November 28, 2008
by George Guidoni
Complex problems are rarely resolved satisfactorily by simple fixes, and in the haste to meet its ambitious, self-imposed waste reduction targets, the City of Toronto risks alienating the very people whose cooperation will be vital to making meaningful progress in the city’s long-festering garbage crisis.
With the city currently estimated as being able to divert 42 per cent of its trash from landfills—the rest being shipped to Michigan in approximately 80 trucks daily— the city government has formulated a new plan to raise the diversion rate up to 70 per cent by the end of 2010, which is when the hauling of our litter south of the border is scheduled to cease once and for all.
A lovely noble goal, granted, whose sheer ambition would mandate our public works officials to do all they can to get all the stakeholders aboard its Target 70 mission—especially the big-time users of foodservice packaging.
Instead, some of the proposals revealed by the city earlier this month amount, on closer scrutiny, to a decent argument why Canada’s largest cities should not be given the vastly expanded legislative and taxation powers they so desperately seek.
Titled in that catchy, short-and-sweet style that only city hall bureaucrats can pull off, the Proposed Measures to Reduce In-Store Packaging Waste and Litter, Municipal Hazardous and Special Waste and Plastic Water Bottles report targets hot-drink cups, plastic retail bags and single-use plastic food packaging as the three biggest point-of-purchase packaging villains that must be swiftly diverted from the municipal wastestream, like yesterday.
Heavens only know how taking out 10,000 tonnes of such trash will make a critical difference for the cause—accounting for only one per cent of the overall diversion goal—but it’s really in the details where the whole reasoning becomes riddled with all sorts of shortcomings in logic and forethought.
For one, ordering retailers to give shoppers with reusable bags “a discount of 10 cents per bag for each single-use plastic retail bag not used by the customer” has a nice ring to it, but who actually decides at the checkout just what constitutes an equivalent of one bag?
A 20-cent discount to coffee-shop customers bringing in their own mugs may seem bright, but less so when accompanied by a ban at the end of next year on all paper coffee cups with plastic lidding—virtually all the coffee cups out there—on the account of not being easily recyclable enough for Toronto’s recycling system, where separating the two is apparently beyond its technological might.