Sunday, July 28, 2013

Kingston's weekly mess

Like pretty much everyone else in Kingston I have my weekly garbage collection. I duly separate my stuff into garbage and green and blue or grey bins. I’m actually all in favour of this, even though the stench emanating during summer from the green bins is truly from another world.
These days I plan my way to the office strategically on collection days, aiming to avoid as many residential areas as is feasible, because that stuff just stinks to high heaven. Is there really no way to collect the organic waste without making large parts of town no-go areas during collection time?
I do also wonder about garbage collectors having to pick up the green-bin content during the summer months. It must be absolutely awful to collect the organic waste during this time of the year. Is this really the best system that we can think of at the beginning of the 21st century?
Well, leaving this fault in the existing system aside, there is also a remarkably large number of inconsiderate neighbours to report. And I don’t mean those who send you notes asking you to leave town in the name of their god. That deserves a commentary in its own right, but enough has been said during the last week already.
No, my rant isn’t about the obviously morally challenged neighbourly type. Given where I live, it’s fair to say that those I am concerned about enjoy an above-average education and should know better. So, it’s yet another rant about students in Kingston, you say? Yes and no.
Here is the problem: Kingston city hall confirmed that we currently have no bylaw in place requiring that our garbage be placed in a secure container on the curb for the early morning collection. As a result of that, students, but not just students, dump their rubbish in the evening before the collection in black plastic bags and leave them on the sidewalks.
I don’t know whether you noticed, but that also happens to be when our friendly other neighbours, namely our legions of racoons, start having street parties. They move from plastic bag to plastic bag, carefully untie the knots, check the content, eat what’s eatable and tie the bags back up, lest the rubbish be strewn all over the place.
Ok, fine, that’s not quite what’s happening. What’s happening is that the racoons rip open the bags and rifle through their contents, followed by squirrels, pigeons and any number of other non-human Kingston residents. By the time they’re done, a couple of properly piled-up black garbage bags have been transformed into an area akin to a war zone.
The wind oftentimes sends piles of rubbish straight into the lake, into adjacent properties’ driveways, and the list goes on. It is a complete and utter mess on a good day. The environmental impact of the rubbish being dumped into the lake week after week after week can’t be insignificant. I wouldn’t be too surprised if there were public health implications, too.
You would think that being reasonably well-educated would enable us to learn from such a bad experience, and that we would get ourselves a bin and next time place the plastic bag into the bin to avoid such a mess. You would also think that, once confronted with the mess our ripped-apart garbage bag has caused across our neighbourhood, we would pick up our rubbish and place it into our newly acquired bins.
Well, in my experience, that is not exactly what happens. It happens on some properties, but certainly not across the board. It is not unusual at all that the rubbish literally remains where it is, or where the wind happens to blow it. The idea behind this clearly is that “Our work is done after we place the garbage bag at the curb. Who cares what happens after that?”
In defence of tenants, though, I also wonder what’s wrong with many of the downtown core’s landlords. I do appreciate that ultimately you are in it for the money, but would it be that expensive to place a sufficient number of garbage bins in your properties to avoid this kind of situation? I’m sure that if you lived down here you would not find this weekly mess tolerable. One can’t really blame tenants for not buying these bins, given that their time in Kingston is limited and that they likely would not be able to use these bins wherever they are going next.
I understand that our city councillors have discussed this matter on more than one occasion. The thing is, though, discussions are cheap and they tend not to resolve the problem at hand unless they are followed up by action. What would be wrong with a bylaw requiring us to secure our garbage in containers that prevent our non-human neighbours from going through our rubbish?
It is common sense to do this anyway, but common sense clearly isn’t what propels everyone's actions, so a bit of a regulatory nudge might not be a terribly bad idea. What we currently have is an unacceptable mess by any stretch of the imagination! Surely it is not beyond city council’s capacity to address this issue once and for all. As an aside, given that the local tourist bus tends to drive tourists through our beautiful historic downtown, the picture that tourists will get of our town on garbage collection days isn’t one to celebrate either, I’m afraid.
Udo Schuklenk teaches bioethics at Queen’s University and made downtown Kingston his home some seven years ago. He’s on Twitter @schuklenk


  1. I agree and sympathize, particularly since we don't have the same problem.

    And a small suggestion to improve readability - set off your paragraphs either with a space before a new paragraph or by indenting the first line of a new paragraph. Currently, I find that my eye just wants to skate down the page.

    By the way - if I didn't find your stuff worth reading, I wouldn't care.

  2. Ha, thanks Scott, you're right, of course, sloppy editing on my part. I will make sure to watch out for this in my next post!


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