cathode ray tubes (CRTs) that can contain lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium. If properly recycled, they can yield a harvest of plastic, steel, glass, and even precious metals.

In Mt. Pleasant, our nearest electronics recycling location for both televisions and all kinds of computers and computer accessories is the Salvation Army's 12th Avenue Thrift Store: 261 E. 12th Avenue.,261+E+12th+Ave,+Vancouver,+BC+V5T+3L1&gl=ca&ei=XxtlTrCRAs7diALo3PTKCg&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CBcQ8gEwAA

This Salvation Army Thrift Store electronics recycling centre is tricky to get to - it's actually behind the Vancouver Recovery Club, and you have to go through the laneway north of 12th to get to the drop-off location.

However, the good news is that you can drive a vehicle into a paved area inside the fence, so it's not far to carry your items. There is a separate bay for electronics recycling drop-off, and the caretaker there tends to be irritable if you don't put your own drop-off items in the correct pile or bin. TVs were going into a bin when I was there last time.