Earlier this year, a new “green bin” program helped save the City of Toronto millions in space and money, even though it added none of the environmental benefits promised.
Under Mayor John Tory’s initiative, the city lured private contractors to take over collection of residential recycling.
In a paper posted online on Thursday, Dr. Robert Tierney, an environmental scientist, claimed that the program, brought in to tackle climate change and cost savings, actually did neither.
Instead, it added additional, unnecessary garbage to Toronto’s facilities, and in two communities – Newmarket and Mississauga – even has led to outbreaks of illness.
Tierney argues in the paper, published in the journal Urban Landscape, that litter in the areas affected by the new collection also resulted in pollution in surrounding neighbourhoods and resulted in a lower housing value for commercial properties.
Tierney, a research fellow at Ryerson University’s School of Urban Planning, said he reached the conclusions after having studied the program’s results for more than three years and thousands of data points.
According to Tierney, the city was not collecting paper or cardboard for 24.6 days a year, as claimed.
In Newmarket, a strip of downtown Brampton, for example, only 19.8 per cent of the waste was paper or cardboard. In Mississauga, another strip of Toronto suburbs, about 27 per cent of the waste was paper or cardboard.
Tierney also said that paper and cardboard represented a small portion of what residents were throwing away.
“Putting paper in the green bin was not a major factor in sustainability or the reduction of trash,” Tierney said.
In recent years, Toronto has been fighting a growing black trash problem.
By 2015, 53 per cent of the material in garbage bags was paper and cardboard – two items that aren’t recyclable.
This year, some of the largest operators have outsourced both their residential and commercial operations.
In a written statement, Tory’s spokesperson, Kate Braidwood, called Tierney’s study a study of what she said are “information gaps.”
She said: “Green bins came in one day earlier than the contracts permit, and only during off-peak times for garbage and recycling collection. This artificially inflated the number of days for paper and cardboard, resulting in a slight increase in paper and cardboard collected.”
The statement added that the new contractor hired a consultant to “analyze impacts on recycling from smaller-scale green bins versus the traditional paper/cardboard collection system in the City of Toronto.”
Tierney said he conducted the study after being approached by the City of Mississauga, which needed help validating its new red bins.