January 07, 2015

$5 garbage bag surcharge would improve waste habits

On the bulletin board by my desk, I’ve just posted the Garbage, Recycling and Programme Information Calendar from Wellington County Solid Waste Services.

Having grown tired of calendars with cute animals, race cars and scenic outhouses, I can now gaze upon images of garbage trucks, swamplands being preserved, composting in action, pre-paid yellow garbage bags and employees doing their jobs with enthusiasm.

County staff appear to have good reason to be cheery, since their Human Resources Department recently won an “Oscar” in its profession. At a prestigious gala, Wellington was the winner of the Best Health and Wellness Strategy award from KPMG.

Initiatives have included tree planting, a ping-pong tournament, hockey and soccer teams that challenge other municipalities, fitness events, lunch time education on personal health, a Wellness Fair, mental health training and retirement readiness workshops.

I am always happy to read about my tax dollars being put to good use, but I would be just as glad to read the news in black and white, rather than in expensive colour publications and advertising.

The County has been politically and environmentally correct by printing their 36-page calendar booklet on 100% post consumer paper fibre. In the spirit of waste reduction, however, I suggest that the booklet is a luxury that most taxpayers would prefer to do without.

When I want to download the waste calendar, or read about what is allowed in my blue box, I will go to www.wellington.ca. When I want to learn how to keep re-usable materials out of the waste stream, I will go to the Recyclopedia page at www.wellington.reuses.com.

To be notified about a change in my garbage collection day, I’d rather sign up for an email or text message service.

Also, to promote frugality and waste reduction, I propose that the price of large yellow garbage bags be raised by $5, from $1.75 to $6.75 – on one condition.

A portion of the revenue would be used to cover the actual costs of collecting garbage and recyclables, but all of the excess money would be returned as an annual equal payment to each household in the pick-up areas.

By raising the price and providing an equal payback to each household, Solid Waste Services would expand a key benefit of the user pay system, as outlined in their calendar:

“It encourages diversion. The more residents reduce, reuse, recycle and compost, the fewer garbage bags they need to buy. It gives residents some control over how much they want to spend on their garbage each week.”

With a $5 surcharge per bag, it would cost $27 to put out four large bags. With pickup every two weeks, that would total $702 per year. The annual rebate would certainly be less than that.

A household that put out one bag every two weeks would pay only $175.50 a year, and could expect a rebate that would be higher than that – unless everyone cut back to one bag.

It would be a bit like the Carbon Fee and Dividend system that has been proposed to reduce gasoline consumption. You actually pay people to change their wasteful ways.

Of course, if we all become super waste reducers, garbage bag revenues will decline – and it is still going to cost about the same to drive garbage trucks up and down the roads. Maybe then we can switch to once a month rural pick-up, and urban folks can learn how to get by with pick-up every two weeks.