Ottawa residents will likely have to put tags on every garbage bag or bin they set out at the curb starting next spring, the city's latest move aimed at reducing the amount of garbage headed to the landfill.
The City of Ottawa has been concerned that its landfill on Trail Road could be full within 13 to 15 years and hopes the plan — put forward Thursday at a technical briefing — can buy them two more years of time.
The idea is to encourage residents to sort more waste to the blue and black recycling bins and to the green organics bin.
As proposed, households would get 55 garbage tags each year and be allowed to buy extras for $3 each. Right now, households can set out up to six garbage containers, even if most never do.
For those who use trash containers, the limit will be 15 kilograms. No loose garbage will be permitted inside.
"It's not meant to be punitive, but rather to encourage residents to rethink their disposal habits," said Nichole Hoover-Bienasz, program manager for long-term planning with the solid waste services department.
"Ottawa is actually one of the last major municipalities in Canada to implement a policy like this."
The curbside waste policy will go before the environment and climate change committee on June 5 and full city council on June 14.
It's part of the much larger master plan for dealing with solid waste that staff are preparing to bring to council this fall.
That plan will tackle larger questions such as whether the city will need a new landfill, a project that could cost up to $450 million and take 15 years to become fully operational.
Concerns about illegal dumping
Given that "pay as you throw" programs are common in other communities, including nearby Carleton Place and Almonte, city staff had many municipalities they could consult in shaping Ottawa's plan.
The city does not plan to penalize residents unless there are repeat issues, and will focus instead on educating residents to change their behaviour.
Staff also acknowledged there could be an increase in illegal dumping during the first few months of the new policy.
Coun. George Darouze, who represents rural Osgoode ward, worried about how to prevent that.
"From what I'm seeing right now, I'm not really confident that we'll have enough enforcement," Darouze said, adding he's seen issues in Ottawa's surrounding smaller communities.
The plan includes hiring two full-time inspectors, followed by another two during the first year when they expect to see illegal dumping.
Landfill capacity not only deadline looming
The city is not just dealing with a landfill that's filling up.
The Ontario government aims to ban all food and organics from landfills by the end of the decade, and wants municipalities to be collecting 70 per cent of food and organic waste in curbside green bins by the end of the year.
"Ottawa is currently falling short of that goal," said Coun. Shawn Menard, chair of the environment and climate change committee.
Changing that behaviour could be a big task, with Lindsay Webley, project manager of environmental programs, noting that 82 per cent of all waste comes from the curb.
"This is equivalent to each household throwing out the weight of a grand piano of garbage over the course of the year," Webley said.
The city has found that about 58 per cent of what goes in trash cans could have been diverted to blue, green or black bins.
'Incentive to produce less'
Thursday was garbage day in Hintonburg, and several residents shared their thoughts with CBC about the proposed changes.
"It would be an incentive to produce less and reuse a lot of stuff," said Stephen Sun, who just moved into the area with his girlfriend.
Sun said he already tries to reduce the amount of garbage he puts out.
"I don't see [the tag system as] being too much of an issue. Granted, I have income, so it's a bit easier for me to say that, but yeah, that works for me."
Kyle Gervais said he hopes city staff will take into account what worked and what didn't in other jurisdictions.
"I'm glad that they're doing something to create a [model] people to pay for the extra services if they need them," he said.
"But then you have questions of equity. And I would think — I would hope — that the lessons are being learned and drawn from other places."
According to a staff presentation, nearly three-quarters of residents already set out two items or less every two weeks.
Duncan Bury of Waste Watch Ottawa said the proposed changes have been a long time coming and that Ottawa is playing catch-up.
"It should have been done a long, long time ago, 10 years, 20 years," Bury said after the technical briefing. "Municipalities have been doing this in Ontario for over 20 years."
"It does work," he continued. "It does impact waste diversion rates."
While Ottawa may be one of the last major Canadian municipalities to introduce such a program, Hoover-Bienasz said the city has brought in several other major changes, including the green bin in 2011 and bi-weekly garbage collection in 2012.
Some changes were met with resistance, she said, including because of the "yuck factor" associated with using a green bin
"We've been gently, I'd say, nudging residents in the last few years to make it easier to participate," Hoover-Bienasz said.
With files from Sarah Kester