Garbage fees meet resistance in Toronto

TrashcanTorontonians have had it just about up to here with extra charges for city services, according to a semi-random sampling of city residents by the Globe and Mail, and they’re not terribly keen on paying extra for their trash.

“With the amount of taxes we pay, they want to charge us for extra garbage?” [Anita] Moller asks. “I think that would be crazy because I think that is the only [useful] service they provide to a household.”

She says the city’s policies are fussy enough to begin with – even without people having to adjust to the city’s latest rubbish ruminations. “You’re not putting out garbage for fun,” she says. “It’s garbage!”

Toronto city council is considering following Vancouver’s lead by offering residents garbage bins of different sizes. The smallest bin would be free, while the larger bins would come with a rising schedule of annual collection fees.

This is a totally reasonable way to charge people for a service they consume according to how much strain they put on the system. The more garbage residents put out, the more trucks are needed to carry it, the more garbagemen are needed to work on the trucks, and the faster landfill space fills up. If you paid a private company to take your trash away, this is pretty much how they’d charge you.

Toronto may be botching the sales job, however, by considering the plan a moneymaker. The Globe:

Geoff Rathbone, acting general manager for the city’s solid-waste services, says the plan has two goals: to raise funds to accomplish the city’s goal of 70 per cent waste diversion, and to get people to more readily recycle.

This despite the earlier reporting of the CBC, which said in April that “Under the plan, waste collection costs would be eliminated from the property tax system and replaced instead with a flat annual fee based on the amount of garbage a household produces.” The issue here very much appears to be that even comparatively virtuous trash-generators have the feeling that they’re going to get screwed by the change.

The point of tax-shifting, which is what this nominally is, is to put costs on the people who generate them and withdraw the burden from people who don’t. Shifting taxes and expecting to pull in more from the public’s purses and wallets is a sure way to discredit the idea.

One other thing. Reporter Geoff Nixon talks to one woman who says here family has a standing joke of calling the poor sucker who has to sort the recyclables out of their trash each week the “executive vice-president of garbage.” Why not just have two bins next to the regular garbage, for paper and plastics, and make it everyone’s responsibility all the time? Much less of a chore that way.

(Photo credit: “Bulembu,” Flickr/Miss Heidi B)

2 responses to “Garbage fees meet resistance in Toronto

  1. If Mayor Miller was trying to develop a plan that will give homeowners cause to curse the city at least once every two weeks, he has done a fine job!

    Miller’s plan to charge households extra for producing more than one bag of garbage every two weeks, down from six currently, will be especially harsh on large families like mine. We recycle like crazy, but still have significant garbage. I pay taxes for a household of nine, and I need services for a family of nine. Why should my large household have the same garbage limits as a one person household that pays less tax?

    Adding user fees makes it even worse, unless offset by a rebate that reflects the actual amount I currently pay for the service, rather than an average amount per household as proposed. This is a crucial point that has been overlooked. Miller proposes rebating to every household the average annual cost, $209, of trash removal. This is totally unfair to large households that pay much more than that, in reality, for their trash removal. What it amounts to is a totally unfair and arbitrary transfer of funds from large households to smaller households. The effect will be adversely experienced only by large households.

    But Miller’s plan will also be quite a nuisance for smaller households. Currently any household can dispose of six garbage bags a week where necessary. Under the new plan one will have to chose a bin size for the whole year and will be limited to that amount every two weeks. Households that want to have a right to ever throw out more than one bag every two weeks will have to pay extra for the privilege even when they don’t use it.

  2. Hi, Mike, and thanks for commenting. Royson James, the Star‘s excellent City Hall columnist, agrees with you on a lot of these points. I don’t really understand the logic of rebating everyone an equal amount, either — it makes more sense to cut property taxes by whatever amount the city expects to bring in with a new fee-for-service system, although I guess a change like that might not be visible enough for politicians’ tastes.

    I would say, though, that the current system amounts to an unfair and arbitrary transfer of funds from small families to larger ones, and definitely from conscientious ones to wasteful ones.

    Do you like a tag-a-bag system better? It seems fairer to me, but a heck of a lot harder to administer.

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