January 28, 2017
A report from a Toronto environmental group issued last week argues that contracting out garbage collection in Scarborough could hurt the east-end’s currently high waste diversion rate and send more garbage to landfill.
Toronto Council will be debating a plan to look at doing just that – contracting out garbage collection in Scarborough – at its Jan. 30 meeting. If approved, the city would put out a call to private sector waste haulers to bid on providing the service, and also consider a bid that would include using city workers.
But the Toronto Environmental Alliance’s (TEA) report on the subject says that pushing city workers out of the program could mean that Scarborough’s waste diversion rate – currently the highest in the city, and four per cent higher than in Etobicoke, where contractors do collect garbage and have for decades – could be jeopardized.
The key, says TEA spokesperson Emily Alfred, is likely differences in the ways that the public and private sector enforce Toronto’s waste diversion rules. But it is impossible to say because the city hasn’t provided enough information to track.
“It’s really hard to say, but we think enforcement is always really important to contracts,” she said. “The fact is that we don’t have much data. We don’t have any information to say why. I can’t say it’s caused by contractors but I can’t say it’s not.”
The report, entitled Protecting Scarborough’s Success: How Contracting Out Could Harm Scarborough’s Waste Diversion Performance, does note that Toronto’s Auditor General has criticized the city’s solid waste contract management. And it notes that city staff are well behind on submitting status reports on contracts to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees garbage collection city-wide.
And it notes that contractors are not necessarily incentivized to slow down and inspect garbage, when they’re payed by the tonne and penalized for complaints.
“If you leave a garbage bag behind because there’s no tag on it, you’re going to get a complaint. If you leave construction waste behind, you’re going to get a complaint,” said Alfred. “The system is not designed to incentivize this. The tonnage goes against being careful, leaving notices when people do something wrong. Those all require extra time.”
Mayor John Tory is strongly supporting the plan to go out to tender in Scarborough – also known as District Four – to ensure that the city is able to find the best price for collecting garbage. City staff have not always agreed. In 2015, staff recommended leaving the balance of contracted-out work and in-house work as it is, with garbage collected by city workers east of Yonge Street and by private contractors to the west.
Currently, Scarborough is doing better than Etobicoke on a per-house basis, but not on a per-tonne basis.
But Alfred argues that the diversion rates should be a crucial factor – and that if Scarborough is diverting better with city workers, it might make sense to bring it all back in house.
“Waste management is one of the most important environmental services we have,” Alfred said. "If Scarborough is doing better, why is Etobicoke doing worse?"