Pay-as-you-throw: Saskatoon reveals plan to charge based on garbage bin size

Saskatoon's landfill is running out of room and city officials are hoping that a switch in the way you pay for trash disposal will help.

Plan's recommendations include monthly utility fee based on bin size, city-wide organics pickup

Brenda Wallace is the director of environmental and corporate initiatives at the city of Saskatoon. She said their community engagement activities saw 5,000 participants, all wanting to talk trash in Saskatoon. (CBC)

Saskatoon's landfill is running out of room and city officials are hoping that a switch in the way you pay for trash disposal will help.

The city of Saskatoon's administration has made recommendations that, if accepted by the city's environment, utilities, and corporate services committee, would see residents paying different amounts for garbage pickup based on the size of bin they use.

"We have not recommended anything that's contrary to the general themes we're hearing," said Brenda Wallace, director of Saskatoon's environmental and corporate initiatives.

The city held a series of engagement sessions with residents who use the curb-side pickup service to inform their report. Over 5,000 residents participated.

The main proposed changes would affect trash and organic waste:

  • Garbage pickup would be paid for with a monthly utility fee based on the size of bin, rather than property tax. 
  • The largest bin available would be 360 litres — the same size as the standard bin currently in use.
  • New green carts (size to be determined) would be available to everyone as a third cart, replacing the current opt-in green carts.
  • The organics program would be expanded to include meat and dairy products, plus yard waste.

The costs for the plan have yet to be finalized. They will be forwarded to city council in September.

'Not interested in double dipping'

The idea of paying for the amount of trash you leave on the curb was controversial when first brought up in Saskatoon.

During Wednesday's announcement, Wallace stressed "we're not interested in double-dipping here," alluding to the fact that people in Saskatoon currently pay for waste pickup through property taxes.

"However I'd be lying to suggest that if we took $60 off a property tax, and it becomes $60 onto a utility bill - and that's a hypothetical number - that that's how it would work," said Wallace.

The city's goal is to stabilise waste-management funding. The current plan comes up short financially.

It would cost approximately $26 million to close the existing landfill, and $100 million to establish a new one.

Wallace says there is a high reliance on "chasing tons" at the landfill, meaning a reliance on dumping fees. 

If council votes to accept the recommendations, the city's pay-as-you-throw bin-size options could be implemented before 2020.

Province lags behind

Regina is also looking at implementation of a new waste program that will measure payment based on usage.

Joanne Fedyk, executive director of the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council (SWRC), applauded the proposal but said it's still not quite enough to catch up to other provinces.

Saskatchewan has some of the worst rates of waste diversion in the country and the most landfills per capita of any province, Fedyk said.

"We're at the lower end of waste diversion. We're really just getting started," said Joanne Fedyk, SWRC executive director.

"Organics is a big one, especially with the recycling plan in place, I think over half the waste [in Saskatoon] is organic. Getting that out will be a huge difference."

Fedyk said she'd like to see taxes in Saskatoon be decreased by the same amount residents will have to pay for a waste utility.

"They're just shifting where garbage is paid for," she said.

"But at the same time, having smaller carts gives you more control over how much you pay."