IMPACT

Clear Garbage Bags Bring Shaming To Halifax's Non-Recycling Residents

07/28/2015 02:43 EDT | Updated 08/10/2015 10:59 EDT

In Vancouver they shame "grassholes," people who break lawn-watering restrictions despite the ongoing drought. Now over on the east coast, Halifax is about to bring the same sort of peer pressure to their recycling program.

Beginning on August 1, residents are only allowed to use clear plastic garbage bags on their curbs. The reason? It will allow everyone to see if you are putting recyclables and organics in the garbage, as opposed to sorting them into their appropriate bags.

Of course, the city doesn't use the word shaming, but states that "using clear bags for garbage encourages proper sorting."

But it's not just nosy neighbours who will be checking to see how much you value the environment over convenience. The city will also be checking what you're tossing to the curb and "non-compliant bags" will be slapped with a rejection notice.

"The overall intention of us moving to clear bags is that there's still material ending up in the landfill that should be recycled or composted," city spokesperson Tiffany Chase told the CBC. "We've known that in other jurisdictions, they've seen an increase in recycling and organics and a decrease in the amount of wrong material going to landfill."

That said, the city has made an allowance for one "privacy" bag, an opaque garbage bag that will allow you to throw out your personal items away from prying eyes.

Efforts to reduce household waste from six bags to four bags for pickup every two weeks failed, but other changes did come to pass, including telling residents to leave grass clippings on their lawns rather than disposing them with yard waste, and requiring that "solid colour poop bags" (be it for pets or diapers) must go in the privacy bag or you'll have to use clear sandwich bags.

The Chronicle Herald reports that clear bag programs have been effective elsewhere in Nova Scotia, with Cape Breton seeing a 16 per cent decrease in garbage destined for landfills in the first six months. The Annapolis Valley saw recycling increase by 10 per cent and compost increase by 18 per cent within a year.

PEI was a pioneer of this program, which began in 2002 and saw recycling double in tonnage between 2001 and 2003, reaching a 65 per cent diversion rate from landfills that has remained constant since the clear bag program began.

Meanwhile, Markham, Ont. has achieved an impressive 80 per cent diversion rate, thanks in part to a participation spike after they instituted their own clear bag program.

"You can’t hide it in a big cart. The neighbours see it. You can’t pay for more bags — besides, people do get used to user-pay (so it doesn’t necessarily change behaviour). It’s totally democratic. You can’t buy yourself out of it," waste manager Claudia Marsales, affectionately known as "Queen of the Heap," told the Toronto Star. "The key difference is the clear garbage bag."

In fact, a 2008 study of clear bags as a waste diversion strategy looked at 22 Canadian and U.S. communities and found an increase in recycling tonnage in all but one (and that community introduced recycling at the same time as clear bags, so it couldn't be measured).

Clear bag programs save tax dollars, too. Metro reports that the cost of processing waste is about $170 per ton, while it costs only $50 for recyclables and between $70 and $80 for compost.

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