The Municipality of North Cowichan is considering switching to automated systems for waste collection. (File photo)

The Municipality of North Cowichan is considering switching to automated systems for waste collection. (File photo)

North Cowichan looking at switching to automated waste collection

Staff to prepare cost estimates, arrange public consultations

North Cowichan is considering switching to automated systems for waste collection in the municipality.

Council decided at its meeting on Feb. 17 to have staff establish detailed cost estimates of the proposal, and develop a plan for public consultations on the issue before any final decisions are made.

If North Cowichan decides to move forward with the plan, it would involve replacing the four aging manual garbage trucks the municipality uses for the curbside collection of residential garbage and organics with automated ones, which would allow the truck drivers to collect the garbage cans from inside the cab using a fully automated arm that tips into the truck hopper.


A report by North Cowichan’s director of operations Shawn Cator said the existing manual collection system has resulted in significant cost to North Cowichan from injuries to staff.

He said the physical nature of the job requires access and egress into the truck between 600 to 700 times per day.

“In addition to access and egress, crews are lifting between 1,200 and 1,500 bins that weigh 35 to 50 pounds up four feet into the truck’s hopper,” Cator said.

“Injuries to staff include knee, ankle, back and shoulder claims resulting in time loss. Between the periods of 2017 to 2019, there were nine WorkSafeBC claims filed by North Cowichan refuse packers resulting in 116 lost work days.”

Cator said automated waste collection is used by many communities on Vancouver Island and offers several advantages to manual collection, including improved efficiency, lower injury claims and larger bin sizes.

He said staff have engaged a solid waste management consultant, Carey McIver and Associates, to assist with the preliminary analysis of the North Cowichan curbside collection system, and the consultant has investigated the benefits of a manual versus automated system, and the costs associated with both collection methods.


Cator said the estimated cost for the replacement of the existing four manual garbage truck fleet, which is scheduled to be replaced over the next five years, is approximately $1,340,000, while the estimated cost for four automated collection trucks is approximately $1,380,000.

He said new curbside carts would have to be distributed to homes in the municipality to be used by the automated trucks, and the estimate for the cost to purchase 10,000 each of new 80-litre organics carts and 100-litre garbage carts would be in the range of $600,000, and the estimated cost to purchase 10,000 new 240-litre recycling carts would be an additional $550,000.

“Although the cost for the trucks are only marginally more expensive, the cost for both the organics and garbage bins would be approximately $60 per home,” Cator said.

“As well, automated collection introduces the potential for additional contamination in recycling material. With a larger bin, it is more difficult for a driver to see non-accepted items in the bottom of the cart. Drivers are less likely to observe contamination from the cab of the trucks.”


Cator said that due to the anticipated increase in service levels and associated additional costs for carts and trucks, it’s important to gauge support for the project from North Cowichan residents before any decisions are made to move forward.

“Staff are proposing to develop a communication and engagement plan in an effort to determine whether the advantages of the automated collection proposal offsets the additional cost for the service,” he said.

“As part of the plan, staff will determine approximate increases to the garbage fees that would accompany a move to automated collection service. This financial information and advantages and disadvantages of the automated collection system will be brought forward in the engagement in an effort to ascertain public support for the proposal.”


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