June 25, 2007

Toronto approves user-pay, volume-based rate system for solid waste diversion

At its June 20, 2007 meeting, Toronto's city council approved a new user-pay waste management plan which will apply to both single-family households and multi-unit residential buildings, including townhouse complexes. Through this program, the city aims to achieve a 70% waste diversion rate by 2010 and, by so doing will extend the life of its recently-acquired Green Lane landfill until approximately 2034.

Reaching this goal will cost some $54 million per year in new services, equipment and initiatives. Rather than further hiking up property taxes, the city will make the program self-funding, primarily through a volume-based rate structure for solid waste. In addition to funding new diversion activities, this will serve as a 3R (reduce, re-use, recycle) incentive for residents.

The scheme will make four different-sized garbage carts available, with capacities of 75, 120, 240 and 360 litres (equal to between one and four-and-a-half bags of garbage, to be collected every two weeks). Their cost is projected to range from $209 to $360 per year.

Households opting for the smallest-size bin will effectively pay nothing, receiving a $209 tax reduction or annual credit. The credit will initially appear on a new joint water/solid waste bill to be introduced by the city. Those selecting larger bins will be charged the difference between the $209 and the cost of their bin on their bills. It is estimated that the average single-family household will pay an extra $62 per year ($1.20 per week).

In addition to helping stimulate greater waste diversion, the volume-based solid waste rate is seen as being fair and equitable, straightforward and easy to implement and providing rate stability and predictability.

The program will make provision for surge capacity, allowing residents four extra bags of garbage per year at no charge. Bulky items such as sofas, mattresses and sporting goods will be picked up at no extra charge. The city's waste management services department has made a recommendation that Waste Diversion Ontario fund programs to deal with these waste materials.

Other highlights of the program will provide residents services and equipment (such as larger, wheeled blue bins for recyclables) to help them reduce the amount of waste they send for disposal. An additional, if minor, benefit to householders using the bins will be the elimination of the need to buy green garbage bags (about $15 to $20 per household annually).

Similar programs have been rolled out successfully in other North American cities, among them Vancouver, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles. As envisaged, Toronto's program would begin with an expansion this summer of a current Blue Cart pilot project to include waste carts. Implementation of the system would be phased in between fall 2007 and summer 2008, with actual start-up to begin in late summer or early fall next year.

The city says achieving the 70% diversion target will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by a further 25%. Toronto will recycle 240,000 tonnes of paper per year, saving 4.5 million trees annually, and will recycle enough Blue Box materials to save 900 million kilowatt-hours of energy yearly.

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