The shocking truth about what many of us are throwing out — and shouldn’t be

By Kris Scheuer and Sandie Benitah
(Originally written for Town Crier Jan 19/06)

Toronto has too much garbage and we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves.
That’s if a
Town Crier sampling of garbage bags taken from many neighbourhoods across the city is typical of what’s out there. 
The results are shocking. 
out 80 percent of what we found in the 14 bags (we dug through over 100 bags for a series of stories) was waste that could have easily been recycled if people used their green and blue bins as they’re supposed to.  
We’re talking scrap paper, pop cans, food, diapers — you name it — and with each bag we opened, the city’s
garbage situation seemed to get more and more dire. 
According to city statistics, Toronto sends ab
out 975,000 tons of waste each year to Michigan landfills — that’s enough garbage to fill the Roger’s Centre to the top of its retractable roof.  
The city is making an effort to crack down. Come this April, residents across the city will only be allowed to put
out five bags of garbage every two weeks. But from the looks of it, some of us won’t be ready.As it now stands, there is a six-bag limit on garbage bags every two weeks.
While the city average is just over two bags of
garbage per household every two weeks, a handful of homes we found put out eight, 10 and even 14 bags of waste. 
A tour of streets around Millwood Rd. and Bayview Ave. found that on
garbage collection day, while the average household is throwing out three bags of trash — which is well below the current maximum — several homes are simply not making use of their blue and green bins. 
Moreover, most of the
garbage bags we saw lining the curb were half full and in some cases, triple bagged. Garbage and plastic bags are not recyclable, and only add to the refuse in our landfills.
On a
garbage pickup day in November, several Town Crier reporters drove around the Leaside neighbourhood, as well as other parts of the city, and collected a sample of garbage bags from homes just to see what percentage of the discarded items could be recycled. 
Here in the Leaside community, a household on Millwood Rd. had nine bags of
garbage out. A peak inside one of the bags revealed that about 80 percent of what was thrown out could have easily been saved for recycling. 
Diapers, plastic containers, milk cartons, vegetables, paper litter and plastic bottles all spilled
out of the bag. The paper and packaging could have gone into the blue bin while all the organic waste, such as food and even diapers, could have been put into the green bin. 
A nearby house on Ma
nor Rd. East had six bags of refuge plus another four big bins full of garbage sitting by the curb. There was one green bin out with a small bag of organic waste in it.
Other parts of the city were
no different. In North York a house on Maplehurst Ave. put out seven bags of garbage. A house on Gordon Rd., south of Highway 401 had eight bags at the front of the driveway, while another home on Glen Grove Ave., in North Toronto, had 10 bags of garbage.
A sample from these homes was taken and once again, more than 80 percent of the waste was
not trash but readily recyclable items, such as cans, paper, food, diapers, sanitary napkins, shampoo bottles, etc. 
City workers who pick up the
garbage said it’s not uncommon for households to exceed the current six-bag limit. While they are supposed leave the excess waste behind with a bright sticker on it explaining the city’s policy as well as the option of paying to dump it themselves at a landfill, the sanitary workers admitted those rules only make their jobs harder. 
“If I just leave it (extra bag) behind, I’m going to have to pick it up next time so what’s the difference. It just makes my job harder the next time around,” said Wayne, a collector who would only give his first name. 
We approached Wayne after we saw him dragging seven bags from one house into the back of the
garbage truck. He said he often doesn’t count the bags because it just slows him down. 
“It happens all the time — just look around you,” he said of people disobeying the six-bag standard. “It’s
not even recycling day and we’ve seen tons of recycling today, so people don’t listen to the program.”
nother sanitary worker collecting waste in North Toronto agreed with Wayne but said it all depends on the individual collector. 
“I pick up eight bags of
garbage per house but it really just depends,” he said. 
Nadine Kerr of the city’s Solid Waste Management department said she was surprised to hear some of the collectors weren’t abiding by the rules considering how many complaints she receives from residents whose excess
garbage hasn’t been picked up. 
She said making people understand and appreciate the impact of recycling has been the biggest challenge the city has had to face when dealing with the
garbage dilemma. 
“We give
out calendars, newsletters, waste recycling material in eight or 10 different languages, hold environment-day programs plus we have all the information available on our website,” she said. “It’s a huge challenge to bring people around to the mindset.”
However, she added, people will have to catch on fast, as the limit is being reduced in April 2006 to five bags every two weeks and then again in April 2007 to just four bags. 
Geoff Rathbone, director of policy and planning for Toronto’s solid waste management, said prior to amalgamation each municipality had its own rules and in some cases there was
no bag limit at all.
“In the former City of Toronto and North York (in the 1990s)
garbage pickup was twice weekly and you were allowed to put out 12 bags per week,” said Rathbone. 
So that was 48 bags per month rather than the 12 allowed
now (six bags every two weeks).
The last time the city conducted a trash audit was in 2003 in Etobicoke. Since then, the city has partnered with Stewardship Ontario, an Industry Funding Organization created in 2002 to submit a waste diversion program for Blue Box wastes.
This year, an audit of 100 homes scattered around midtown Toronto and East York was conducted, but the results and analysis have yet to be released. Kerr said the city plans to review North York next year, once residents have had the time to get accustomed to the green bin, which was just implemented in the area this past October.
Spot sampling, similar to what the Town Crier did for this assignment, only happens when a bylaw officer is investigating a complaint, said Kerr. Trash will also be checked for potential recyclables if a household asks to be exempt from the six-bag limit. 
now we’re reducing the bag limit and giving a green bin to every household in the city,” said Kerr. “We’ll see how it all goes.”
(This was originally published Jan 19/06 in print and online at
See my note below under comments for what has changed since this story first ran.)

2 responses to “Toronto-residents-not-recycling-enough

  1. In 2006 and 2007, reporter Sandie Benitah and I did a series of articles on what’s in the trash Toronto residents throw out. It was fun story to write, but not terribly amusing to dig through rotting garbage.
    What was most interesting is that while I believe most Torontonians do recycle and separate our organic waste, some are not bothering.
    In almost every single one of well over 100 bags we dug through in the course of several stories, we found organic waste and recyclables thrown out in the same bags as trash.
    This was not the odd banana peel or milk carton, but in some cases was bags of newspapers and pop cans or food.
    I am far from perfect, as I still throw out too many used tissues in my bathroom trash rather than the green bin. But what we found in reporting on this issue at the time was more could be diverted from landfill if we recycled each and every time.

  2. A few things have changed since my colleague Sandie and I wrote this 3 and a half years ago. Firstly, the city backed off its rule of six bag trash bags per household every two weeks. Then last year it introduced a pay as you throw system based on the size bin you order as an incentive to recycle more.
    Secondly, Sandie Benitah is now working for as an excellent online Toronto news reporter.
    Thirdly, Geoff Rathbone who is quoted throughout this story is now general manager of Toronto’s solid waste management services.

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