City extends privatized waste collection deal without competition ahead of blue box changes

The City of Toronto has quietly extended its residential waste collection contract with Green For Life until 2023, but isn't saying how much it's spending on the deal or how much more homeowners might pay right now.

Green For Life now set to continue residential waste collection in part of the city until 2023

Toronto residents who live west of Yonge Street will keep seeing those big green garbage trucks, as the city has extended private collection in the area until 2023. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The City of Toronto has quietly extended its residential waste collection contract with the private company Green For Life (GFL), but isn't saying how much it's spending on the deal at this time.

The initial $186-million contract for residential waste collection in District 2 — the area west of Yonge Street to the Humber River — was signed in 2011 and set to expire in August 2021. The city confirmed in an email that staff have extended that contract to 2023 without opening it up to competition.

In 2023, the city expects the Ford government's proposed revamp of the blue bin program, revealed earlier this week, to begin.

Staff reports suggest GFL will be charging the city more for its services until that happens, and Matt Keliher, the general manager of the waste department, said officials will seek to recoup that money from the provincial government. 

"Any increased costs, including any increases to Blue Bin collection services provided, will be submitted as part of the annual Blue Box Datacall overseen by the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority," Keliher said in an email.

The Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority is the provincial body tasked with overseeing the wind-up of the blue box program, as well as the systems currently in place for municipalities to get rid of hazardous and electronic waste. 

Right now, producers pay 50 per cent of the cost of recycling the waste they generate.

The provincial government's proposal would make large companies completely responsible, something it says will save Ontario's municipalities $135 million per year. A city report suggests switching to an extended producer responsibility system will mark a "fundamental change" in how Toronto deals with waste and will also affect what homeowners pay.

Mayor John Tory suggested Wednesday the eventual changes will save the city some $15 million per year and vowed Toronto will be "first in line" when it comes to transitioning to the new program.

Tory called the GFL extension a "sensible decision," suggesting holding a competition for the business would be a long process that wouldn't work ahead of the transition. 

City of Toronto workers continue to handle waste collection east of Yonge. 

City to set out waste collection rates in November

In the immediate future, it's unclear at this time how much more the GFL deal will add to waste bills in the coming years. This year's rate-supported budget process (where council decides on the bills you pay) doesn't begin until November.

Keliher said the city will share the contract cost, but can't at this time because it could affect other unspecified negotiations that are set to conclude in the coming months. 

City councillors didn't debate extending the GFL contract, but did vote in 2019 to grant staff authority to make deals like this ahead of the blue box transition.

"Solid Waste Management Services has been and will continue to be transparent with sharing all contract costs," Keliher said.

CBC Toronto sought more details from GFL, but the company wasn't available to comment.

Deal comes as GFL battles short-seller

GFL, which is based in Vaughan but has expanded across North America in the years since signing its initial deal with the City of Toronto, was targeted in August by a New York-based short-seller that alleged in a 107-page report that it uses aggressive accounting practices to inflate its balance sheet and hide debt.

The report also accuses various executives at GFL of having ties to potentially criminal activities at previous organizations they were involved with. 

Stock analysts and Patrick Dovigi, the company's founder and CEO, dismissed the claims. Dovigi, in an email statement at the time, said Spruce Point's report was a "self-serving attack" on his company that was filled with "malicious innuendo and flawed analyses."

CBC News has done a series of stories looking at the successes and failures of recycling and waste management. You can find more here on our "Rethink Recycling" page.

With files from Sabrina Jonas