By Chad Ingram
A survey regarding the waste disposal activities of the Township of Minden Hills has found that one of the things residents most want is better communication of landfill rules.
Councillors received a report on the survey, conducted in November, from waste facilities manager Tara Stephen during a Feb. 11 meeting. As Stephen noted, the survey had a fairly high rate of participation, with nearly 430 responses. Of the respondents, 60 per cent were seasonal residents, and 26 per cent of those seasonal residents indicated they had plans to transition their cottages into their year-round homes at some point in the future.
“This is going to have an interesting effect on our demographic,” Stephen said, noting that while currently the majority of Minden Hills residents are seasonal ones, that within a five-year window, the majority of residents could be year-round, with more year-round residents added in the years thereafter.
“As this population shifts, we just need to be aware, when we’re looking at our waste services, about whether or not the services we’re providing, and the way we’re providing them, are still doing a good job for the type of community we have,” Stephen said. “So we need to continually be assessing whether or not it’s appropriate to have people driving to waste sites to continue to dispose of their waste or we need to be changing the services in some way to keep people in their homes as they age into the end parts of their lives.”
Stephen said the survey results indicated the transition from seasonal residents to year-round residents for some was a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When we asked why people were relocating to the community, if they had been relocating to the community recently, a lot of them cited that changes in work arrangements, or a desire to get out of a heavily populated area prompted their move to the community,” she said. “So, we’re seeing COVID have a bit of an effect there on us, as a typically seasonal community.”
Seventy-five per cent of respondents indicated their household generates one bag of waste or less per week, with six per cent of respondents indicating they meet or exceed the township’s three-bag limit. There is a fee for more than three bags of waste.
“So that’s really good news, that means that in general people are taking advantage of all of the waste services that are available to them,” Stephen said.
She said the people who are using the three-bag limit are generating 15 per cent of the waste that goes into the landfill. “So there’s an opportunity there to maybe review our bag limit and drop it down a little bit, so that we can generate a revenue from this small percentage of the population, or encourage them to participate in the diversion programs,” she said. “And by doing that, if we just drop it to a two-bag limit, we’re not affecting 85 per cent of our population. So that’s one small action as a municipality that we could take to improve our waste performance and increase the long-term capacity of our landfill site.”
The survey found residents feel the township could be doing a much better job on making education materials about landfill procedures available.
“First of all, the bulk of the people who are trying to access information about waste services in Minden Hills are trying to do so through the website,” Stephen said. “And overwhelmingly, the feedback about the website was that it was not really usable, and that the information that was on it was unreliable and disorganized.”
Staff have taken time over the past year to improve the waste management section of the township website, Stephen said, but indicated there was still room for improvement. The township has also introduced use of the Waste Wizard app, which Stephen said has had high uptake.
Stephen said that 25 per cent of respondents said they relied on word of mouth to find out about the township’s waste disposal services, and 10 per cent indicated they relied on social media posts created by other people.
“And we don’t love this,” she said. “This is how misinformation gets spread, this is how we end up with people being very confused about what’s going on with their services. So what we need to do is focus on improving the quality of outreach as far as waste services go, to make sure people are confident in our communications, and can look to us for the information, rather than trying to get it from friends and neighbours and relatives.”
The survey asked residents how they’d like to receive information, and found support for the concept of an annual waste guide, which has been included in the department’s draft operating budget.
Under the topic of customer experience and service, “this is where the work is going to have to start for us,” Stephen said. Residents were asked to rank various service factors, from most important to least important. “We did wind up with the majority of the community saying that the most important thing to them was that the rules around waste management were easy to understand,” Stephen said. “And we have some work to do here.”
In the past, Stephen said rules have not been applied consistently, and the township has been working toward improving consistency, including new policies coming forward for council approval. “Part of getting the rules in a state where they’re easy for people to understand will be making sure that there are clear policies in place, that we consistently then follow.”
Stephen had converted the results into a grade score, and said the township would currently receive a C- for services performance standards.
“I would say there’s room for improvement, as you’ve pointed out, in a number of areas,” said Mayor Brent Devolin. “I think, most of us that have been around a few years, if we’d have done the same thing a couple of years ago, I’m not sure we’d have even gotten a C- … Obviously there’s a lot of work to be done, in Minden Hills and the county, with respect to this.”
Many survey respondents said they’d like to see collaboration between the county’s township to allow residents access to all landfill sites, regardless of what township they live in, and one of the recommendations from the service delivery review the County of Haliburton recently had completed was harmonization of landfill activities, with consistent regulations, hours, etc.
Both Councillor Bob Carter and Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell expressed opposition to the idea of lowering the bag limit to two, saying it might mean people would stop taking garbage to the landfill for neighbours, elderly family members, etc.