Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Worst Off in Toronto are Even Worse Off Now

Christians get a bad rap in this country. They're considered anachronistic and just generally a disaster for the environment and for society. But at least Christians wouldn't enact policies that oppress and threaten the independent living of the most vulnerable in our society. At least they recognize that there are a whole raft of people that are not healthy, not wealthy, and don't have lots of free time to sort and trundle; that the well and the well-off need to understand and help the vulnerable live with dignity and independence. I cannot forget those two elderly men, one a WWII hero, that an Anglican minister saved from the heartlessness of the city and the callousness of Councillor Sandra Bussin -- who in retaliation told the minister to butt out. W5 showed the veteran lying in a sleeping bag in the middle of his crumbling house day after day while his more able brother tried to do what he could to keep them alive. His maximum ability was not enough. Now I know why that man didn't want to get out of the sleeping bag: coping with life, never mind all the bloodyminded policies the city throws at us, was just too much. When life gets too difficult, we crawl under the covers and hide our eyes, hoping it will all go away.

Unfortunately, the current Councillors, the Mayor, and their stupid staff aren't going away. The city, the inept Councillors, and the staff that brought us the computer scandal are bringing us garbage hell. They were incompetent then; they are incompetent today. Apparently the staff did their research when devising this beyond belief bin policy. I have to ask how much research did they do? Did they just genuflect to Mayor Miller and his British roots, go over to the Isles, and copy what they did? (Did they forget the brightest British brains got obliterated in WWI and they haven't recovered since? We'd be better off looking to our brethren for ideas than those has-beens.) Who on earth thought the bin look would be superior to the established one in our lovely neighbourhoods? What brain-dead bureaucrat thought that larger bins would be easier to pick up and dump, just because they have wheels on them? What idiot did not realise that automated trucks cannot be used in much of the city, and so these humougous monstrosities would have to be handled manually? And which Councillor forgot that Toronto attracts the disabled, the marginal, the poor, the ones least able to wrap their minds and their muscles around these convoluted garbage policies and unwieldy bins, particularly when full? (I had to laugh when the healthy and strong suddenly realised how hard it was to maneuvre the bins when full and thus what a bad idea they are, proving once again that most only care or think about it when it affects them.)

First, we had newspapers separated from our garbage, then the blue box, then the grey box, then the green bin. For decades we had all garbage and newspapers picked up twice a week; big stuff on Wednesdays. Then all of a sudden pickup was halved or quartered. So instead of putting out one bag (let's say one for the sake of argument) twice a week, we put out two bags once a week. Instead of putting out one blue box twice a week, we put out the equivalent of four boxes. That folks means more work for us on garbage day, and we're paying more in taxes to do that. I suspect most have forgotten that garbage day was easier because it was frequent, and that the city was cleaner because garbage was picked up frequently.

So since we started putting out four times more garbage on recycling day, Toronto thought, hey, let's make bigger bins instead of thinking let's go back to the old efficient pickup schedule. Then we'll put wheels on the bins and declare we'll get to 70% recycling that way. Of course if the city increased the frequency of pickup, maybe people would put out more as it won't be so physically onerous. The people bought the city's illogic, or so it would seem. And just in case the citizens start objecting too strenuously they threaten us that the new bin system is mandatory and that the old blue bins will not be picked up. (Now how does chucking out blue bins, grey boxes, and pretty soon garbage bins of over 2 million people help the environment?)

Torontonians have always been ahead of the city when it comes to recycling. But all the city is doing now is increasing the load on the citizens. I can't wait for some intrepid reporter (like this will happen, intrepid and reporter being oxymorons) to file an FOI to find out how much the injury rate among garbage workers skyrockets, particularly after the next bin rollout just before winter; and between the lack of shovelling and bins taking over the sidewalks, how many more pedestrians forced onto the roads will be killed in the winters. And even better what happens to the number of ER visits due to garbage-related injuries among the general household population.

All of this shows that the city devises its policy in a human vacuum. Christians ask themselves how can I best help the environment in a way that includes the most marginal, allowing them to remain independent and to live with dignity while at the same time cleaning and greening our city. The City asks themselves, how can we impose the most onerous requirement for extra tax money, with less service and maximum guilt factor -- so that the public doesn't dare object, not like we're like the French or anything, willing to scream to high heaven against the high-handed tactics of government; we just grumble and accept the extra stress, then wonder why our antacid consumption has gone up.

The City is polluting our urban environment even more with these bins and making the most vulnerable feel hassled and stressed. (BTW sorting itself is almost impossible and dangerous for some disabled, and a mechanical sorting plant would lead to higher recycling rates for the whole city and even more importantly allow everyone to retain the dignity of being independent and not have their mobility threatened just because of the sorting requirement.) These bins in no way reduces the garbage we produce, in no way increases our recycling because people were already doing that to the max, that is those people included in the recycling program. How ineffective is the city in dealing with garbage? Aside from the fact our city is so filthy newbies thought I was kidding when I said Toronto used to have a clean reputation, the city's clean-up day has zero effect on our urban environment. I heard that annoying Glenn Councillor crowing about how the mainstream is into the green and clean thing and participating in clean-up day more than ever. But if that was so why then are the other 364 days of the year tainted with litter, butts, and filth all over the place? Fairies aren't the ones polluting our city, it's that vaunted green and clean mainstream! And BTW illegal dumping is still a big (and growing?) problem. Wait until the garbage bins are rolled out, illegal dumping will skyrocket.

So how are the other municipalities doing? Mississauga is a bit friendlier to their citizens. They too have to do the sorting dance, but at least they don't need a calendar to figure out what goes out when. Everything is collected once a week, no good memory required. That's half of what Toronto had for years, but double what we now have for 70% of our garbage (remember, Toronto wants to have 70% recycled). That would make it easier for the mobility challenged too, who won't have such a big load to carry to the curb on garbage day, and the overworked, who just have enough time to know what day garbage pickup is and no time for other details. Mississauga also limits how much garbage can be picked up and don't perpetuate this false notion that bins are superior to bags, that somehow city-issued bins will lead to better garbage etiquette.

Vaughan collects blue and green every week, and garbage every other week. A hybrid of Mississauga and Toronto, it's not much better than Toronto's, except that citizens would only have half the recycling load to take out on garbage day than Torontonians, easier again for the mobility challenged.

Pickering is the same as Vaughan (Durham region has a terrible website when trying to figure out what gets picked up when), so marginally better than Toronto.

Quite frankly when a municipality declares that it's going green and wants to up the percentage of waste that goes into the recycling stream, their words become more credible when backed up with frequent pickups of that which they want to promote, namely recycling. You don't impose onerous demands on people and force them to wait for a home visit so they can be patted on the head and given special dispensation for being allowed to use a more usable bin. That's inhumane.

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