Recycling day in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

Recycling day in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

Surrey says no to fining residents for putting wrong items in disposal bins

Council rejects corporate report recommending penalties and fines be issued for garbage, recycling and organics contamination

A majority of Surrey council members prefer launching an education campaign instead of imposing fines on residents who put the wrong refuse in their green, blue and black waste disposal bins.

Surrey city council sent city staff back to the drawing board on Monday after the politicians rejected a corporate report recommended that penalties and fines be issued throughout the city for garbage, recycling and organics contamination.

The idea is to make sure people are throwing the right type of waste into the correct bins, which are green for organics, black for trash and blue for recyclables.

Councillor Laurie Guerra called for more public awareness and education, rather than fines.

“Even I don’t get it right all the time,” she said. “I want to be able to motivate people to do the right thing rather than punish them for doing the wrong thing.”

The report, by general manager of corporate services Rob Costanzo and general manager of engineering Scott Neuman, said Surrey’s contamination rate has fluctuated between 10 and 15 per cent over the past five years, similar to that of other B.C. cities while its target rate is one to three per cent. The report indicates roughly 15 per cent of recycling carts are found to contain contamination.

READ ALSO: Surrey’s new online ‘Waste Wizard’ helps residents sort through recyclables and trash

Councillor Jack Hundial suggested the city target a small group of violators instead. “I don’t think hammering people with a heavy fine, it’s not the right time to do it right now,” he said. Councillor Brenda Locke agreed. “This is about a carrot not a stick for me,” she said.

The corporate report claims some households have been “deliberately and/or consistently putting stuff into their recycling carts that should not be there, like renovation material, garbage, hazardous waste, personal hygiene items, propane canisters, scrap metal, appliances, books, clothing, pots and pans, electronics and batteries. Roughly five to seven per cent of households “are repeating the non-compliant activity,” Costanzo and Neuman reported.

Councillor Linda Annis said the current rules governing what goes where are confusing and the city needs to do a better job communicating what is recyclable and what’s not. Illegal dumping, she said, is a more pressing problem. “It is so problematic in our city and if we’re going to fine anybody, I’d like to see those people get a really hefty fine.”

“The people that are doing that know that they are doing wrong and they’re the ones that should be fined, and fined mightily, for doing that.”

SEE ALSO PHOTOS/VIDEO: Surrey’s new recycling/waste dropoff site takes shape near Newton business park

Councillor Doug Elford was the only council member to agree with the report.

“As an old garbage man,” he said, “I really enjoy talking about that.

“They know the game, they’re dumping the gypsum in the bins, and it’s continuous,” he said. “You’ve got to have a stick out there for these guys because they’re just continuing to do it.”

They proposed the following fines. Failing to separate waste would carry a $150 penalty, with early payment at $100 and late payment at $250. Same goes for unlawfully contaminating waste. Unlawfully depositing garbage would carry a stiffer $450 penalty, with $400 for early payment and $500 for late payment.

Councillor Mandeep Nagra noted that many people are moving to Surrey from other places in the world and aren’t familiar with the system. “We need to focus, we need to start a campaign to educate our residents to make sure they know what goes where,” he said. “I can tell you there are a lot of families that are new in Canada, they have no clue what are those three bins, what those colours mean at all.”

Mayor Doug McCallum said he’s not a believer in imposing fines when people don’t understand the rules. He agreed an “awareness campaign” should be launched instead.

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