There are still some of us who, for reasons of convenience or ignorance, still don't leave our trash where we're supposed to.
If this describes you, be forewarned. A city bylaw enforcement officer may be going through your dirtiest secrets.
The city has just hired additional bylaw enforcement officers as part of its crackdown on littering.
I received a visit from one of them at work last week. He asked me to step out into the hallway for a minute so he could show me something. In his hand he held a clear plastic bag of photographs and papers that he described as "evidence." The pictures were of garbage bags, and were taken in the alley behind my Queen West apartment. The most incriminating "evidence"? A soiled piece of office letterhead with my name and work address. For this the officer handed me a ticket for $130.
Ever since I moved into my apartment two years ago, my neighbours have been leaving their garbage in that alley, and it has always been picked up by the city. I often add small bags to a collective trash bin in our hallway when I don't need a large bag myself. I expect some of my trash was thrown out in the alley.
When I asked the officer how he found my name in the pile of trash, he explained that his job is to rummage through people's garbage. That's how he determines who's doing the illegal dumping.
He added, "We're out there, going through all of it."
The conversation, already unsettling, turned creepy when the officer confided that he had read some "interesting stuff of mine" that had made him laugh.
He went on to ask questions about my girlfriend - calling her by name - and other personal details. He'd been reading my garbage!
It occurred to me that millions of Torontonians throw out waste every day that reveals not only what they eat, where they work and what they do for entertainment, but may also contain credit card numbers and other very sensitive information. Virtually every detail of our lives can, in the wrong hands, be exposed and exploited.
Shocked and fascinated by this experience, I made a phone call to Moses Cabral, supervisor of the city's bylaw enforcement officers.
I asked if his officers are allowed to read through personal letters. He replied that "once people put (their garbage) on the curb, it's city property."
He told me not to worry about privacy issues because his officers are not allowed to discuss what they may have found or read with anyone - including the individual they are ticketing.
None of this jibed with my own experience, of course.
I told him I was interested in writing a story on illegal dumping on city property and asked if I could follow a bylaw officer around for a day.
Cabral quickly denied my request, saying, "Under the Access To Information Act there are sometimes personal belongings in the garbage that the public might not want people to know about." Very reassuring.
Be careful what you throw out.
A city bylaw enforcement officer may soon be knocking on your door armed with a ticket - and eerily intimate knowledge of your life.