Tuesday, October 31, 2023

What is the Clear Garbage Bag Program – My Understanding

According to the Town of Aurora the clear garbage bag program is a household waste diversion program. It will require Aurora residents to switch from opaque (usually black/green) garbage bags to clear (translucent) garbage bags. The purpose of the program is to divert items away from the garbage which belong in the recycling blue box, compostable green bin, yard waste, electronic waste, or hazardous waste streams. Our Town makes a very fair statement when they claim that the clear garbage bag program will help the Town of Aurora increase its waste diversion rate.

The Town of Aurora has documentation available that lists a number of benefits of a clear garbage bag program. However under the Town’s Weekly Notice Board published in previous issues of The Auroran, there is a statement that the number one benefit of the clear garbage bag program, nothing to do with the diversion rate, is to ‘improve safety for our garbage collectors by enabling them to see the contents in the bags’.

There is no disputing that health and safety should always be a priority for all of us, but with respect to garbage collection there are sure to be safety risks regardless of whether a clear bag or opaque bag is being collected. Inherent in the collection of waste is the need for safety precautions. The garbage collection contractor must ensure its collectors are properly trained and protected for the work they are performing. Overall, there may be some indirect ‘safety benefits’ with the use of clear garbage bags if the dangerous contents are clearly visible to the collector, but in my opinion its a stretch to suggest that as the ‘number one benefit’ of the program.

Based on the due diligence I have done, my understanding of the clear garbage bag program is different. By now you should know that I am not in support of this program. I find that the information presented to date is not clear and the program is based on the assumption that Aurora residents have the same household waste management habits as Markham residents.

“The clear garbage bag program does not reduce overall total household waste, just diverts it, or should I say people divert it.”

First, the clear garbage bag program will not increase the household waste diversion rate; people will. Clearly, this program is a resident transparency program. A program that allows garbage collectors to see the contents of the bag and if the contents do not comply with the Town guides the garbage bag will be tagged and left at the curbside to be sorted out for the next pickup. Or shall we call this a waste management policing program? In order to support clear bags and enforce changes to waste collection, removal and disposal rules the Town passed an updated by-law in July 2014. Although some of the changes are being advertised through various media there seems to be a significant delay in publishing the new by-law to the Town web site; even after a friendly reminder, the site continues to show the July 2007 document.

But there is more. The most important concern the Town of Aurora and York Region have is diversion of hazardous materials like batteries or paint or electronic waste (e-waste) that may be hidden in opaque garbage bags. I will agree with this one, who wants hazardous materials in a landfill? Until recently the Town’s Weekly Bulletin Board has been stating that our garbage (stuff which doesn’t go into the blue box, green bin, yard waste or depot) goes to a landfill.

Really? Did you know that according to York Region’s site our garbage is not diverted to landfills anymore but to ‘energy-from-waste’ incinerators? How true, who knows? But according to York Region’s site there is a pretty good explanation of what happens to our garbage. The energy-from-waste (EFW) process is an incineration type process that instead of just burning garbage it harvests the heat and converts into a useful energy through steam and electricity. So back to the hazardous waste that may have previously ended up in a landfill and posed a long term environmental impact by leaching and contaminating the soil and water stream; what if that hazardous material is now streamed into an EFW incinerator facility and not detected? The immediate processing danger and environmental impact of the exhaust gases could be significantly more severe than the landfill scenario.

But now I am confused, how will the clear garbage bag program help? As of January 1, 2015 electronic waste and batteries are officially banned from curbside collection for all residents and businesses in Aurora. In my opinion, that should solve most of the diversion problem if residents are properly educated on the subject. That begs the question as to how much benefit an extra layer of ‘transparency’ from a clear garbage bag program would provide at a cost of $45,000 to the taxpayers.

“Did you know that according to York Region’s site our garbage is not diverted to landfills anymore but to ‘energy-from-waste’ incinerators?”

In conclusion I would like to emphasize that the clear garbage bag program in fact lacks innovation. Here is my list of thoughts. The clear garbage bag program does not reduce overall total household waste, just diverts it, or should I say people divert it. The clear garbage bag program does not reduce the number of garbage bags or grocery bags in the landfill or on the way to the energy-from-waste conversion facility. Residents will not be able to use grocery bags to package their garbage anymore. Grocery bags will be part of the clear garbage bag contents and note that grocery bags are not on the blue box list. Biodegradable grocery bags are also not on the blue box list; biodegradable means that plastic bags degrade faster in the landfill.

However, there is some interesting information about grocery bags. Grocery bags have always been used to package household garbage and at some point compost for the green bin. The green bin program became mandatory and we now have to purchase compostable bags (nicely packaged in a cardboard box). People will continue to use grocery bags for garbage until they are told to use clear bags (probably also nicely packaged in a cardboard box). Again, grocery bags are not allowed in the blue box; but because grocery bags are not allowed in the blue box that does not mean they cannot be recycled.

While researching the clear garbage bag program I accidentally came across a Plastic Bag Take-Back Program. The Plastic Bag Take-Back program is a cost effective initiative by York Region with five participating stores in Aurora. The participating stores will take plastic bags including grocery bags back from you to be further recycled. Great initiative and costs nothing.

With all these small cost effective initiatives and ideas we really don’t need the clear garbage bag program; we need education and some common sense.

Anna Lozyk Romeo
Aurora, ON

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