The Fourth R – Responsibility

After writing three articles about Simcoe County’s user-pay garbage scheme I’ve hesitated to tackle the subject again. But the series of letters to the editor at local papers are so off the mark I feel obligated to chime in again.

The industry-funded organization, Stewardship Ontario, was back in the news recently as the province sorts out the financial fall-out from last year’s eco-fee debacle.  Gemma Zecchini, the CEO was quoted as saying, “We’ve lost the dialogue around what it means to be a citizen and participate in an ecologically responsible manner in society.”

After reading recent letters to the editor I’m inclined to agree. Here are some of the arguments against a user-pay system:

It’s not my fault:

[The planet] “was mostly destroyed by the Industrial Revolution. Most of those people reaped the rewards and gave no thought to the future, the grandchildren who are now left to deal with this mess” Yeah, life is unfair. What’s your point? Stick it to the next generation?

Things aren’t so bad. You’re exaggerating:

“I do not believe Canada has unbalanced the environment, when you look at the landmass and population that we have… Canada is doing quite well managing and balancing itself… Learn to live in balance, that’s your answer.” And I guess a 1/2 tonne of waste per household is just the right balance? Simcoe County plans to ‘export’ garbage out of the County as a temporary measure. At say $1.25 per litre of fuel, how far would you like to truck it?

It’s a tax grab

“this proposed user pay garbage system is a tax grab combined with a reduction in service” Yeah, that’s why the tag fee won’t be set until tenders are submitted by private contractors, and garbage (about 6% of the tax bill) will become a cash cow for the County!

A reduction in ‘service’? Or look at it this way. The County wants you to reduce your garbage! If a $2 bag tag fee doesn’t discourage your use of this environmentally hazardous ‘service’, what will? Are you suggesting tags should be say $5 each?  Should we limit the number of products that stores can carry? Ban plastic wrap and plastic packaging?

We can’t reduce our waste at all:

“If someone actually believes there is such a thing as zero garbage … we [will] go back to a rural farm-based society … but now we have urban centres… with this type of development comes waste, it’s a reality.” Yeah. OK.. So, Innisfil rejected a plan for an incinerator years ago and a new dump site is not on the table. Can we put it in your backyard for now?

Some writers argue that the County’s plan should be ‘revenue neutral’ – that up to 55 bags per year (per household) should be allowed at the same cost as the existing weekly pick-up. Isn’t this the classic definition of insanity – repeating the same action and expecting a different outcome?

We’ll just dump illegally

Some people argue that the tag system will only encourage people to dump garbage illegally. One writer commented on a US documentary, Black Rain, that describes the extent of illegal dumping. But if people are not willing to pay the real cost of proper waste management and recycling, aren’t contractors going to be tempted to dump illegally? Doesn’t that put us back where we started?

County residents have shown real leadership in reducing garbage by diverting 57% to recycling and composting. But that still leaves 43% to contend with. It’s insulting to suggest that we’ll now all give up and start tossing garbage helter-skelter around the community. I believe too many people in Innisfil care too much about the environment – our environment – for that to happen.

The acrimony around this issue reminded me of a book I read recently, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. Using a number of ancient and modern examples, he shows how some societies fail to recognize the need for change until it’s too late to avoid social collapse. The bottom line is, we need to take individual responsibility for the amount of garbage we produce. That change is inevitable. There is no magic truck, no magic pit, to make garbage just disappear, especially for about $3.00 a week per household.

Maybe there’s room for improvement in the details, but if more leadership on this issue doesn’t start manifesting from the top, I expect that it will from the bottom.

The Annual General Meeting of Zero Waste Simcoe will be held on April 19th at 7 p.m. at the YMCA Employment Resource Centre on King St. in Midland.

Published previously:

Reduce Garbage, Keep the ‘Change’

A Closer Look at Trash Tags and Toonies

Talking Trash Around the County

UK and US Garbage Collection Going High Tech

2 thoughts on “The Fourth R – Responsibility

  1. ‘Grumpy old whiners’…nice. I would like to point out that the majority of people I have spoken to on this subject are not grumpy or old or whining, just trying to make every cent stretch.
    And it will be a reduction in service that costs us more, pay more for less service seems like a tax grab to us. As taxpayers we are not suggesting a price per bag, but the council has not set a cap on a price yet. It will be a minimum of $2.00. Mayor Baguley only said she wouldn’t support $5.00 a bag or more. Maybe you’re not feeling the pinch, from your picture I would assume you are no longer raising a young family, you are out of touch.

    • I wasn’t planning to be the Don Rickles of blogging but I guess I was a little out of sorts lately. The underlying theme that I find here is a ‘can’t do’ attitude. Will it really be that much of a challenge to reduce garbage waste? Here’s one family’s perspective: “The County of Simcoe’s plan to introduce a “user-pay” garbage pick-up system next year caused me to have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction when I first heard about it >”Those weenies,” I said, or words to that affect. “They are trying to screw >residents who already pay – through their taxes – to have garbage picked up.” >But very quickly I came to like the idea. I warmed up to it as I started taking >stock of what my family of four is already putting at the curb. Mainly our one >bag of garbage each week is disposable diapers. I know, for that alone we’re >pond scum, but I digress. The rest of the “trash” we produce goes into our green bin – another change I at first detested for fear it would smell (it doesn’t). And then whatever else we have goes into the blue bin (metal and glass recyclables) and the grey bin (paper recyclables)… I figure if as a family of four we can make this work then most other people can as well…” [Bring on the user-pay garbage pick-up, Michael Gennings, community editor for The Stayner Sun and The Wasaga Sun, Mar. 2, 2011]

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