Image: Toronto Star
Toronto has an ambitious plan to reduce waste to landfill by 70% by 2010. This means that consumption of one-time use containers will have to decrease dramatically. As you can see in the above picture from the Star, trash on city streets is made up of plastic bags, coffee cups, and fast food containers. Just imagine what would happen to New York City’s trash volume if Starbucks forced all their patrons to bring their own cups!
According to the Toronto Star, the city is considering three options:
An outright ban.
A levy or tax on the items. (Charging extra would presumably influence consumers to use recyclable cups or containers.)
A deposit-return program similar to the provincial bottle return program, whereby consumers get at least a portion of their money back if they turn in the container, making the seller responsible for recycling it.
Toronto’s ambitous plans are spurred by a landfill that’s nearing capacity and the desire to avoid incineration, which can release toxic gases and large amounts of global warming gases. But will their initiative work?
Reducing waste to landfill through legislation
Let’s take a look at the three options presented by the Toronto government, as well as their possible pros and cons:
- Ban: Considering that the ban would take place on a business level, I think it would be very successful. All one would need to do is pop into any coffee shop and see if they’re handing out disposable cups, then slap a big fine on the company. Since this ban eliminates consumer choice, there are actually very few points of mediation between the government and potential offenders (limited to business owners). However, jumping from no regulation to ban at breakneck speed leaves little room for consumers or businesses to change their habits, and will likely lead to ill will and resistance, even amongst those who agree with the cause in principle.
- Tax: I think taxes are the best solution here. No one likes taxes, and they may not affect the type of person who goes into a coffee shop for a $4 mocha latte, but that fact is that taxes get things done. Would you bring your favorite coffee mug to get coffee on the way to work if it meant saving a dollar a week? I would. And for all those people who don’t want to conserve and would rather pay the tax, that money can go to recycling or waste management programs to otherwise deal with the problems caused by disposable food containers.
- Deposit: Deposits sound nice in principle, but when was the last time anyone ever turned in a can for deposit? There is a program in my state, but I’m too lazy to do it, so I just put my recycling out and expect nothing in return. Plus, because most of the waste in question here is food waste, the return system would have to be handled within the place of business, which would not only inconvenience people grabbing food and leaving, but the businesses that now have to collect and store trash in a new way, as well as issue deposit refunds. I actually think this would be more burdensome than an outright ban, and would eventually fail insofar as it would not affect any real change.
How would you handle Toronto’s current trash problem?