Deputation to PWI - April 26 2011

Public Works and Infrastructure Committee   --   April 26, 2011

Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) Deputation on Agenda Item: 
PW 3.1 Solid Waste Management Services Waste Collection Request for Quotations (RFQs)

Good Afternoon,  

My name is Emily Alfred, and I’m the Waste Campaigner for the Toronto Environmental Alliance. Along with our over 10,000 members, we’ve been working to build a Greener Toronto for over 22 years. Our members care about waste diversion and know that Toronto is a leader in North America for diversion programs and services.

We believe that:

  1. there’s simply not enough information on the benefits and risks,
  2. that contracts need to safeguard diversion services and ensure continual improvement,
  3. and finally, there needs to be transparency on this decision, specifically through Council oversight.

1) Benefits and Risks - First, we don’t know enough about the benefits and risks of privatizing collection on waste diversion

TEA has spent the last couple of months researching this issue, looking for reports that show how waste diversion has been impacted in municipalities that contract out waste collection. We have concluded that there is simply not enough information.  
However there are incidents where private contracts have hindered municipal diversion programs, or created a financial penalty for municipalities that want to increase waste diversion.

For example

  • In 2009, York Region sent 4000 tonnes of blue box material to landfill because of problems with a private contractor who has been over-compacting recyclables, making them impossible to sort.
  • When Toronto added green bin pick up in the former City of York, the contractor asked for almost $7 million dollars in extra fees - both for the organics collection, and compensation for the garbage they wouldn’t be collecting. Council voted to pay over a million to end the contract instead.  

We don’t know if these incidents are the exception or the rule.

We recommend that:

  • This committee commission a study to review cities comparable to Toronto to see what impact, if any, privatizing collection may have on waste diversion rates. If a difference is discovered, the study should identify the causes and relevant recommendations.

2) Contracts - Our second concern is about contracts.

Private contractors have profit-making as a top priority, not meeting environmental or public policy goals.  To ensure that the public is properly served, and our waste diversion goals are met, we need strong contract language, supported by strict monitoring and enforcement.

  • An example of how the public loses because of bad contract language is the City of Ottawa:  They recently signed a 20-year green bin contract, and are now paying around 3 million dollars a year for waste that isn’t collected. This is due to a small detail in the contract language -- a ‘put or pay’ provision that requires them to pay for a set tonnage, even if the contractor collects less.  
  • Now the City has less money available for other important diversion programs.
  • The 2007 City Auditor’s report on waste contracts at the City noted that monitoring and enforcement of contracts in the City was insufficient, and that contract penalties were not being enforced.

We recommend that:

  • Contracts must be written in a way to ensure that the City is not penalized for making improvements to our diversion services or programs. This includes avoiding any ‘put-or-pay’ provisions for waste disposal that penalize us for reducing waste.
  • The budget for monitoring must be increased, and the true cost of contract management -- including staff time and legal costs for contract revisions and disputes -- must be outlined to all Councillors.
  • All waste collection services, whether by private or city workers, should be monitored and audited by City staff and with the same strict standards and level of enforcement.
  • Contractors should pay for the monitoring services provided by the City.

3) Transparency in the Process - Finally, TEA is concerned about the recommendation to bypass Council.

The public and our elected Councillors need to be part of this decision. They need:

  • Understanding of the risks, and confidence that safeguards are in place
  • Complete information about the value of privatization, including the full cost of monitoring
  • And a final say in the contract details and the award decision.

Before I conclude, I want to say something about costs:

We don’t know if this will actually save money -- Studies and research from across Canada and the US are contradictory about the potential cost savings from contracting out waste services. Most reports conclude that savings are dependent on the contract details and level of enforcement.

In conclusion:

We don’t know what impact this may have on diversion, but we do know that making a rushed decision with incomplete information puts our waste diversion goals and services at risk.

I urge you today to:

●    Commission reports on the missing data, 
●    To ensure that contracts are written to safeguard City services
●    And to reject this proposal to by-pass Council