City unveils needle collection maps

New interactive maps developed by the City of Edmonton provide a picture of needle pick up in Edmonton.

The number of discarded needles on public property picked up by the City dropped from 7,739 in 2017 to 4,226 in 2018. That’s a decrease of 45 per cent.

More calls to 311 hasn’t meant more needles on the ground. During the same time period, the number of calls to 311 requesting service for needle pick up increased by 50 per cent, from 648 in 2017 to 972 in 2018.

These numbers are contained in two new maps that can be viewed on the City’s website. The maps will be updated quarterly.

“This data is crucial to the City of Edmonton because it allows our needle collection program to be responsive to where the need is,” said Don Belanger, Program Manager for the Capital City Cleanup Program, which provides an umbrella for needle collection by the City. “We want Edmontonians to have access to this information because we know this is a topic they care about.”

In 2015 the City and our partners did a comprehensive review of needle pick up in Edmonton. We wanted to better understand the scope of the issue and how we were responding. It became clear that significant changes were needed. Coordination among the groups collecting needles was one of the areas identified for improvement. Increased public education was another.

What’s happened since then? A lot. Notably, we are working more closely with our partners and have expanded our capacity for needle pick up. We are using advanced analytics to forecast where needles will be and where to place safe needle disposal boxes. Edmontonians can now call 311 for needle pickup on public property seven days a week. Our goal is to have needles collected within two hours of the call between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

See a needle. Call 311

We have also taken steps to equip citizens with education and resources. In 2018 we launched a public education campaign on needles, encouraging people to call 311 if they see a needle on public property. And because the collection of needles on private property continues to be the responsibility of property owners, the City has created a toolkit with step by step instructions on how to safely handle and dispose of needles. Property owners can also hire a private company to collect needles found on their property.

“There are a lot of numbers in these maps, but we want people to especially remember three numbers: 3-1-1,” said Belanger. “Call or use the app to report discarded needles on public property.”

Our work to improve needle collection is not done. We continue to look for ways to keep discarded needles off city streets and public spaces. Anyone who encounters a needle is encouraged to report it to 311 because this helps us be nimble and effective in our response for calls to needle pick up.