Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How Toronto's new garbage plan discriminates against renters

On November 1, 2008, a new garbage collection system came into force in Toronto. It’s part of a noble plan to reduce the amount of material going to landfill. Unfortunately, its implementation has been clumsy, and the program is highly discriminatory toward people who rent apartments in small buildings.

The city is sending out new garbage bins to all the buildings it collects waste from at curbside. For a single-family dwelling, it’s a sensible program. Get a small bin and you get small rebate. Get a larger bin, and you pay an annual fee, presumably because you’re sending more material to landfill.

Unfortunately, the city is charging based on the amount per building, not per residence. So, if the two single-family houses next door each generate the equivalent of one bag of garbage per collection (the volume of the smallest bin), they each get a rebate on their water bill. However, I live in a two-unit building and we are allowed one bin for the building. As a result, if each apartment generates one bag per collection, we have to pay a fee. In other words, the city will be charging each residence in my building a fee while giving a rebate to other residences on the same street that generate the same amount of waste.

This is patently unfair, and clearly discriminatory toward multi-unit dwellings. And, it’s worth pointing out, multi-unit dwellings tend to be more energy efficient and generally better for the environment. The city should be rewarding multi-unit dwellers, not punishing them.

But there’s one other problem with the new program. The rebates or charges are applied to the building’s water bill, not the property tax bill. Traditionally, charges relating to solid waste management are part of property taxes. In Canada, property taxes are usually paid by the landlord. Utility bills, on the other hand, are often paid directly by tenants. Shifting the cost of garbage collection to a utility bill means that, in many cases, it will be shifted to a cost borne directly by the tenants. And that amounts to a rent hike in addition to any allowable annual rent increase a landlord may charge.

That, and it’s a little hard to understand what garbage collection has to do with water and sewage.

Green Tenant will be seeking answers from city officials. Don’t turn to the pink tag line for help, as it’s just a call centre and has no answers. Do call them (416-392-2467) if you haven’t received a bin or pink collection tags, but be prepared for a very long wait. I was on hold for more than 30 minutes this morning.


Mike said...

This discrimination is not the only one.

It also discriminates against large households, since the maximum garbage per household is 4.5 bags every two weeks regardless of householdf size.

Why should my 9 member household be limited to half a bag of garbage every two weeks while a one person household gets twice that amount without even paying?

Craig Saunders said...

A valid point, and one of the reasons that bag fees have been resisted in the past.

To be fair to the city, I recall that we already had a four-bag limit, though I'm not sure it was broadly enforced.

And, in all fairness, they're not limiting the number now, just requiring that a higher fee be paid for collection (please correct me if I'm wrong on this).

Personally, I can't see why a household, even with 9 people in it, would be putting out more than 4.5 bags every fortnight. Considering that food and organic waste (including pet litter and tissues) are diverted to the Green Bin, and that most of the bulkier items can go in the Blue Bin, there's not much left to put in the trash.

At the same time, I do agree that the city's system is unfairly uniform in its application.