Blog /why i'm here

January 10, 2005 05:26 +0000  |  Why I'm Here 4

so i keep referring to this ambiguous list of things i want to do in this city. stuff i want to change, policy i want to see made, but i never post it all. the reason behind this is mainly that i've not had it all written down... well not before today anyway. i just sent an email to the head cheese of tev who's offered to help me find out who i can talk to get stuff done in this town. i don't know how much of it will go over well, or even how much has already been tried, but this is why i'm here:

Hi Janet. Not sure if you know who this is, so i'll try and describe myself and hope you remember. I'm one of the guys who started coming to TEV meetings fairly regularly before the holiday break. I volunteered a few hours for a green bin day and your husband seems to like talking to me a lot ;-) Oh, and I'm the guy with all the electronic toys if the above doesn't help you remember.

Anyway, as I recall, you and I were talking about how I had some ideas that might be able to help make Toronto greener, but I had no idea as to where to go with said ideas. You suggested that I talk to a "standing committee" but since I had no idea what you were talking about, you suggested that I send you an email with some details and that you might be able to point me in the right direction.

So i did some thinking, proofreading and lots of procrastinating and came up with the following. Please read over it when you have time and let me know what you think:

Environmentally speaking, Toronto generally has three problems: smog, garbage and the cost of energy. While the first two are more immediate urban issues, my ideas for the third, while primarily a provincial concern could be a source for municipal funding, tourism, and improving Toronto's cultural standing. I'll start with the simple and move toward the complicated.

One easy way to help reduce waste in the city is to use better recycling boxes on city streets. I've had a few conversations with some collectors in and around town and I've found that a large percentage of the "garbage" collected is actually made up of what was in the glass/plastic or paper containers, but was too contaminated with non-recyclables to use. The result is that all three bins are all too often being dumped into the garbage bin than anywhere else. This doesn't reduce the cost of managing the garbage problem, and it certainly doesn't make recycling worthwhile when so much useful material is still being shipped off to Michigan. For a while, I couldn't figure it out, maybe Torontonians just didn't care, or maybe they were lazy, but then I saw it: The recycling bins are all different. Some street boxes have three rectangular holes for paper, glass and garbage, the order from left to right varying box to box, while others have two rectangular holes for paper and garbage and one circular one for glass.

People are simple creatures and they don't like to read. If the object is round, it goes in the round hole -- even if that object is made of waxed paper and the hole is labelled "glass". It also doesn't help to have the order on the boxes change from street to street. It's not hard to see how the city could benefit from a unified system where each box is colour-coded and everything looks the same. There would undoubtedly still be some contamination, but depending on the cost of re-implementation, it could end up helping us to stop sending so much money to Michigan.

Continuing on with the theme of recycling, I've been thinking that there might be an easy way to encourage other people to do some of the work for you. I live downtown at Yonge & Gerrard and like many people living downtown, the recycling system in my building is laughable. To recycle anything, I have to put everything in a box, take the elevator down 21 floors, walk out the front door (sometimes into the snow) around to the back of the building and toss everything into an ambiguous blue bin already full of non-recyclables like plastic grocery bags.

Tenants can ask that the building provide better services, but because it's not in their financial interest, nothing gets done. Why not adjust the cost of collecting garbage and recycling for apartment buildings to make it cheaper for non-contaminated recyclables and more expensive for generic garbage? With the financial incentive in place, building owners will scramble to take advantage of the low recycling rates and seek out the most cost-effective way of modifying their building to comply. The city could even seek out contracts with a few of the businesses offering apartment building recycling systems and establish a business relationship where they reduce the cost of implementation in exchange for the city supplying their contact information to buildings interested in this service.

My last idea concerning garbage management is likely to be the most complicated but also the most rewarding. If you take a walk around the downtown core around 2pm on a weekday you'll see one of the largest sources of garbage generation this city has to offer: the lunch rush. Five days a week in this city, literally tens of thousands of people flock to food fairs and fast-food restaurants for lunch and leave behind thousands of pounds of waxed paper, Mylar and Styrofoam. The solution for this problem, however complicated is uniquely municipal in nature: a deposit system.

Consider this: those thousands of pounds of garbage sent to Michigan could be replaced with higher-quality reusable containers which cost an additional $2 each. Disposal of the containers would be as easy as putting it in a receptacle found everywhere; from street corners to shopping malls and they'd have to be emptied regularly, their contents shipped to a cleaning station where they're sterilised and re-distributed for tomorrow's rush.

The predictable backlash from private business not wanting their brand to be interfered with can be overcome by offering to brand the containers themselves. Each container from McDonald's would look just like a McDonald's container, but would be re-usable, produce zero waste and the cleaning can be handled by a third party. Re-distribution can be managed by implanting a low-cost, computer chip in each container, and leaving the actual sorting to software.

