The more I think about clear bags the clearer the picture I have about the clear bag green initiative program. Ideally this initiative makes sense but in reality there are questions to be answered. I am not resisting change or anything to do with green initiatives. However, as good as it sounds for our Town of Aurora community I am challenging this program. I am challenging this program with questions that need to be answered before I can buy in. And my concern is not privacy.
The main concept behind the clear bag initiative is transparency – a clear bag would make it easier to spot something that doesn’t belong in the garbage – organic waste, yard waste, electronic waste, hazardous waste, and recyclable materials. The idea is that people placing all their garbage in clear bags would be more inclined to follow proper waste diversion requirements. The transparency of the clear bags would deter them from mixing-in those item that should not be placed in the garbage, especially since the proposal is for a mandatory program including ‘policing’. Sounds good in theory. So what about smaller bags used to collect garbage in the home, do they also have to be clear? Apparently not; the bags and items inside the outer clear bag are not required to be clear. So if someone wanted to dispose of a few batteries it sounds like they could easily find a way to do so while still using a clear outer bag.
Strangely enough, privacy is being cited as the leading concern for those resisting the proposed change. I don’t see it. As there is no clear definition of what goes into a garbage bag as waste, there is also no clear definition of what should be considered a private item in your waste. If the privacy argument stands for garbage should it not also apply to recyclables and other waste streams?
Going from an opaque garbage bag to clear bag shouldn’t be a difficult process. Just a bag swap – how difficult can this be? Well in fact it is an easy task to fulfill if we all are inclined with waste diversion habits and ‘policing’ is not required. Whoever initiated this clear bag program obviously did not think so. To encourage the initiative it would be helpful to share some statistics or numbers telling us how much hazardous waste or electronic waste currently creeps into landfills specific to our community. It’s well known that the accumulation of solid wastes in landfills causes a high risk of soil and water contamination. The contamination of main concern comes from toxic metals in a wide range of waste products from obsolete computers to portable electronic devices. If our community is already effectively diverting their garbage then this clear bag initiative may not be worth implementing. Just because other communities have implemented this program does not mean the clear bag initiative is beneficial to the Town of Aurora community. Rather than a ‘policed’ mandatory program, perhaps a voluntary program with focus on education would be more effective?
Clear bags should not cost consumers extra money. No doubt, this is what you will hear in the presentations and public educational materials. The clear bags are comparable in price to the opaque garbage bags. This means they are close in price but are more expensive. With this new program residents should be using fewer bags per year so there is a cost reduction per year. This statement is true only for those who are not diverting properly. I can tell you with our good sorting habits in our household we will be using the same number bags per year. Clear bags will cost us extra money.
Here is something to think about the clear bags as well. If the material design of the bag is the same, as per the presentation during the last council meeting, less colour dye; then the clear bag should be less expensive. Less expensive because fewer raw materials are used to produce clear garbage bags. Less colour dyes in the landfill is environmentally friendly I suppose, thus clear bags are more environmentally friendly. If the lower volume and demand drives the price up then that’s what it is. However, there are other municipalities putting this program in place, therefore clear bag volumes should increase with time and hopefully decrease in price.
Having said all that I also want to know who will pay for the implementation of this program. That is the start-up costs and then ongoing operating costs. This is not a simple project and initial set up costs may be substantial especially if the program is mandatory and enforced. There will be costs for initial public education, marketing, training, and of course on-going labour to enforce. I am surely not the only one seeing this as a complicated and costly system for our community to implement? I hope not. The big question – is this program applicable for our Town of Aurora community?
Rather than telling residents the pros of the clear bag program and residents telling the cons, why not first ask our community why are some not so inclined to divert household garbage into organic waste, yard waste, hazardous waste, electronic waste and recyclables? If I were to answer this – I think there may be a convenience factor. Stay at home parents do not have time or perhaps do not want to drive with children and with hazardous waste to the waste disposal depot. Elderly may not be able to get to the hazardous waste depots. Working parents may not have time to go to the hazardous waste depots. These are my few assumptions. Why not ask residents? Why not ask residents how we can dispose of our garbage better? Perhaps there are alternative solutions – more frequent hazardous waste and electronic waste drop-off events. Or what about following the City of Toronto and providing scheduled local pick-ups for electronic wastes or even certain quantities of hazardous wastes at your curb?
After contemplating I really think that the proposed clear bag green initiative program would be ineffective and costly, and enforcement would be harsh on our community. If we educate, empower, and work with our residents better results will blossom. If experts agree that waste diversion enforcement is required then a random audit program will need to be implemented regardless of the type of the bag (clear or opaque). Perhaps the enforcement details should be a priority for debate.
Anna Lozyk Romeo, Editor’s Notes