Calgary’s magic landfill

Update: Since quite a lot of people seem to find their way here as they try to find out the fees for dumping stuff at Calgary landfills, here’s a link to the latest rates from the city. As a rule, it’s $50 a tonne. And now back to the regularly scheduled post…

Here’s an example of the magical thinking about garbage I wrote about the other day, from the Calgary Herald. Calgary’s probably the only major Canadian city without a curbside recycling program:

Fee for recycling slashed to $8
The city has reduced the proposed monthly cost of its recycling program to $8 by dropping the pickup of food and yard waste and leaving garbage collection on the property tax bill.

Officials say in a report going to a civic committee Wednesday that the city could reduce the cost of curbside recycling to $8 — from the original overall price tag of $21 a month — by starting with a pared down blue box program.

The report from Calgary city staff is here in PDF format. I wouldn’t recommend reading it unless you’re a policy wonk, but there is a distinctly pleading tone to it that makes it more interesting than most municipal reports.

It describes the hilarious (if you don’t live there) results of designing a garbage system where what people are charged isn’t linked at all to how much junk they put out. The worst part is that Calgary’s recycling depots are funded by money taken from disposal fees charged to people and companies that take trash directly to the landfills — so the more successful the city’s recycling efforts, the more strapped the depots will get and the worse the quality of service will be.

Attempts to charge $21 a month per household for a full-blown waste-diversion program have evidently foundered (even though they included a tax cut), along with much likelihood that Calgary will meet its self-imposed goal of diverting 80 per cent of its trash by 2020. One alderwoman calls the$21-a-month charge “ridiculous,” even though it pretty much just meant moving the costs from one bill to another.

Even a flat fee for each household means careful consumers and backyard composters subsidize the people who just throw everything in a black plastic bag and forget about it, but at least then the charge is staring them in the face. When it doesn’t, they think it doesn’t exist.

Needless to say, the problem here arises from Calgary city council’s efforts to impose a recycling fee without making residents pay the full cost for their regular garbage, except invisibly through their lump-sum taxes — as it is, the city officials say residents pay 20 per cent of the cost of their trash, and coincidentally they divert 20 per cent of the waste they produce. A series of proposed amendments talk about examining a tag-a-bag program and having a plebescite to see if Calgarians actually want to pay to get rid of their own trash. Good luck with that.

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