Canadians are a wasteful people, and Torontonians are no exception. Though the Blue Box and Green Bin programs have been a success, drastically reducing the volume of what ends up in landfill, we still create millions of tonnes of trash each year with nowhere to put it. Well, Michigan.
With the City’s fresh, new taxation powers, Council is considering a “pay-as-you-throw” system, whereby Torontonians get charged for waste pickup on a separate invoice, similar to how water use is billed. Unlike the per-yellow-bag tax currently in place for businesses, the proposed program would enable households to choose a bin size based on how much non-recyclable or non-compostible waste they dump. Pickup of the small bin, Blue Box and Green Bin would remain covered under property taxes as they are now, but collection of the medium and large bins would incur an additional fee.
Cities like San Francisco, Vancouver, and Seattle already employ a tiered-charge trash collection system. The intention is not to fill City coffers but to encourage a behavioural shift among Torontonians. The surprising success of the Green Bin program shows that, given the option, residents will voluntarily take an extra step to reduce their landfill contribution.
Of course, a few have their compostible diapers in a bunch about the proposal. As part of another rhetorical Council Member Pet Project™, Denzil Minnan-Wong is screaming foul, calling Mayor Miller a “taxaholic” and dramatically declaring the trash levy as a “tax on families.” This is conveniently ignoring the significant federal and provincial tax cuts that families already get just for co-habitating and having kids, and why should families—who create much more waste and consume more resources—not pay proportionately? We already charge users for the amount of water they use and the size of the land they sit on, and families are clearly aware how living in a larger house or having children comes with a whole slew of other scalable consequences.
Historically, educating the public on the waste they produce has been crucial to the success of our existing waste diversion programs, especially as it relates to the Green Box. Disposable diapers (one of the most toxic and significant contributions to landfills) belong in the Green Bin yet are still too often thrown in the trash. The same goes for cardboard packaging and other organic food waste. We have to work to understand the sometimes confusing system, but that’s OK. We must consider waste diversion as a duty rather than an inconvenience.
That’s not to say that there aren’t serious problems with the plan. Apartment and condominium buildings have extremely low diversion rates of about 13% due to a lack of recycling and (especially) composting facilities. How would the City bill the waste from single houses that have been converted to multiple apartments, many of which are illegal? There are also times when a household may produce more garbage, like during the holidays or after a big party, but what if the bin they have chosen isn’t large enough?
There is also the concern of illegal dumping. For as long as Toronto has had its six-bag pickup limit and commercial bag taxes, there have been jackasses who have sociopathically gone out of their way to make their waste somebody else’s problem. This will continue to happen no matter what, and it is up to the City to enforce its laws and slap significant penalties on offenders.
Toronto is finally beginning to pull up its britches when it comes to reducing the massive amount of waste we produce. We’ve diverted about 40% of our waste to recycling facilities in recent years, and the City’s 2006 litter audit [PDF] even boasted a 40% decrease in street litter since 2002. The per-use scalable bin tax is the right thing to do as an incentive to throw less away, but it also fosters the awareness of how much garbage we produce—and what the costs are to get rid of it.
Top photo by ayndroid and bottom photo by Rob Elliott, both from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.