Council's Decision on the Future of Garbage

At the June 14th Council meeting we debated and decided our city’s curbside waste policy, after the matter had ended in tie votes at the June 5th meeting of the Environment & Climate Change Committee (ECCC). What residents might not know is the role that my office played in ensuring that we had an actual debate.  

At the June 5th ECCC meeting, we had three policy options on the table. We had the original staff recommendation where households would be given 55 tags per year to use as they wish, with additional tags available for $3. We also had the variation on that policy, which came from Mayor Sutcliffe and Councillor Marty Carr, where each household could put out two garbage items (e.g. two garbage cans) without any need for tags, along with a one-time free allotment of 15 tags, and the option to purchase additional tags at $3. And finally, we had the motion from Councillor Brown, which set a firm limit of four garbage items.   

When we debated these options at the ECCC meeting on June 5th, I supported the Sutcliffe/Carr option. I saw it as a simpler proposal than the original staff recommendation, and one that would meet the same objective of diverting more waste from landfill. But in the end, all three options resulted in 5 – 5 tie votes at committee. A tie means that the motion has been defeated. So, all three options were rejected.  

In the days following the June 5th ECCC meeting, a “compromise” option was negotiated by the Mayor and Councillor Brown and Councillor Carr. In the compromise motion, there would be a firm limit of three items, and the City would “explore leveraging the feasibility” of the city’s Yellow Bag program, which is currently available to small businesses and residents with exceptional circumstances, and which would be expanded to residential use. But the Yellow Bag program still comes at a cost to residents, where the purchase of each yellow bag costs $4.30, as compared to $3 for a bag tag. And so, for big households that regularly put out more than 3 items per week, each of the two options will come with additional costs. And just as the “bag tag” option would’ve come with additional administrative costs, the “three-items" option will also come with additional costs to taxpayers, including a greater cost of collecting and transporting more waste, and the lost savings of trying to get more lifespan out of our landfill.  

In other words, we don’t know yet which of the two options will cost taxpayers more in the long term. But what we do know is only one of the options was going to get us closer to our goal of diverting more waste from landfill. And with 74% of Ottawa households already putting out only two or more items at the curb every two weeks, only one option - the one that I brought back to Council for debate – was going to incentivize the other 26% to reduce their waste. In terms of environmental impact, the choice was clear.  

While many of my council colleagues supported my motion, several requested that I do not bring it forward, and that I rally behind the compromise instead, for the sake of advancing a sense of Council “unity”. But I know that many Ottawa residents, and many Ward 9 residents, supported the option that I was bringing forward. And those voices deserved to be heard at Council, which is where competing points of view are debated in public. In the opinion of many, including city staff, one policy was clearly better than the other, and so it was important to give it a fighting chance.  

If you’d like to hear my speech in support of my motion, as well as the ensuing debate, please click here. In the end, the motion was defeated 14 – 10. And so where do we go from here? 

This new “three item limit” policy will likely not be implemented until Spring 2024. In the months leading up to that, the City will engage in an education and communications program to help prepare residents for the changes. We will also be ensuring that the new policy is enforced, because rules without enforcement are, naturally, ignored.  

We need to get better at waste management. According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development), Canada is among the worst nations globally when it comes to household waste management. And in Ontario, over 130 municipalities have implemented the kind of partial-pay-as-you-throw system that our Council just defeated. As I’ve mentioned before in this column, rather than lead, Ottawa continues to follow. As I write this on Father’s Day, thinking about the future that I want to pass onto my four children, my choice was clear.  

In Fall of 2023, Council will debate our comprehensive Solid Waste Master Plan, which will address multi-residential buildings, commercial waste, the responsibilities of manufacturers, and the urgent question of what comes after Trail Landfill is full. I continue to explore options for a technological solution to replace landfill, but even a technology-based solution must go hand-in-hand with initiatives to reduce what residents set out at the curb. Ultimately, as consumers, as citizens, and as stakeholders in the future of our city, we have a role to play.   

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