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Waste not, want not?

Tue Apr 19, 2005 Miss Vicky 

Randall Denley's column in today's Citizen is garbage. Ok, it's all about garbage.... one of my favourite topics, you might be thinking if you've been reading Miss Vicky's for a while. Well, not really, but it is interesting to think about different ways we can reduce the amount of waste we're sending to the landfill. Hence my previous vitriol about our plastics recycling program....

Anyway, according to Denley, the city is releasing a report calling for an expansion of our recycling program. This would include the addition of a green box program to our current blue and grey boxes.

There has been a pilot green box program in some areas of the city for a little while, so I guess they are looking to make this program a permanent feature of Ottawa's "waste diversion" strategy.

According to Denley, the effort is driven by two pressures: the reducing capacity of our city's dump and the likelihood of a provincially-set waste diversion target.

I dunno, Randall. Maybe reducing our waste is simply a good thing to do. Better for our city, better for the environment.

I've been coveting the City of Halifax's green box program for quite some time now. You can put a heck of a lot more in your green box than in your standard backyard composter (which is what I use): fruit and veggie remnants, table scraps, meat, fish, dairy products, cooking oil and fat, different paper products, bones, coffee grounds, sawdust.... basically anything organic. They've made great strides in changing people's habits, reducing waste and creating environmentally-related jobs. They've reduced greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 1.4 tonnes per resident (take that, Rick Mercer!

Actually, just looking at the HRM (that's Halifax Regional Municipality) website is enough to make me turn (ahem) green with envy... they seem to really be putting some effort into building a more sustainable city. Now, some of my relatives will take issue with my pro-Halifax stance (don't get them started on cycling in Halifax). But where trash is concerned (and pesticides, for that matter), we could learn a lot from them.

Unfortunately, there's resistance to adopting these initiatives - from the Chair of the city's Planning and Environment commitee, no less. According to Denley, he's not a fan of the green box initiative and is instead musing about a user-pay garbage collection system.

I'm getting a sense that Denley is not a fan, either. He cites Toronto's green box program, which apparently has some problems (he cites "an audit last month" but I haven't been able to find it yet).

But Toronto's program is not as well established as Halifax, and it's not like the province has stepped up with any kind of initiatives to help communities go green. Toronto may think it's the Centre of the Universe, but perhaps other cities' initiatives may be better comparators.

And I have to wonder about Peter Hume's pay-as-you-throw "solution". How, exactly, is a user-pay system going to help people change their habits? How will it reduce waste, overall?

Denley ends his column with this: "For some in Ottawa, recycling is a religion. For those not of that church, these decisions should be about costs and benefits".

I agree it should be about costs and benefits, but I'm using a different calculator than Randall Denley. To me the cost of the impact on our environment far outweighs the benefit of convenience (that is, the convenience of not having to sort your garbage). The benefit of reducing reliance on our landfill, creating jobs, protecting the environment and adopting more sustainable habits far surpasses the cost of new recycling programs.

Some people were moved to reply

Sea Salt & Malt Vinegar Apr 20, 2005 09:23 AM said:

In apartment buildings (where recycling rates are lower than average - but that's another story), the city collects the recycling for free, but not the garbage. Commercial landlords have to pay private companies to empty their garbage bins.

I'd be all in favour of a similar system for everyone: pay for your gargabe, but recycling is free. People could buy garbage tags at hardware and grocery stores, each tag would permit, say 10L of garbage. No tag, no collect.

And, just like the City can fine you for consistently putting out your garbage on the wrong day, they would fine us for consistently not using tags.

Or would people just start poaching tags and sneaking their garbage into their neighbours cans? So what.

But does any of this solve the great yoghurt container problem?

The Webgeek Apr 20, 2005 10:00 AM said:

People could buy garbage tags at hardware and grocery stores, each tag would permit, say 10L of garbage.

Two issues with this...
1) it would punish larger families -- those with three or four kids -- whose incomes are already stretched a little thin.
2) the "irrate taxpayer" who'll hoard their garbage in the back (or front) yard "on principal".

If a pay-type system is going to work, I think there needs to be a certain pro-bono amount per person first, then start charging for the extra. It would also have to be coupled with a bit of a tax-break too; lets face it, we're already paying for garbage removal with our property taxes.

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