Reduce Garbage, Keep the ‘Change’

I’m fascinated with the misguided public response so far to Simcoe County’s plan for Zero Waste. The County plan is to lower the tax assessed for waste management by $80 per household and to introduce a user-fee per bag of garbage. This ‘carrot and stick’ approach appears to be a public-relations failure before it even starts. Not being clear about the cost of the bag tags (currently $2.00) hasn’t helped.

The discussion in the press has focused entirely on the user-pay fee with the assumption that this change will cost more overall. There has been no discussion of the Zero Waste goal or how best to achieve it, no recognition by the public of the proposed tax reduction and no perception of the user fee as a possible opportunity to save money. After the long and bitter fight to stop development of the Site 41 landfill, you could excuse me for expecting better from this community. In this article, I’m suggesting some changes to the user-pay format. Here’s a closer look at some of the shallow arguments being advanced in opposition to a user-pay system:

  • Struggling families can’t afford to pay

“I hope you’re right about it not costing struggling families more money.”

How is it that a ‘struggling’ family can still afford to generate more than 77 litres of garbage a week, every week?

  • The user-fee is a devious plot to increase general tax revenue

“User fees are a great way to hide tax increases — simply up the per bag rate instead of general taxes.”

Seriously? The waste management portion of the property tax bill is about 6% of the total, before the $80 reduction. Suddenly it’s going to become an important new revenue stream for the County? An in-your-face user fee seems like a really odd way to ‘hide’ a tax increase. Isn’t the real aim to discourage the volume of garbage that we no longer have capacity to bury?

  • Garbage collection is an essential service

Every letter writer referred to garbage “collection”, with no understanding of what comes afterward. In other words, let me produce as much garbage as I want, cart it away – I don’t care where, I don’t care how – (one writer suggested “more efficiently”) but don’t charge me too much and don’t build a landfill in my neighbourhood.

  • We can’t / won’t change our habits

“The problem with garbage collection is it’s mandatory, you can’t opt out unless you plan on dumping it at the side of the road”

Someone is forcing you to buy all that packaged stuff? Reduce, reuse, recycle isn’t working for you? The only thing you can think of is to keep consuming and then soil your own surroundings? Brilliant.

Considering the indifference shown toward reducing the waste management portion of the tax bill by $80, I’d suggest cancelling it. People clearly hate change. So go ahead, charge every household the full $150 for waste management. But give every household 40 garbage bag tags (40 x $2 = $80), 20 tags with payment of each half of the tax bill. I can think of a few advantages:

  • The County would receive the same amount of revenue as before, in advance, rather than selling bag tags as they’re needed.
  • Every household would have its ‘stash’ of bag tags without having to go out and find a vendor to buy them. Tag distribution would be easier to administer by the County and municipalities.
  • Watching the supply of tags being used up would give each household a tangible measure of how much or how little garbage is being produced, rather than buying a few at a time without really being aware of them.
  • Conscientious neighbours could partner to conserve their tags. Combine garbage from 2 households into one container.
  • Smaller households with less garbage could share tags with, or sell their tags to, larger families with more garbage. Better yet, get together with your neighbours and share ideas on how to reduce their garbage.

Read the viewpoint from Zero Waste Simcoe:

Zero Waste Simcoe asks, Is There a Garbage Fairy?

Zero Waste Simcoe asks, “Do You Want Waste With That?

3 thoughts on “Reduce Garbage, Keep the ‘Change’

  1. Garbage tag user fees: Let’s get our federal and provincial government’s to go after the real culprit — Big business and its ridiculous packaging. How about an ecotax on the corporations for needless packaging? This issue has been around since the 70s and still no progress — it’s actually worse now.

    • Either way, consumers will pay for what they use, and dispose of, either through municipal services or through eco-fees at the cash register. But you’re right, excessive packaging will require a higher eco-fee so there will be pressure to simplify packaging and make more of it recyclable.
      Places like Goodwill are also thriving because it provides a valuable service making it easier to reuse many items.

  2. Hi, Mike:

    I really enjoyed reading your responses to criticisms of the user-pay waste pick-up proposal.
    I would like to invite you to come to the Annual General Meeting of Zero Waste Simcoe; it will be held on April 19th at 7 p.m. at the YMCA Employment Resource Centre on King St. in Midland, across from the town library. The keynote speaker will be Don Gordon from Atlas Block, who will be talking about his company’s zero waste practices. We are anxious to attract more involvement from the south end of the county in Zero Waste Simcoe.

    Katy Austin

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