The most important way to minimize human-bear conflicts is to keep garbage away from bears. Unsecured landfills and commercial and residential garbage bins attract bears like bees to flowers. Once a bear gets a taste of human garbage – a box of stale doughnuts, say, or the leftovers from Thanksgiving supper – it will routinely approach communities and other developed areas in search of food.
Bear-proof waste management is a multi-tiered effort. In order to ensure the safety of residents and visitors, all public, residential and commercial waste containers in bear country must be Bear-proof, whether they’re downtown or in a park on the edge of town. There are several different models to meet the needs of residences, businesses and municipal waste managers.
Ideally, there is no curb-side pick-up. Instead, residents, businesses and visitors take their trash to large, bear-proof communal waste bins that are conveniently located around town. Another alternative is to designate one or two large waste transfer stations to which residents must bring their garbage.
The landfills and/or transfer station must also be bear-proofed. The best method is usually a sturdy, electrified fence and gate. For more information on electric fencing, click here. A community might also consider converting their waste to energy.
Many products are available – some are bear-resistant and some claim to be bear-proof. You may order or download a Resource Guide from the Living with Wildlife Foundation that contains a comprehensive list of bear-resistant trash containers. The guide is very comprehensive and a MUST for any community pursuing bear smart status.
The following requirements will help you ensure the container you choose is truly bear-proof:
- Lids and doors should be tight enough to reduce odors, recessed, and self-closing.
- Latches on all lids and doors must be bear-proof (i.e. claws unable to reach the latch trigger mechanism).
- Hinges and latches for lids must be sufficiently strong such that they cannot be pried open by claws (able to withstand several thousands of pounds of force). The rule of thumb is that if it can be dismantled using a crowbar then it is not bear-proof.
- If the container is not able to be stored indoors, it must be sufficiently stable or capable of being anchored to a solid, stationary base to prevent tipping by large bears.
- Container material must be sufficiently strong to prevent bears from chewing, battering or crushing the container.
- Container should be constructed from corrosion resistant materials to prevent rust and ensure long product life.
- All containers should be tested and certified bear-proof by an independent group, like the Living with Wildlife Foundation or IGBC in the US or WildSafeBC in Canada.
Bear-proof garbage bins (residential)
Bear-proof containers are a cost-effective way for residents and business-owners to responsibly store garbage and other bear attractants at home and work.
Bears love garbage. As distasteful as it may be to humans, our garbage provides habituated and food-conditioned bears with the calories and nourishment they need with very little energy expenditure. Consuming large quantities of digestible food allows bears to store large amounts of fat to survive the denning period. Since landfills and other human garbage sources contain the most concentrated sources of calorie rich foods they are extremely attractive to bears, especially in the fall.
Several models are available to meet your needs. If garbage cannot be stored indoors, permanent trash can enclosures are an effective way to keep bears out of your garbage until it can be properly disposed of. If your community has curb-side pick-up, portable bear-proof containers are available to keep your garbage secure at the curb.
Bear Saver Residential Receptacle for outdoor storage of trash
Haul-All Hid-A-Can for outdoor storage of trash
Bear Saver polycart for curbside use
There are several companies in the U.S. and Canada that sell bear-proof containers designed specifically for residential use.
Bear-proof garbage bins (community and commercial)
There are several solutions for municipalities and commercial interests to responsibly manage their waste streams. (See Canmore: A Success Story to see how it was done in this Alberta community.)
Community officials should seriously consider eliminating curbside pick up. Providing bears with access to garbage creates the potential for human-bear conflicts and an unsafe environment in residential neighbourhoods.
With respect to the Haul-All Hyd-A-Way Waste Bin: “This single product has done more to save the lives of bears and people than any single thing I can think of. – Dr. Steven Herrero, a world renowned bear specialist
Curbside pick-up can be replaced with communal waste containers placed conveniently throughout the community. Locate smaller six-yard containers within a one-block radius of any residence or install more centrally located larger bear-proof compactor sites.
Each system has its advantages and disadvantages. For the most part, the easier and more convenient it is for residents to use the containers the more likely they are to do so.
Ideally, the receptacles should be within walking distance from any residence. More centrally located systems create problems for people without vehicle access to get their garbage to the compactor site. (See BearSmart Whistler for more information.)
Haul-All CFL Front Load
auto unlock 6-yard commercial container
Watch this video about Haul-All’s NEW bear-proof topper. The beauty of this bin is that the waste hauler only needs to buy the top. This standard topper can be attached to almost any 3 yard bin bottom, saving the hauler thousands of dollars.
View an endorsement from a user of the NEW Haul-All bear-proof topper here.
Haul-All Recycle Ranger, a mobile multi-compartment recycling /waste collection trailer
All pedestrian containers throughout the community must be bear-proof as well. It is important to provide recycling options along side the containers for garbage, otherwise people will set their recycling beside the garbage container.
