Today I run into tweet Metro Vancouver posted on dumping household items illegally. I have been running my junk removal company for some time, and this phenomenon is quite familiar to me. I am with the city for insisting that this practice is wrong, but at the same time, I feel like the issue is much more complex. I would even claim that it is interesting. Hence, the pleasure in engaging in a discourse with myself on that matter 😉 .
To me this is the most interesting aspect of this phenomenon. Once in a while I have a client who needs me to get rid of some items which he left at the laneway behind his house. His original plan was to leave a couch and few other small items and then book me few days down the road. However, I get an urgent call and a request to do it on the same day. As soon as he starts telling me the initial stages of the story, I knew where it will lead. At that moment I knew that he has found out something about human nature, which has been puzzling me for many years. By the way, this does not puzzle me any longer, for I did get my answer from William James and Sigmund Freud, but this is a matter beyond the scope of this post.
The logic of the neighbour
So, my client puts a couch and few small items at the back of his property and then the following happens. A “Good” neighbour looks at the pile and some strange mental “logical” process takes place in his head. Something along the lines of “Hey! I can also put my junk next to that pile. I am sure he wouldn’t mind.”. The interesting thing is that this type of “logic” is always carried into actions between midnight and 4 am , when it is too dark for my client to see it and to verify that he is “doesn’t mind” to get more things added to his pile and pay double for junk removal services.
Every time I ask my clients to reflect on this neighbourly logic, I can tell they are puzzled but they are also entertaining the idea of reevaluating their concept of the neighbour. Let me be clear. My client has no idea which neighbour did it. His concept of the kind of neighbourhood he is living in, does not allow for neighbours with conditional “goodness” of that sort. Before some of you claim that perhaps someone from another part of the city drove around and looked for a pile to drop off their old couch, keep in mind that this kind of mobile dumpers don’t need a pile. They just look for a secluded place. Besides, one night would not be enough to double the pile my client originally created.
So, I always tell clients to call me as soon as possible if something ends up at the back of their laneway, for it will start growing organically with the help of their neighbours.
The City of Vancouver
You didn’t think I was going to just blame the human factor, right? Why do you think it is mostly mattresses that end up at laneways and secluded places in Vancouver? Because of that recycling fee the city of Vancouver introduced some years ago. I remember charging only $50 for a mattress pick up. Once this $20 feel per mattress was introduced, I had to take it to $90. Why not $70? Because I would never just have a mattress on my truck. There is always other items that I needed to dump and this complicated the operation. If I just weighted once on the scale, I would be charged for the weight for the junk, the mattress recycling fee and again for the weight of the mattress. Sort of tax on a tax effect. In many cases it made sense to enter and dump the junk and then come out and enter again just for the mattress. If there is no line up, that added perhaps 10 min extra labour. However, this is not how the dump is anymore. There are days when this splitting of the items adds 30+ min. Naturally this increased the cost of disposing a mattress or boxspring.
Consequently, people who could not financially take the extra $40 per mattress, looked for the illegal dumping option. I would even claim that some did it because of principle. A form of rebellion. Every time when there is such significant jump in cost, even if it is financially acceptable, people will push back because of other reasons.
I remember that there was some period when the city was even playing with the definition of “mattress”. They tried for some months to charge the recycling fee for the roll up mattress you take hiking. Are you kidding me?! Trust me. I was not the only guy who said that to the poor scale attendants at the dump.
This was also the time when I started to see the most illegally dumped mattresses at the back alleys. I think this was the reason the city took the recycling fee down to $15. I don’t think this made much of a difference and I would admit that they could have had other considerations for the $5 discount, as well.
So, good that I can criticize the city, but this is the easy part. Can I offer a solution? I think I can throw some notions but the real solution should rest on those who get paid to offer solutions. I am doing my part in running my junk removal business in a particular way, but at the same time, I have to play by the environment which was created by the city of Vancouver.
Let me first be clear on the fact that I am not against recycling fees and limiting what is treated as garbage. Recycling and repurposing is the future. However, people need a gradual shift in habits and concepts. I know that the city of Vancouver is putting out PR and educational material , but I think the story is not good enough. It seems too dry to me and it does not appeal to the emotional. It appeals to the logic but this does not persuade people to change old habits and concepts.
Now, some of you might make the point that 90% of the Vancouver population is on board of the story the city is telling, and it is only those weird 10% that are resisting. Well, perhaps we should built a better story for the 10%. It is because of them that the other 90% are having to suffer seeing the ugly wet mattresses on the streets of Vancouver. Perhaps, the only story these 10% will listen to is the one that tells them that there is no more $15 recycling fee. The city of Vancouver needs to look into this matter.
The junk removal companies
We the junk removal companies are to blame as well. There is so much confusion on what we really do and how we do it. Pricing of our services is all over the place. Most of the junk removal companies try to appear as having the cheapest rates by hiding labour and dumping fees. There is so much shiftiness going on in my industry that I think a book will be needed to examine it to the full.
When a person is moving out in few days and tries to determine what the junk removal option will cost him, I can see how he might consider the illegal dumping option. He has no idea if it will be $150 or $500. We need to do a better job in explaining to the client that it is not just junk anymore. Things need to be separated and driven to different facilities. This adds to the cost. Then we need to be clear on the cost. There is a good way to convey this to the client, and most of us are guilty of not doing it well enough.
So, it is not enough for the city to post “Be nice! Don’t illegally dump” stories. They need to tell a better story. This old “environmental” messages are becoming a boring commodity.