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cityscape

Mississauga Hangs Clotheslines Out to Dry

City's recent bylaw lays down strict rules about drying laundry—and it's a mistake.

The City of Mississauga has regulated clotheslines. As per a new bylaw, passed and enacted July 2, households in the land of Hazel McCallion are permitted one line each, hung straight, at least 1.5 metres from the property line, and no more than three metres off the ground. The bylaw does not specify what the consequences of violating these specifications would be.

The new rules reportedly arose from a letter sent to city council by local resident Steve DeVoe. His neighbour has been hanging up to 18 clotheslines as high as six metres, right by their shared fence line—apparently in retaliation for DeVoe’s having built a larger house four years ago. DeVoe took the issue to the City, and the ol’ bureaucratic machine kicked into motion.

Two neighbours have a beef with each other, one writes a letter, and city council passes a bylaw. So what? Well, clotheslines are actually an integral part of eco-friendly living.

Air Quality Ontario has found that a clothes dryer uses 900 kilowatt hours of electricity each year, resulting in up to 840 kilograms of air pollution—or roughly the equivalent of burning 365 litres of gasoline.

“Adopting environmentally responsible behaviours like using a clothesline or drying rack is a small action that can have a significant impact on our environment,” says Peter Kendall, executive director of Earth Rangers, a conservation organization that educates and empowers youth to protect the environment. “Making small changes like hang-drying even part of your weekly laundry will result in long-term, positive benefits for the environment.”

Not since the collapse of the Siegfried Line has hanging laundry been such a hot button issue. Clothesline bylaws are rare in Canada. Toronto, for instance, doesn’t have any rules about clotheslines on single-family properties. An old City of Etobicoke bylaw regulates lines for multi-residential properties. “It is not something that we would be out proactively enforcing,” says City of Toronto communications representative Tammy Robbinson, “but if we received a complaint from a resident, we would go out and investigate.  We always do public education first, and enforcement after.”

Clotheslines were deemed important enough for the Ontario government to end restrictions against them in the Ontario Green Energy Act of 2008. The legislation was designed to overturn any municipal, developer, and landlord bans on clotheslines, except those enacted in the interest of safety. Mississauga’s bylaw states that “clotheslines shall be maintained in a safe and reasonable condition so as to prevent accidents and safety hazards.” The City of Mississauga determined that its bylaw jibes with the Energy Act as it regulates but does not ban clotheslines. But it does limit their use in the sense that you can only hang so much laundry on one line.

The new clothesline by-law isn’t an environmental catastrophe, but it is indicative of a disappointing attitude—the prioritizing of convenience over actual ecological benefit—that butts up against environmentalism. And, okay, maybe DeVoe’s offending neighbour had something other than clean living in mind with their billowing of laundry. But Mississauga’s willingness to make this bylaw is a bow to every homeowner bugged by next-door’s clothesline. Worse than “not in my backyard,” it’s “not even next to my backyard.” Here’s hoping Toronto maintains its moratorium on clothesline regulation.

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