Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Toronto is subsidizing its most wasteful people with garbage bin rebate

When city hall’s budget committee approved the 2016 budget last week, there were a bunch of proposals that didn’t get the thumbs up.

A program to increase TTC bus reliability? Not in the budget. Money to cover the increasing cost of food for student nutrition programs? Nah. Requested funding for the offices keeping councillors accountable? Come on. Of course not.

But one piece of new spending did make the cut. The committee added $2.23 million to the budget to maintain a rebate for homeowners who have an extra-large garbage bin.

Unless something changes before the budget is finalized, city hall will keep subsidizing Toronto’s most wasteful.

A quick recap on the way garbage collection works in Toronto. Homeowners choose a bin size ranging from small to extra large. Each has a user fee based on processing costs. To offset that fee, users get a rebate — paid for with general tax revenue.

Of course, taking a cue from Captain Planet, earth-friendly blue recycling bins and organic green bins have no user fees.

But for the 38,618 homes with an extra-large bin, the blue and green bins don’t get much use. A waste audit last year found that 77 per cent of the stuff in the biggest bins is divertible material: recyclables and organics.

Last year, in an attempt to get the biggest bin owners to downsize, the city sharply reduced the rebate. This year, the solid-waste department proposed a bigger shift, dropping the rebate altogether and charging the full $468 annual cost.

But an omnibus motion passed by budget chief Gary Crawford last week added a $110 rebate back to the budget.
Crawford says the move isn’t about coddling those with big bins. Instead, he says the plan is to bring forward a recommendation later this year to remove the extra-large bin option altogether.

“We don’t want to do the money grab on the bin and then get rid of the extra-large bin,” he told me.

It isn’t a terrible strategy, but spending $2.23 million to keep the rebate while waiting for a plan to get rid of the bin is a hard pill to swallow. That’s money that could, for example, fund the TTC’s requested express bus program.

Would removing the rebate now be a “money grab?” Maybe, but who cares? The city, with so many funding needs, should enthusiastically grab money from those who produce so much waste.
There’s still time to fix this.

The budget is set to come before Mayor John Tory’s executive committee and then city council this month.
When it does, the city should make it clear: If you’re producing an extra-large amount of waste, pay the extra-large cost.

Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt

This post was originally published at on 2016-02-01T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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