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Date: January 26, 1999

Union Labour More Efficient at Canada's Aging Landfill

A new national study on the country's landfills indicates Canada's dumps are rapidly reaching capacity, Ontario's landfills are the most expensive to operate and landfills with union labour are among the country's most efficient. The study, The Efficiency of Canadian Solid Waste Landfills: National Survey Report, was recently published by UVic's local government institute and covered 72 landfill sites across the country.

"The goal of the survey was to determine the factors that do the best job of predicting landfill costs in our society," says Dr. Jim McDavid, the institute's co-director who produced the report with research assistant Verna Laliberté. "By evaluating a landfill's efficiency, we picked a measure most landfill managers could relate to." The report provides managers with benchmarks by which to measure the efficiency of their operations.

The survey concluded that: the average age of a sampled landfill in 1995 was 19.5 years old and it had 14 years remaining in its projected life-span; nearly one quarter of the landfills had five years or less remaining in their life-span; and 41 per cent will run out of space in the next 10 years. Nation-wide, the average cost of processing solid waste was $21.97 per tonne in 1995. Ontario had the highest average cost at $28.49 per tonne. In B.C. it costs an average of $19.17. The cost per tonne increased at landfills with restrictions on paper, glass, metals or plastics due to the increased time required to manage the waste stream. McDavid points out that the survey was intended to assess the landfills' short-term operating efficiency, not their environmental efficiency.

Sampled landfills typically operate with a mix of public workers and contracted forces and it was the analysis of unionized workers that gave McDavid his biggest surprise. "Unionized work forces at landfills cost less on a per tonne basis than non-union workers. That's a change from our previous survey on residential solid waste where unionized workers took a bit of a hit because we reported they decreased the efficiency of residential pickup," says McDavid. "The average cost per tonne at landfills where all workers are unionized is $19.84. The cost per tonne for a non-union workforce is $23.84."

The 44-page surveys were distributed in the fall of 1997 and landfill managers were promised individualized reports specific to the efficiency of their landfills in exchange for participation in the survey. The institute agreed that the list of participants would remain confidential.

"No one else has done this kind of research before and we wanted to make sure it was thorough and covered the right ground." says McDavid.

The local government institute, located in the school of public administration, was created in 1995 to conduct research dedicated to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of local governments. The institute's next survey is on residential recycling. McDavid and his colleagues are currently analyzing data from 121 participating municipalities and a final report is expected in the spring.

Media contacts:
Dr. Jim McDavid (public administration) at (250) 472-4293.
Highlights of the national survey report on Canada

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(image: fern)