Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Garbage collection blues

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The sudden increase in illegal dumping in autobin neighbourhoods has been sparked by the decision to eliminate the giant steel trash receptacles, but it is not a new problem.

Contractors and residents alike have used the bins as a convenient and free dumping ground since they were introduced in 1992 in some parts of Winnipeg as a way to save money.

They were a bad idea from the start, however, because they encouraged waste, while discouraging recycling. The green movement was still relatively young at that time, so the autobins were introduced with little opposition from activists, although ordinary citizens claimed at the time they didn't much like the ugly refuse bins in their back lanes.

Less than a decade later, however, the recycling craze was in full swing and then-mayor Glen Murray introduced a controversial plan to charge homeowners a user fee (with the first two bags free) for garbage collection.

It was a good idea, but poorly executed and it went down to defeat on the floor of council, mainly because some councillors feared the wrath of their constituents if it was implemented.

The autobins and other forms of residential waste collection are being replaced with automated garbage and recycling carts on wheels, which will provide homeowners with a limited (about three standard-size bags) of garbage they can dump every week. The system has several benefits, including the fact it will encourage people to recycle more, if they don't want to haul their own excess garbage to the dump.

The only weakness is it forecloses on the possibility of introducing a user fee and turning garbage collection into a self-sustaining utility, much like hydro, gas or water services.

The city could still find a way to start a pay-as-you-throw program in the future, either by charging for everything beyond a certain weight or by revamping the entire system once again, but no one at city hall is talking about such a plan.

The city, however, needs to start looking at structural changes in the way it delivers services, including garbage pickup.

The alternative is higher and higher property taxes, which just about everyone agrees is a regressive tax that doesn't reflect the actual services received by homeowners or their ability to pay.

The autobin is a relic of the past that did more harm than good, but it's unlikely the new automated carts will be the last word on garbage collection. The next time civic engineers tackle the question of how to pick up and dispose of waste, the community may well be ready for the creation of a utility that relieves the pressure on property taxes and stashes it where it belongs.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2012 A10

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