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City eyes coffee cup ban

Sep 14, 2008 04:30 AM

Levies, deposit-return also being looked at as study targets worst trash offenders

Environment Reporter

The City of Toronto is targeting some of its biggest garbage offenders – coffee cups, takeout food containers and plastic bags – in a study that could lead to sweeping changes in the way residents handle their refuse.

As part of Toronto’s plan to be diverting 70 per cent of its garbage from landfill by 2010, the city is examining ways to limit items that have a bad reputation for filling up landfills.

“They may not be very heavy, but they take up a lot of space,” said Geoff Rathbone, general manager of Toronto’s solid waste department.

Proposals being considered for beverage cups, takeout food containers and plastic bags include:

An outright ban.

A levy or tax on the items. (Charging extra would presumably influence consumers to use recyclable cups or containers.)

A deposit-return program similar to the provincial bottle return program, whereby consumers get at least a portion of their money back if they turn in the container, making the seller responsible for recycling it.

A proposal pushed by Councillor Howard Moscoe targets cardboard and plastic store packaging, most of which ends up in the garbage stream. Stores in Toronto should be required to provide space where customers can take their purchases out of the packaging and leave the garbage behind, Moscoe says. This would put pressure on the manufacturers – over whom Toronto has no control – to reduce the amount of packaging on their products.

The aim of all this is to increase the garbage diversion rate from the current 42 per cent – a move that would extend the life of the city’s Green Lane landfill, near London, Ont. Some regions, like Durham and York, are moving toward incineration as a solution to waste that can’t be recycled, but Toronto remains committed to landfills.

Toronto’s waste managers met with counterparts from cities across North America last week at a local conference where they brainstormed on ways to take recycling programs to the next level.

Last week, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario spoke out against excessive product packaging, saying it costs municipal taxpayers more than $150 million a year in disposal costs.

Toronto’s study does not have the support of the Retail Council of Canada. A spokesperson for the council, Derek Nighbor, said Toronto’s proposals would unfairly burden retailers and lead to a patchwork system of rules in various municipalities.

Nighbor said several major retail associations have already signed a memorandum of understanding with the provincial government to divert 50 per cent of their plastic bags by 2010, and the Canadian council of environment ministers is working on broader solutions involving product packaging.

The 70 per cent diversion target that drives the city’s study, he said, “speaks to the importance of setting realistic targets as well.”