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August 14th Remarks to City Council Re: 'One Garbage Bag' Policy

August 15, 2012

These remarks were delivered by the AMS delegation to City Council on August 14th 2012. They were delivered by the AMS' Municipal Affairs Commissioner, Troy Sherman. No follow-up questions were asked, and the by-law passed final reading. The AMS will continue to stand up for students when this policy comes under review one year from now.

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KINGSTON, ON - Councillors, Mr. Mayor – thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak today.

I want to discuss with you some major issues surrounding the City’s proposed “One Garbage” bag policy. As many of you are aware, the AMS has come out strongly against this, and we are hoping that councillors can use the opportunity afforded to them today to reject this proposal. The AMS views this policy as unrealistic for students and as a well-intentioned but flawed attempt to enhance sustainability. We have continued to outline the many practicalities that this policy has failed to take into consideration. Chief among these is the simple reality that many student houses have six, seven or more tenants. This makes it very difficult for the average Queen’s household to use one garbage bag or less. Furthermore, this policy demands collective action from a household, which can be next to impossible in a student environment, where decision making is dispersed and not centralized.

The AMS does not view these policy outcomes as equitable, or in the end a meaningful contribution to meeting the city’s waste diversion target. Ultimately, it will penalize students in an attempt to look environmentally friendly.

The AMS has presented to every councillor here a report on more equitable – and ultimately more effective – alternatives. These alternatives are employed by a number of other Canadian cities – many with their own student populations. Ranging from graduated bin size to a re-use centre, we view these as not only more effective and realistic policy proposals, but also as just a sampling of the type of work the AMS is willing to do on this issue. We want to create better policy for the city, and for students, just as we work to better our community in so many other areas.

This leads me into a more systemic issue, one that a vote in favour of this policy will reinforce. The housing area around the University has seen its share of problems, and with the city recognizing this, they have asked students to do our part in cleaning it up. We gladly stepped up. We have established a service with a salaried head manager and paid student staff who pick up garbage in the University District and provide contracted property maintenance services. We have created educational initiatives and retrofit programs designed to enhance sustainability. We have worked to educate students and worked to make them feel like Kingston is their home.

These efforts have been hugely successful. We have seen shifts in cleanliness and student outreach, with much more to come. We have begun an effort to rebrand the entire near-campus area with an image that promotes a sense of community and civic responsibility amongst students.

Furthermore, every year thousands of Queen’s students give back to the Kingston community. Students run breakfast programs and buddy programs with elementary school students, we run elderly-support programs at local old-age homes, and donate more than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to local charities each year. These are just a couple of the initiatives that our more than one thousand volunteers run throughout the academic year.

A minority of Queen’s students have, in the past, acted in a way that has caused this community service to be dismissed. We share your disappointment in this. However, overwhelmingly, students work to better our community - we work with you. Now, we are asking you to work with us.

The AMS strongly believes that this policy is setting students up for failure. Despite our best efforts to educate students, I stand before you today telling you that this policy will fail due to the high-density nature of student housing. The City put forth this proposal with no student consultation. Public forums were done over the summer when students were not here to participate. When this policy fails – when students living in 7-person households cannot meet the one-bag limit – students will be blamed. The cycle continues.

I ask you today to reject this policy. The AMS supports the City’s goal to create a more sustainable Kingston. However, Kingston residents, including students, deserve public policy that is carefully thought out and will achieve a genuine shift towards a culture of sustainability. Even if this policy is successful  – it will unfairly impact students, as well as other Kingston residents living in high-density housing. Pushing that burden to students whilst we work to improve the city in so many ways risks alienating some of the most fervent advocates of sustainability: the Queen’s community. Because this policy, however well-intended, fails to make necessary practical accommodations for student’s unique housing situation, and because of the lack of student consultation, we are worried that this policy will inevitably lead to an increase in student cynicism and thus fail to create the type of lasting sustainability we all want.

Please direct all media inquiries to Taylor Mann, AMS Communications Officer, at comm@ams.queensu.ca or (613) 533-6000 x 75850.

BACKGROUNDER 

Alma Mater Society (AMS) - http://www.myAMS.org

The central undergraduate student government at Queen’s University, the AMS represents over 14,200 students and is the oldest student government in Canada. The constituency is represented through 12 faculty and residence societies. The AMS Council, which is made up of a three-person executive, six commissioners, and three directors, oversees all day-to-day activities within the Society, including 15 corporate services and various government committees that address virtually all matters of student life at Queen’s.