Various suggestions for transitional phases have been brought to my attention regarding this deposit system ranging from an enforced "take-out container composition by-law" to some form of tupperware system where patrons receive discounts for bringing in their own containers for takeout. I'm interested in all of the above, but I feel that such moves must be looked at as a temporary measure as neither really solve the underlying garbage problem.

Moving away from garbage for now, I'd also like to see more energy being generated INSIDE the city, as opposed to depending on outside sources. Toronto has a considerable amount of potential when it comes to wind-based power generation, but all initiatives in this area need not take the form of a single, massive turbine on the lake. Smaller turbines, no more than a meter in diameter can be mounted by the hundreds on the sides of our skyscrapers, along the roofs of some of the smaller buildings in the city, and perhaps more importantly, atop the thousands of light towers along the 401 -- there's no reason all of these areas can't be exploited as a form of energy production. The profits from the energy production could go the city budget to help build more power generation sites or other environmentally beneficial projects.

The last idea is likely not a municipal concern, but I thought it might be good to include it anyway. Some of the biggest contributors to smog in the GTA are not Torontonians themselves, but those that choose to live in the suburbs and commute two, sometimes even three hours into work every day. Why not toll the main arteries into the city from an environmentalist perspective? Instead of tolling all vehicles on the road, toll cars based on their emission rating. SUV's and Hummers would pay a high price, while motorcycles, smart cars and hybrids would get away clean. There would of course be exceptions for work vehicles (a tow truck, moving van etc) but general commuters not driving a low-emission vehicle would pay. Funds generated from the tolling could then be forwarded to subsidising better transit or cheaper hybrids.

This toll would apply only to vehicles built after 2007 however. So the poor won't be exploited for not being able to pay for a newer, more efficient car, while the rich, who choose to make this commute and thereby choose to pollute to this degree do have to pay. The reasoning surrounding this is to balance out the "real" cost of living so that it covers all of those involved. Those who choose to live far from work impose an environmental cost on the rest of us who don't. While they get to enjoy the lower costs of living in the suburbs, we choke on their smog and continue to fund road maintenance.

So that's everything. Took me a year to put it all into one page, but now that I have it, I'm not sure where to go with it. I would think that "who to talk to?" is my next important question, right before: "what information do I need to pitch it to the right people?". If you can point me in the right direction (or even just poke some holes in the above) I'd appreciate it. Thanks for your time, I look forward to some helpful pointers.


much thanks to noreen and my parents for going over it before i sent it out. i didn't use all of your stuff, but did appreciate all of it -- even incorporated an idea from each of you.

please if you have criticism, don't post it here. i'm not interested in why you think the above won't work. if you have ideas/suggestions concerning how to help it along however, feel free to say something.


11 Jan 2005, 1:14 a.m.  | 

let me know when you get a response.

13 Jan 2005, 7:26 p.m.  | 

Don't you find it funny that Vancouver's considered the "green" city, but Toronto's the one with the street corner recycling bins? I've noticed the different slots as well.

I just moved into a new building that has your standard garbage shoot on each floor, but with a unique and very handy feature. There are buttons on the side of the shoot that enable you to select garbage, containers, or paper. You push the button, a light blinks, there's some whirring as the mechanisms adjust, and you drop in your articles. Simple.

And the deposit system idea is one that I've thought about on more than one occasion, as it worked so well at the Folk Festival in back in Van (remember?), but as you pointed out, it might be a bit "pie-in-the-sky" in the minds of most food vendors. Also, what's to keep people from taking said containers home instead of buying their own dishware?

13 Jan 2005, 7:34 p.m.  | 

i've often wondered about that too. i think vancouver gets the "green city" rep simply as a result of the populace. there's a higher percentage of tree-hugging hippie types out there and no one uses styrofoam.

i've heard good and bad things about those new garbage shoots actually. on the one hand, i've heard that there are a number of newer buildings adopting them, but on the other, few people seem to care what goes down the shoot when and there seems to be a lot of contamination going on. it all comes down to torontonian apathy.

and believe it or not, the folk fest was where i ripped off the idea from. and i have no illusions about what kind of resistance there's likely to be to such a thing. but the alternatives just aren't good enough, this city generates too much garbage and it has to stop. as for your question concerning people taking their dishes home and using them as their own stuff, that's why the deposit is $2 and not $0.25. it's just not financially feasible to populate your kitchen with the stuff. 'course you could do it anyway, but that's up to you. $2 should be more than enough to replace it on the city side.

Mom #2
24 Jan 2005, 11:20 p.m.  | 

The concept of bringing one's own dishes is working well at the Second Cup at the Children's hospital. We don't actually get a reduction in cost, but the satisfaction of doing a small part in decreasing waste motivates a number of the regulars on staff to use their own mugs.
This is simple, cost effective, and ALL of us can implement it right away - so what's keeping you from doing it????

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