Sentinal > specially designed for aesthetic development sites in urban areas
Read “The Importance of Infrastructure Development in Wilderness Locations” for more information about the significant social and financial benefits from investing in a community-based bear-proof waste management system.
These retailers provide a variety of commercial and municipal bear-proof waste management options.
Wildlife Proof Enclosures:
A bear can crumple a flimsy, unlocked shed as easily as you can crush a modern day soda can.” – Bryan Peterson, Durango Bear Smart as quoted in Living with Bears, by Linda Masterson
Good Bear-Proof Waste Enclosure:
- steel doors
- cement floor and upstand
- exterior walls made of
synthetic materials (not wood)
with planks running horizontally
Best Bear-Proof Enclosure:
- separate door for waste hauler
- steel man door
- exterior built with cement blocks
One of the most rewarding discoveries for a bear in an urban area is an unsecured grease vessel. Many restaurants and eateries use these vessels to store used cooking oil which is then collected by companies that recycle the oil into products like biodiesel.
Although this is an important environmental service, when mishandled, it can come at the cost of a bear’s life. A full standard barrel contains 210 liters of oil. That translates into a whopping 1.6 MILLION calories for the smaller vessels (in bear terms, that is a MAJOR SCORE… equal to many weeks of foraging for berries). The caloric value, combined with the smell of tasty fryer fixings, makes grease vessels irresistible.
Step One: Where to Get Them
Certified bear-proof vessels are available at www.bearproofsystems.com. Be cautious if fabricating your own vessel to ensure that bear-proof specifications are met. See step three for key features. Product testing and certification are available at Living with Wildlife Foundation in the US or through WildSafeBC in Canada.
Step Two: Secure Storage Location
Grease vessels must be located in an area that is inaccessible to bears, such as inside a building, on a secure loading bay or in a bear-proof garbage shed. It is crucial that any grease vessels not within an enclosure are properly affixed to the ground (feet bolted to the cement) or secured to a nearby wall or cement post (either with a heavy-duty chain or welded arm as see above) to prevent tipping and rocking by bears.
All vessels should be designed in such a way that bears can not access the grease inside. Although there are no established guidelines, we do know a bit about what seems to work. Key features include: lockable access points that prevent paws from reaching in to scoop out oil; heavy-duty commercial gauge steel resistant to bear damage (it helps if there are no gaps between which bears can pry open a lid); and a user-friendly dual-action locking mechanism (such as a pad lock or other mechanism). Click here to watch a demonstration of a grease barrel that is not user-friendly and as a result not bear-proof.
Step Four: Maintenance
Grease barrels must be kept locked, secured, and in proper working order at ALL TIMES. In addition, all grease barrels (as well as garbage areas and loading bays) must be kept clean and free of odour. This means frequent power washing with hot soapy water.
Download our brochure.
Landfills or Transfer Stations
While the spectacle of a sloth [group] of bears feasting at a garbage buffet provides an entertaining pastime for the community, it proves deadly for the region’s bears.
Landfills and transfer stations, being extremely pungent places, can attract bears from miles away, introducing them to a feast of non-natural food that often means ill-health or even death for the bear that eat it. Feeding on human garbage can cause numerous health concerns for bears – extensive tooth decay, lacerations on the paws and mouth, internal damage to organs from sharp objects, plastics blocking the intestines, ingestion of toxic substances and parasitic infections can all cause illness and death.
Ideally, open-pit landfills should not exist in high density bear country. If your community does have a landfill, and installing bear-resistant transfer stations are not an option, then a well-designed and properly installed electric fence will prevent the majority of bears from accessing the site.
There are some special considerations when electrifying such a highly attractive site. To prevent bears from digging under the fence, extend the fencing out from its base about one foot below the surface.
Bears also have a habit of entering the gate when it is left open and often get caught inside. There are a couple of options to prevent access through open gates: (1) automatic sliding gates that open and close when the weight of a vehicle passes over the entrance, and (2) electrified cattle grate entrance. Of these two options, the second will be more effective and easier to use.
Regular perimeter patrols should be conducted at least twice weekly to ensure the fence is fully functioning. Ongoing fence maintenance is essential to successfully deter bear activity at the site. Check out our guidelines for proper fence maintenance.
When retiring a landfill, consider covering and/or burying it and then leaving it unfenced. Bear biologist Dr. Lana Ciarniello suggests that since the site remains accessible for bears to venture through, rummage around and find little if anything to eat, they will simply move on to another available food sources in the same way they would respond to a natural food failure. But if bears are excluded from the site by a fence, more problems may occur because bears hang around the area and make repeated attempts to break in.
Click here to learn more about how you can use electric fencing to secure landfills and other bear attractants.
Landfill-scale electric fencing products and supplies can be found at the following retailers: