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Wise diversion of waste would pay dividends

That the regional government is out hyping changes to garbage collection like they’re new iPhones is your first clue something is amiss. The amount of time spent selling the service cuts is in inverse proportion to the public benefit.

In case you missed the message, the changes start rolling out Mar. 6. Garbage collection times will be cut in half. With region-wide bag limits, some people’s service will be drastically curtailed. Blue and green bins will be collected as they have been, with some expansion to the latter.

You can see the rationale for this from the region’s perspective. Its green bin project has been a money-loser, largely the result of poor planning in signing a long-term disposal deal with Guelph. By reducing garbage collection by 50 per cent, administrators hope the threat of two-week-old garbage – especially pungent in the summer – will drive more people to the green bins, despite any improvements to the messy system.

Better still – from the region’s perspective, not yours – there’s no reduction in your taxes corresponding to the service cuts. Instead, the money can be redirected to other priorities where the losses are much larger, say, light rail transit.

That the changes have nothing to do with serving the public, saving taxpayers’ money or improving the environment was readily apparent in the transfer station debate. The townships lost a well-used service – again, without any commensurate reduction in taxes – and the region was reluctant to support a private option in Woolwich for fear of losing revenue if the operator took the waste to other, cheaper jurisdictions. It wasn’t about the environment – hurt by both illegal dumping and the extra pollution created by township residents being forced to drive to the Erb Street landfill site – or diverting trash, but about the money.

That’s not to say that diversion efforts aren’t worthwhile. A successful green bin program would keep waste out of landfill sites. No need to be disingenuous about it, however. If the region wants people to use the green bins, it should have made the system cleaner and more convenient. But, as with many of its offerings – see transit, again – officials are more intent on their programs than on what suits the public.

Bailing out poor decision making aside, greater uptake would serve more than just the environment. For every 1,000 tonnes of waste diverted, two jobs are supported, according to economic studies.

Less than a quarter of the garbage produced in Ontario is currently diverted from disposal sites through practices such as recycling, composting, and reusing waste material. Boosting Ontario’s diversion rate to 60 per cent would add 13,000 jobs and contribute another $1.5 billion to GDP.

Diverting significantly more waste would increase employment and economic activity in the province, while reducing Ontario’s dependency on U.S. landfills in Michigan and New York State.

The Ontario government has a stated goal of diverting 60 per cent of the waste collected in the province into recycling, reuse and composting.

Studies suggest that increasing waste diversion from its current 23 per cent to 60 per cent would – once the 60 per cent-rate is reached (and maintained) – support the equivalent of an additional 12,700 direct and indirect full-time jobs, and add $1.5 billion to provincial gross domestic product.

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