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The District of North Vancouver's solid waste operation befuddles bears with these customized trash containers: a wheeled cart with specially designed clips that residents open only on collection day. Photo: District of North Vancouver

Animals messing with trash cans cause big headaches — and the bigger the critter, the bigger the problem.

The District of North Vancouver in British Columbia, population 83,000, is nestled in a lush wooded area. Bears rummaging for snacks are cause for particular worry among residents and local officials.

“We live in a ‘bear interface area,'” says Brian Meslo, section manager for the district's Solid Waste Department. “Even though we're only a 10-minute drive from the city of Vancouver, we get quite a lot of them.”

The lumbering creatures make a mess of residential waste receptacles, but a much greater concern is that the risk of attack increases when bears are lured out of the woods and into local neighborhoods. Residents reported more than 1,600 sightings in 2010; and in 81% of those cases, the factor attracting the bear to the homes was garbage. Discouraging the invasion of North Vancouver's backyards by securing tempting trash helps keep residents — and bears — safe.

Meslo's team has engineered a unique solution: a bear-proof garbage can. The department orders a 31.7-gallon wheeled trash cart from the Canadian arm of materials-handling supplier SSI Schaefer Systems International Inc., then has the Langley location of Rollins Machinery Ltd. in British Columbia modify the cart to the department's design.

“They cut slits in the top, then reinforce the cuts with a steel rim,” says Meslo. “A couple pieces of metal mounted inside come through the lid. A carabiner-type clip goes through each hole and locks the container shut.” On collection day, the resident opens the clips to facilitate emptying by Meslo's crews.

The district sells the carts for about $180 (U.S.). Residents buy them through the district's Web site at www.dnv.org and have them delivered to the home, or at the department's field office. The 280 sold so far have successfully thwarted “unauthorized entry.”

“Bears are very intelligent,” says Meslo. “They can smell garbage from miles away. Unless it's protected, they'll find it; and they're very resourceful. But if they keep trying to get to it and they can't, they'll give up and go away.”

— Jenni Spinner (jspinwrites@gmail.com) is a Chicago-based freelance writer and a former editor of PUBLIC WORKS.

MORE TIPS FOR OUTSMARTING THE AVERAGE BEAR

In addition to using animal-proof containers, the District of North Vancouver's Solid Waste Department asks residents to:

  • Place garbage at curbside only on the morning of the designated collection day.
  • Store all garbage in the house, garage, shed, or other secure enclosure.
  • If garbage must be stored outside or in a shed, use a wildlife-resistant enclosure.
  • Freeze smelly items until the morning of pickup.
  • Keep diapers inside in an odor-free container until the morning of pickup.
  • Clean garbage cans regularly.
  • Thoroughly rinse jars and cans before putting them into a recycling container.