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Andrew Reeves

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Should Ontarians Pay an Extra Trash Tax?

Posted: 09/21/11 10:16 AM ET

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) has released a special insert into newspapers across Ontario that stresses the importance of having a proper debate and discussion on the future of waste management in the province. They stress the importance of "safe disposal of our increasingly complex, and potentially toxic, garbage."

AMO argues that after a story about eco-fees ignited a public outcry in July, 2010, the long overdue discussion of how Ontario should deal with its waste was sidetracked, and the issue remains unresolved to this day. Add to this the fact that Ontario produces much more waste than comparable jurisdictions due to a lack of incentives for "businesses and consumers to reduce waste, recycle more and use safer products."

What can we be doing to reduce the amount of waste generated in the province? What, if anything, should be done about the 35 per cent of our waste that Ontario ships to the United States? What role can manufacturers play in waste reduction through the principle of extended producer responsibility? And given the community resistance to the incinerator set to be built in Clarington in Durham Region, just east of Toronto, what emphasis should be placed incineration and the concept of deriving energy-from-waste? Is this the best use of our waste material?

The problem is, once you start asking questions about what Ontario should be doing with its waste, it's hard to stop. And the matter is complicated by two key factors. Firstly, there is no political issue less sexy than how we deal with our garbage. And secondly, most members of the public have no idea about what happens to their waste when it leaves their curb, where it goes, what happens to it, what level of government regulates and governs their waste removal -- most don't have a clue.

The AMO news release reads:

"People want convenient, safe and cheap waste collection, but very few people know what happens to the garbage they throw out, or who pays for it," said AMO President Gary McNamara. "Property taxes pay for most waste management costs, but tax bills have little or no connection to how much garbage someone creates."

Keeping in mind that the first R (and they are hierarchically ordered) is reduce; the first step towards dealing with our growing waste problem would simply be consuming less, and being smarter about what we do choose to consume. And, as always, knowledge is power.

"Putting anything and everything at the curb and walking away is convenient but expensive," AMO writes. "It poses greater risks to the environment, and it creates high demand for large-scale landfill sites, waste incinerators or garbage export. All of this drives up costs for each property taxpayer, whether he or she produces a lot of garbage or very little."

And you may agree that all members of a municipality should be collectively responsible for paying for the waste they cumulatively generate. Or you may feel that, like residents without children who oppose paying for schools, it should be a personal responsibility and that those who generate more waste should be responsible for paying more for waste disposal. Either way, Ontario appears to be well behind in having the critical discussions necessary about how best to deal with our generated waste, and the myriad of questions and problems that arise from this debate.

It wont be simple, and people will not agree. Consensus will be difficult to find, but the process itself will hopefully shed light on how this issue quietly effects many facets of our daily lives.

And according to AMO Executive Director Pat Vanini, in an interview with the Toronto Sun, she claims that "I always thought elections were about vision and I think waste disposal in Ontario needs a vision." And she's right. Absent a clear vision about how to deal with our waste, Ontario may continue its piecemeal approach to waste diversion, which will only work for so long. The challenge now for Ontarians is to use the current election as an opportunity to put the questions on our political leaders in hopes of conveying how important an issue this is.

I am glad AMO got the ball rolling, but now it is up to us to continue the discussion. It may not be sexy, but it doesn't have to be to be of vital importance.