More trash talk

July 11th, 2008
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I thought my trash talk from Wednesday was just another hollow rant, reverberating in the lonely echo chamber that is drjandmrk.com. And then I saw Thursday’s Ottawa Sun.

Guess what? Not only is garbage bag-tagging alive and well, but – surprise! – more and more Ontario communities are using it. Furthermore, places like Kemptville are charging $1.50 per bag picked up at the curb, and I can almost understand this given they are providing the service of picking trash up from your house.

Contrast that with the rural township of our last blog.  There I’m paying when I have to haul the stuff myself!

Philosophically, I’m all for user-pay alternatives. In this case however, there seems to be the dual intent of cost recovery plus an attempt to encourage taxpayers to reduce how much they throw out. That will only go so far.

As I write I can see the Government of Canada’s attempt to do the same thing. Every office here has a paper recycle can the size of a normal trash can. Tacked on the side is a small plastic container, the size of a small loaf of rye bread, or two small square pumpernickels. That small container is supposed to hold all non-paper trash. The idea seems to be that the small size of the container will cause us to make less garbage.

Alternatively one could simply compress more garbage into a smaller space. However, the progressive folk of Kemptville and elsewhere likely have, or will have, a weight limit to their bags – especially if they have unionized staff. So if you’re in my office, or paying by the bag in Kemptville, compacting will not help too much.

But let’s get back to the apparent objectives of cost recovery and waste reduction. On the second, is $1 or $1.50 a bag really enough of an incentive (deterrent) to get people to recycle, or somehow reduce? I suppose it might “raise awareness”; but being charged curb-side for pick-up is one thing – you see the hit immediately – paying once a year for bag-tags, or having the cost hidden in your taxes is another.

Then we have “cost-recovery”. If we assume about 300,000 households in a city of 1 million like Calgary, all producing about 2 bags of garbage a week; multiply that by $1 or $1.50 per bag; you get between $30 and $45MM of revenue. Even little Kemptville, with about 1200 households, stands to reap almost $200,000 from its bag charges. Call me cynical, but I would guess that, if a bag-tag charge were implemented, it would be on top of whatever taxes are currently used for waste disposal.

So, tart it up however you want, “incentive to recycle”, “waste reduction”, simple green initiative, whatever. What the bag-charges amount to is another tax grab. Big surprise.

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By John Weissenberger
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