Garbage Fees

Waste Costs (You?)

The City-wide roll out of the new garbage bins is now just about complete but that is not the end of changes to our collection system.

A recent article has drawn attention to a call for "welfare for waste" to create better ways to eliminate special waste items. Apparently as of November 1, the city is set to implement a unique recycling program for the bulky items no one is quite sure what do with, save putting them out for local treasure hunters or otherwise going in with the garbage. City solid waste manager Geoff Rathbone is quoted as saying even though for many of these types of items the City has no idea how exactly they will be recycled, they are going to "just jump in" and figure it out as they go along. We're talking about big items such as mattresses, carpets, and furniture.

I was pretty surprised to hear the City talking about a program that doesn't seem to be announced yet. Details are missing from the City Garbage website. It still just simply says "..place bulky items (furniture) out on your regular garbage collection day." Of course if the biggest items could be recycled instead of thrown in a landfill, there would be huge potential to reduce our waste burden (environmental and cost).

November 1st happens to be the same day users will start paying for the new trash bins. Forking over cash directly to deal with waste will be a new concept for Torontonians might have to get used to. Fees are set to be levied on manufacturers of electronics in the province starting next spring, ranging from $5 to $15 depending on the type of item, to pay for proper recycling (about time!).

The situation begs a larger question: who is responsible for paying for waste? The person throwing it away at the end, or the company that created it?

It does make a lot of sense to try to make the companies that design products pay for as much of the disposal costs as possible. That creates incentive for design improvements. Germany has used this approach for years, by for example requiring cars to be returned to the manufacturer at end of life. Ontario and Quebec have introduced programs that charge industry fees based on the weight of packaging they use in their products each year.

The case of electronic waste is particularly controversial for a few reasons. Firstly, electronics are known to be hazardous (and the public knows this intuitively- it doesn't take a science degree to know they don't landfill well). Secondly, there is much debate, especially in the US, over who is responsible for paying- the consumer or the company. With the latter, the issue is compounded by the fact that some companies have invested in their own "take back" programs. Dell and HP, for example, already have programs to take back their products directly from the consumer. So why should they be forced to pay for more programs? But then who will pay to recycle that ancient, heavy oak framed television made by some since non-existent company?

While the debate goes on in regions with stalled recycled programs, clearly Toronto has some momentum in the direction of people being more accepting of new solutions- even if at a higher cost.

Photo: Steve'o's photostream


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