My Musing Space: New garbage bin program in Toronto. Fair or unfair?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

New garbage bin program in Toronto. Fair or unfair?

Let me tell you, I am more than a little annoyed by the odd decisions Toronto City Hall keeps coming up with. The one that irks me most (at this point) is the garbage bin issue. For one thing, I am not happy about these new large, unsightly bins that are hard to park in our tight, overcrowded downtown neighbourhoods. But I understand the garbage collectors' union prefers these types of bins with hooks that are lifted by mechanical means, so that our garbagemen will not strain their backs having to empty them by hand. Since both the cost of the bins and the necessary health care when those people needed help came out of our taxes, I suppose things even out.

What I do not understand, though, is why do they use at City Hall negative incentives to achieve positive goals time and time again, particularly in the case of recycling which seems to have been quite successful in Toronto. Single family homes account for most of the success of the garbage separation program. Multi-unit dwellings (apartments and condos) recycled only 13% of their garbage in these last few years. Plans are in place to find solutions for those, also. Yet, City Hall decided to introduce a neat punishment for the otherwise conscientious single home owners. They decided to impose sliding scale fees for the amounts of garbage produced by each household.

Let me tell you why I think this can be very unfair.

First of all I am surprised at the notion that the consumer "produces" their garbage in the first place. If you have a second look at the previous sentence, we are consumers not producers. They are suggesting that we, as consumers, are supposed to always choose the product that has the least packaging, to clamour and lobby for the factories to reduce said packaging. I must disagree. We, as consumers, specially in these hard economic times, are concerned by the financial well being of our families, we buy the products that are the most cost efficient, regardless of their packaging. We do not have the luxury to busy ourselves with the task of pestering individual companies, particularly if those products come from different countries around the globe.

Now, according to the Smart Guys at the City Hall there is an average amount of garbage each household is "supposed to produce". If the household produces more, they will have to pay an appropriately higher yearly fee (tax), while those that produce less will get a certain amount of money back. So what does this mean in practice? Large families with kids and stay-at-home moms will generate above average garbage simply because there are more people in that house, they cook "from scratch", do money saving projects themselves at home with appropriate amounts of by-products. Think of just the number of worn out size 13, large and heavy gym shoes a family with several teen aged boys produces at regular intervals. They also tend to use their clothes, towels and bed covers until they are in a near-shreds state, which can mean considerable bulk when they hit the curb. And when they do, they will not fit into the otherwise already oversized garbage bin, they have to be bagged and labeled separately, so at the end of the year the family can pay the extra, per bag fee for that extra rubbish.

Let us contrast this now with the couple next door who chose not to have kids, both work and so their are far better off financially. They eat out during lunch at restaurants that cannot really care about packaging issues lest they geopardize their business, or when pressed for time, the couple will have take-out that comes in loads of packaging, but that is discarded at the food court or the office. On the way home they often pick up ready made food from the supermarket which comes in a single box to discard when finished, instead of the bags, tin cans and styrofoam trays that thriftier families have to deal with. The refuse created by the couple's dinner disappears at the supermarket's end of the process.

This wealthy couple also buys more goods and more often. But they don't use those items to the fullest, at regular short intervals they are packed up, sent to a charity and replaced by new things. Let the poor folks deal with them when those items reach the end of their natural life span. So who will then pay the penalties for the extra bulk when they are discarded in the end? The poor and the thrifty relatively poor. And who will be rewarded by the money back arrangement for their model curb-side behaviour? The over-consuming wealthy childless couple.

Now tell me, is this fair...?


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