Warning:  This Letter is Recyclable

By:  Rachel Marsden

The City of Toronto has descended into a quagmire in the War on Garbage and now city council is calling in the troops. At least that’s what you would believe if you’ve been following all the hyperventilation this week suggesting the city will soon be imposing fines on people who don’t properly sort their recyclables.

According to Shelley Carroll, councillor (Don Valley East) and works committee chairwoman, “What we’re really talking about here is social change. We don’t have any choice.… We can’t allow it to be a choice anymore.”

Just as all the jihadists would have done if liberal John Kerry had been elected U.S. president last November, trash terrorists can chill out knowing that the lefty-dominated council is in charge of fighting this war. Contrary to what has been widely reported, the $130 fine for failing to separate recyclable items from the rest of your trash isn’t anything new.

It’s just that starting next April, the city may actually take a crack at enforcing it. How exactly? With a whopping six more bylaw officers, covering the entire city, to the tune of another half-million dollars each year. Now there’s some solid waste! Sounds like a fabulous make-work program for the friend who likes to come to your house and rummage through all your drawers while using your bathroom.

So are these waste warriors going to undergo extensive training in Dumpster diving in order to root out offenders? No, not quite. According to the report by the city’s solid waste management services that was adopted at this week’s works committee meeting and is set to go to council for a vote this month, if it’s noticed that you’re not using your recycling boxes, you’ll get a letter! Then you’ll get another letter! And only after this will you possibly be fined — but probably not before being given a good, stern lecture. Maybe they’ll even pelt you with cotton balls or marshmallows. Nothing that any chronic non-recycler with an IQ higher than that of a pop can ought to be able to work around.

I asked a friend who runs a waste management company just outside of New York City what he thinks of the city’s proposition. His response: “Most people want to do what they can when it comes to recycling, but there’s really no way you can enforce it always. It’s a fruitless endeavour.”

Unless you’re willing to go the militant route of a complete crackdown with zero-tolerance enforcement, and have your walking match your tough talking — which would not only be unrealistic and insanely costly, but could lead to privacy complaints, as has been the case in places like western New York state — then funding for these half-hearted efforts would be best spent elsewhere.

Councillor Adam Giambrone (Davenport) explains: “We have to make that situation [with the current landfill in Michigan] work until somewhere around 2010 or 2011, when our goal is to be at 100% diversion. We probably won’t reach it exactly at that point, but if we’ve got up to about 80% diversion, we’ll be well-positioned to be able to convince Michigan maybe for a couple more years until we get to that 100% diversion.” Right — maybe by then, we’ll have ended Third World hunger and achieved world peace, too.

The reality is that there will always be situations in which recycling is more of a hassle than it’s worth: You’re doing some quick de-cluttering and just want to open a big trash bag and dump everything in. You live in a small space and have nowhere to store your rotting compost. You walk by those big silver trash/recycling bins on the street and would rather just drop your newspaper through whichever slot looks the cleanest, rather than risk getting a dose of hepatitis from one you’re actually supposed to be

If, as Giambrone says, the garbage has to be screened for recyclables like pop bottles before being sent to the landfill anyway, then why not just focus on sorting it at city facilities, or consider other options like incineration, rather than paying big bucks to have a few more guys walking around town pretending to enforce a bylaw that has been so under-enforced to date that many people don’t even know it exists? A cash cow minus the cash is just useless bull.

As with virtually every war presided over by liberals, it’s kind and gentle, generally ineffective, a waste of money, and not really taken all that seriously by the bad guys. Committing half a million dollars annually to pay lip service to recycling enforcement, with no realistic exit strategy in sight, isn’t the answer.