This summer, Toronto City Council approved an aggressive new plan to increase the city’s waste diversion rate to 70 per cent by 2010. One of the key components of the plan is to take the cost of waste management off the tax base and to charge residents directly based on the amount of residual waste they generate. Residents will be required to choose one of four possible cart sizes for their residual waste and, the larger the cart, the higher the annual fee. Residents will have unlimited free access to all diversion programs. The new solid waste rate structure will pay for all existing city solid waste services, including city-wide services like litter management, and will generate the additional $54 million per year necessary to move from the current 42 per cent diversion rate to 70 per cent by the end of the decade.
City staff considered a number of possible ways to implement the new fees and examined and visited over 20 systems across North America. In the end, a cart based system was recommended. A bag tag system was considered and is beneficial in smaller communities when the primary goal is changing behaviour. But in Toronto’s situation, where the objective is to create a self-funding business unit capable of paying for the new diversion plan, a bag tag system is not suitable and would have required a per bag fee of over $3 for each and every bag. A bag tag is also not suitable in a city where over 50 per cent of homes are apartments or condominiums.
Since the program’s approval by council in June, many have focused on a single aspect of the program: the initial cost of the carts. While cost considerations are important, staff also had to consider a number of other factors including resident preference, ever increasing recycling volumes, ergonomics, worker health and safety, litter, scavenging, counterfeiting, collection productivity and overall system efficiency. Waste, recycling and Green Bin programs do not operate in isolation; we had to take a system wide view.
City staff conducted two blue cart pilots to compare bi-weekly collection of blue carts and weekly collection of blue boxes (recycling is currently bi-weekly in Toronto). The cart was the winner across all attributes (e.g., convenience of use, durability, litter control, storage capacity, etc.). Respondents’ preference for the cart over the current blue box system was almost unanimous at 97 per cent.
Municipalities and contractors that have shifted to an automated cart collection system have also realized significant reductions in injuries and repetitive strain incidents. Our pilot also determined that collecting a large quantity of recyclables in a cart every two weeks is more efficient than weekly blue box collection.
Municipalities have been collecting garbage the same way for many years and it’s time to move to a more progressive system. The blue box program is over 25 years old and is a victim of its own success. Excellent participation in the program and the many new materials that municipalities have added has resulted in insufficient capacity. A next-generation container is long overdue.
The carts are not free. The reusable waste carts will, on average, cost the city less than $50 each and are guaranteed to last 10 years. This works out to about $5 per year (about $6 after we factor in borrowing costs). It’s projected that automated collection will result in at least a 10 per cent gain in productivity — this translates to a saving of $10-12 per household per year — equal to the capital cost of both carts. A typical resident will also save more than $100 in garbage costs over the life of the cart and there will be fewer bags in landfill.
Starting in 2009, the automated collection system will be rounded out to include the introduction of a new, slightly larger Green Bin, which will replace the seven-year-old manually lifted bins in Etobicoke. These new bins will then go city-wide 2009-2011.
Waste diversion in apartments, condominiums and townhomes will also be vastly improved with the introduction of the Green Bin program in 2008 and new in-suite recycling systems.
From a broad system perspective, a single type of automated container for waste, recycling and Green Bin will provide maximum convenience and diversion capacity for residents and the city will achieve considerable collection efficiencies and simultaneously the ability to meter and bill based on waste volume.
Geoff Rathbone is General Manager, Solid Waste Management Services, for the City of Toronto. Contact Geoff at firstname.lastname@example.org