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Garbage Tag Plan Will Punish Families

By David Brown, Ward 21 Councillor

At the time of writing, Council was provided with information regarding the City’s proposed Curbside Waste Diversion Policy. I wanted to take a moment to outline why I do not support this policy and what a better solution would look like for our City.

The purpose of the proposed plan, according to staff, is to extend the useful life of the Trail Road Landfill, which will reach capacity in 13 to 15 years. As proposed, the plan would see the City reduce the amount of garbage that residents are allowed to place at their curbside from the current amount of six bags every two weeks. The City would change the system from one of a bag limit to one that is enforced with a bag-tagging system. The City would provide residents with an allotment of 55 tags annually.

In effect, this would reduce the amount of curbside collection available to residents from six bags to roughly two bags every two weeks on average, though residents could save tags in weeks where they do not accumulate as much waste for weeks where they produce more. Residents who need tags beyond the annual allotment will have to purchase them at a cost $3 per tag.

If approved at Council, the City will aim to roll out this plan in 2024.  

To me, this plan is entirely unacceptable. It will increase costs and pressures on families at precisely a time in which many are already struggling, and it will reduce the quality of Ottawa’s garbage collection services. Moreover, it puts the onus on families and larger residences while at the same time doing nothing to address the fact that many multiunit residential buildings simply do not participate in waste diversion at all.

I will not be supporting this plan at Council or Committee and I am urging my colleagues to reject this plan.

If the City proceeds with this plan, it may have the reverse effect from what is intended. It may result in decreased recycling and green bin compliance as residents dispose of their surplus waste incorrectly to try to avoid fees. In rural areas, we will likely see a greater volume of trash dumped and accumulating in culverts, forested areas, and at the roadsides. Parks, community waste bins, and business areas are likely to see an increase in domestic waste generation.

Put simply, the waste is still being generated, and the landfill will still run out of capacity. Even if there is compliance and residents purchase tags, this is little more than a tax grab as the waste will still go to the landfill.

Garbage collection is a core service and residents expect it to be delivered consistently to a high service standard. The plan currently proposed by staff provides no benefit, merely kicking the can down the road.  It is my view that residents should not have to pay more money for poorer quality services simply because the City has been dragging its feet on providing a comprehensive solution to this problem.

Whether or not the proposal from staff is implemented, the Trail Road Landfill will eventually run out of space. Every effort must therefore be made to move quickly to find a solution.

To that end, my preference would be for the City to focus all their efforts right now on exploring waste to energy solution, as I discussed frequently during the 2022 election and in an op ed in the Ottawa Citizen earlier this year.

This solution is cleaner both from a climate change and ecological perspective. It substantially reduces the impacts of waste, including by emitting fewer greenhouse gas emissions than typical landfills; its biggest byproduct is energy that can be used by our grid.

While there are significant capital costs for such a solution, those costs are going to happen eventually. Delaying does not change that. A new landfill would also come with considerable costs, not least of which is the use of a considerable amount of space.

And ultimately, if the City can find hundreds of millions dollars for projects such as Lansdowne or the LRT which have limited benefits for our community, surely the City should be able to find the money necessary to deliver efficient, predictable, and sustainable waste collection solutions for the entire City of Ottawa.

I will be using the tools at my disposal as a Councillor along with my colleagues to stop this curbside collection plan and instead prioritize with immediate effect efforts toward implementing a waste-to-energy solution.