Private garbage trucks start collecting west of Yonge

As a private company began collecting trash from customers west of Yonge Street on Tuesday, people on both sides of the issue said it was a potential preview of the way other city services will be delivered.
Private collection began west of Yonge St. on Tuesday. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

As a private company began collecting trash from customers west of Yonge Street on Tuesday, people on both sides of the issue said it was a potential preview of the way other city services will be delivered.

Green for Life will now handle collecting the trash from nearly 165,000 homes between Yonge Street and the Humber River. Another company picks up garbage at homes in Etobicoke.

Private garbage by the numbers

  • 165,000: Number of residences to be serviced by GFL.
  • $11.1 million: Annual estimated savings for city after current fiscal year due to privatization.
  • $67.27: Average amount city will save per home each year.
  • $186.4 million: Size of GFL contract.
  • 79: Garbage trucks serving area.

First-day growing pains had been expected and, by the supper hour, the GFL trucks were still out trying to finish their routes.

Jim Harnum, the head of the city’s solid waste division, said the contractor is expected to get its staff up to speed soon.

"The first two weeks are going to tell us the tale, that’ll be a full cycle," Harnum told CBC News on Tuesday.

"And if we’re having the same issues and the same mistakes after two weeks, then we’ll need to address that."

The city claims the change will save $11.9 million for this fiscal year, and $11.1 million annually thereafter for the duration of the contract, which is up in 2019.

"This is a great day for the City of Toronto," said Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in a statement.

"Acting on my campaign promise to contract out appropriate services and to save the City money, I am pleased to welcome GFL as the waste collection provider in this area of the city."

More contracting ahead?

Denzil Minnan-Wong, the chair of the public works committee, said that the move to private garbage pickup can illustrate the benefits of contracting out in other areas.

"So what we need to do is we need to make the case effectively for council, where it makes sense, to move forward with more contracted-out services — not simply in waste collection, but across the board," he said Tuesday.

Mark Ferguson, the head of Toronto Civic Employees Union, Local 416, said that 90 city workers will be laid off as a result of the switch to private contractors on the west side of Yonge Street. Ferguson said the union is concerned about some council members desire to contract out other services, including the remaining trash pickup.

"East of Yonge Street, it’s still in-house and we hope that in the months and years to come, it will stay that way," he told reporters Tuesday.

"We believe that in-house service, the direct accountability to taxpayers is the preferred method."

As the GFL trucks hit the streets on Tuesday, the city appeared confident that the contractor would be up to the job.

"The main change residents will notice is a different colour truck on their street," said Rob Orpin, who is handling the transition for the city.

Orpin says residents may have to wait a little longer for pickup.

"The collection of the material may be slightly different with the contractor than with city forces, but it will be collected that day," he said.

Green for Life spokesman Brian Kent says the company is ready. It has 90 new trucks ready to go and more on standby if needed.

"We have 600 trucks across the GTA and the province. If we need to draw on that, we will, to ensure we can get that material collected." 

'Sad day for workers'

Ferguson said that both taxpayers and city workers have something to lose with private garbage trucks handling waste collection duties.

"It’s a bad day for residents because it’s a day where collectively we’ve lost control and oversight of a critical public service," Ferguson told reporters Tuesday.

"It’s a sad day for workers because it represents yet another step towards poorer wages, less security and less dignity for working people."

Ferguson also questioned the numbers being put forward by the city.

"We don’t accept the administration's numbers, they have been grossly overstated in the amount of savings," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, the city was also catching criticism from another high-profile complainant.

"My mother is in an extra bad mood today. The garbage hasn't been picked up yet — the wonder of privatization," tweeted Trinity-Spadina NDP MP Olivia Chow.

In response to Chow’s tweet, Minnan-Wong took a dig at the MP's political stripes when he said the trucks will pick up garbage "on the left side of the street and on the right of the street."

Orpin says the city will ensure the company complies with the contract.

"We will deal with them on a daily basis to ensure they are picking what they are supposed to pick up — and dealing with customer service complaints," Orpin said.

Residents can call 311 to report issues.

With a report from the CBC's Jamie Strashin