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Organic Consumers Association

Tax Trash Before It Becomes Trash

  • Recycling fees are already used for e-waste. Why not expand it to the whole economy?
    By Amelia Bellamy-Royds
    The Tyee - Canada, Jan 1, 2010
    Straight to the Source

In the garage of my mother's Ottawa home is a brand-new "Green Bin," ready and waiting for January's first pick-up of household scraps. This year marks that city's addition to the ranks of municipalities great and small that collect compostables in order to reduce waste going to landfills.

But Ottawa homeowners were less than impressed when they found out last month that they would also be receiving a brand-new $68 per year charge on their property tax bills to pay for the service, along with a new recycling fee, in addition to the fee already charged for garbage collection.

Dealing with waste is expensive. All those bins and boxes are expensive. Trucking the stuff around is expensive. Sorting out and recycling the useful bits is expensive. Creating leak-proof, noxious-gas-capturing facilities to bury what's left over is expensive. Burning it to recapture a fraction of the energy used to create it is expensive.

The forgotten Rs

The most economical option for dealing with waste is to simply not make it in the first place. Recycling, after all, is supposed to come after 'reduce' and 'reuse'. But indoctrinating school children with simple ideas like the "3 Rs" hasn't done much to end a cultural dependence on disposable goods.

The problem is that when people make the choices that affect how much stuff they'll be putting out on the curb -- when they are deciding what, and what not, to buy -- they don't face the cost of the waste. Often, as in Ottawa and Vancouver, the expense comes out of tax funds or mandatory fees paid whether or one makes a lot of waste or a little.

Many municipalities in B.C. and elsewhere have adopted a "polluter pays" system by charging a fee for every bag or bin of trash collected. There's good evidence the system works. A large study of American jurisdictions produced for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests that, after controlling for other differences, a "pay as you throw" system leads to about a 17 per cent reduction in waste sent for disposal. One third of that material was transferred to increased recycling, one third to yard waste programs, and one third was actual reduction in the amount of material being put out on the curb.


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