Let's be frank about the new pay-?per-?size garbage bin plan: it's a municipal experiment first and an eco measure second.
Not that this is a bad thing. It will obviously have some enviro impact, judging from the amusing outrage of those vehemently defending the right to litter.
But the true significance of the bins is that they're a first step toward "parcel," or what I would call "footprint" taxes, in which property is taxed not on the basis of market value but on the efficiency with which the city can serve it.
And since it's a tax, I have to ask, is it a fair one? Or may it present some problems, as I suspect it does, in rewarding efficient living arrangements.
Certainly we've got a challenge - an average of 441,363 tonnes of waste goes to landfill in Michigan every day, the equivalent of 26 CN Towers a week. Since the obvious solution - Garbage Tower ("Taller, Uglier, Costlier") - is clearly too visionary for today's investors, we need to discourage waste.
Of course, not everyone agrees.
I've read characterizations of the plan as part of the "new world order police state." Hardly - new world order police states are expensive. Even a single black helicopter is well outside the city's Works budget.
It's called "pay-?per-?throw," but in this plan you're really paying for the rubbish bin itself. This makes things easier to track and guarantees revenue that the city can put toward waste diversion.
But is this really true cost accounting? Looked at in the context of social inequity, there's all sorts of rich-?get-?richer potential in parcel taxing, since it's harder to be energy-?efficient when you're poor.
The first stage of the garbage plan, which starts with multi-?residential buildings, suggests that tweaking is most needed in rewarding urban density.
Take a small single household that puts out one regular-?size garbage bag -? the size of the 75 litre container -? twice a month. The cost? Nothing extra.
Take a 100-?unit building where each unit puts out the same amount. Due to the way the cost is calculated - by the building's total garbage volume, not the size of bin per household - landlords pay $150 every month. They can apply to pass that on to the tenants, which would mean $18 a year per unit ($150 times 12 divided by 100).
That's $18 more than two people in a more inefficient house pay for the same waste output.
Now imagine a couple living in a small house who put out half a garbage bag a month. They're paying nothing - and they get a yearly $10 credit. They then move in with three other people. They're buying more shared goods, so they're generating less waste.
But total household waste still means each of them has to share the cost of a larger bin - if they chose large it will cost $133 a year - for consuming less and for costing the city less to pick up their garbage.
The point is that this is Toronto's first experiment in parcel taxes. And parcel taxes are supposed to reward high-?density dwellings for being less of a burden on city works budgets. This does the opposite.
And then there are the more practical issues of living in multi-?resident dwellings -? especially mid-?size low-?rises, our most valuable sort of built form, not only in terms of footprint (more efficient, in different ways, than either a bungalow or a 30-?floor tower). Many such buildings date back to the early 20th century and, thanks to property values, just aren't worth building any more.
Consider me biased, I suppose. I live in a building of some 40 units. And those lovely grounds aren't suitable for dumpsters. As teams go out to start "containerizing" apartment buildings, it's not clear what will happen to us: will neighbours have to deal with a dumpster on the sidewalk, or will the super have to carry multiple gargantuan bins down a set of stairs?
The city is pioneering more rational taxes, but there's at least a medium-sized trashbin of kinks yet to be worked out.