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City of Ottawa tag-a-bag proposal fails in tie vote at environment committee

Motions to change the way the city of Ottawa collects garbage failed on tie votes at environment committee Monday, meaning it will be up to city council to continue the debate.

The committee was looking at a staff proposal to implement a partial "pay-as-you-throw" system. Several councillors introduced motions aiming to amend or change what staff were recommending. All of those votes failed, including the original staff proposal.

A tie vote means council can still consider the proposal at its next meeting.

A report for Monday's environment and climate change committee recommends the city of Ottawa implement a 'partial-pay-as-you-throw' garbage program, as the city looks to encourage waste diversion and extend the life of the Trail Road Landfill.

Under the proposed 'bag tag' program, residents would be required to attach a tag to all garbage items placed at the curb. Households would be given 55 tags per year as part of their Solid Waste User Fee. If households run out of tags before the end of the year, extra tags would cost $3 each.

There would be no limit on how much residents can set out at the curb through curbside recycling and green bins.

"Under this proposed model, garbage would be treated like a utility similar to water, hydro, and gas, where households pay based on their use of the program," staff said in the report for the committee.

In a statement on Twitter Monday morning, Mayor Mark Sutcliffe outlined a new proposal for garbage collection, calling it a "reasonable compromise that treats residents fairly."

The proposal states the first two containers or items of garbage put out at the curb every two weeks would not require any tags, and the first collection after Christmas each year would allow homeowners to put out three containers instead of two.

Every item beyond the two-item limit every two weeks would require a tag, which would cost $3 each. Sutcliffe says for "an easy transition to the new system," every household would receive 15 free tags.

"Right now, our garbage collection is like an all-you-can-eat buffet where even if you don’t eat a lot, you still pay full price," Sutcliffe said. "By changing to more of an à la carte system, residents will have an incentive to throw away less garbage and use organic and recycling streams instead."

The mayor says the city of Ottawa must make "smart decisions" to reduce garbage going to landfills, including addressing a lack of diversion in multi-residential buildings and "take immediate steps" to divert more residential waste."

Speaking to CTV News Ottawa, Sutcliffe said it was clear the status quo is unsustainable.

"People understand the status quo was not an option," he said. "The previous administrations have been putting this off for awhile. We haven’t had any major changes since the Green Bin was introduced and we switched to biweekly garbage collection."

Vice-chair Coun. Marty Carr introduced the motion that would do what Sutcliffe proposed, but it failed in a 5-5 tie vote. In favour were councillors Theresa Kavanagh, Sean Devine, Rawlson King, Marty Carr and chair Shawn Menard. Against were Matthew Luloff, David Hill, Tim Tierney, Riley Brockington and David Brown. Coun. Cathy Curry was absent.


City staff recommended the 'bag tag' program as a short-term solution to help extend the life of the Trail Road Landfill. As of 2019, the dump in Ottawa's south end had 30 per cent remaining capacity, and was expected to run out of space between 2036 and 2038.

A new landfill is expected to cost between $300 million and $450 million, and would take up to 15 years to become fully operational.

The city estimates the partial "pay-as-you-throw" program would reduce garbage tonnage by up to 19 per cent in the first year, and up to 28 per cent by the fifth year. It's estimated the new bag tag program will increase waste diversion rates by up to six per cent and increase recycling tonnage by up to 19 per cent. The staff proposal would add up to two years to the life of the Trail Road Landfill, staff say.

Staff say households that put out higher numbers of garbage bags for curbside collection often put out lower amounts of green bin and recycling. A staff presentation said 58 per cent of the waste collected in 2022 could have been diverted from landfill.

Staff admit a 'partial-pay-as-you-throw' program would require "some level of change for all residents", including tagging items at the curb, but say only one in four residents would have to change their waste management habits. A study by the city finds 74 per cent of households set out two garbage items or less every two weeks for collection.

Many other municipalities use a bag tag system, including Gatineau, Carleton Place and Kingston. The city of Gatineau requires tags for any bags that do not fit in a home's grey bin, up to a maximum of five extra bags per week. A sheet of five tags costs $2.50.

The staff motion failed on a 5/5 tie vote as well. In favour were: Theresa Kavanagh, Sean Devine, Rawlson King, Marty Carr and Shawn Menard. Against were Matthew Luloff, David Hill, Tim Tierney, Riley Brockington, and David Brown.

It will now be up to city council to decide whether to continue the debate on the policy. City council next meets June 14.


Chair of the environment committee Shawn Menard says he is confident the discussion over pay-as-you-throw is still strong and can still become a reality in the city of Ottawa.

"I expect a robust debate at city council regarding this issue. Obviously any changes with garbage touches every single resident in the city, and so (debates) get heated and there are a lot of opinions about how people feel they should function," he says.

Menard says the city needs to address the pressure on the city's landfill by first reducing waste that goes there.

"I am proud of the work that this team has done. I think we should stay positive about the potential for reducing our waste in our city and saving money in the future," he says. "Regardless of the long-term solution here, whether you believe in full on incineration or other landfills solutions, the point with all of those is you can't get there without reducing your waste at source or else the cost will go up for residents of Ottawa."

After nearly six hours of debating, Menard admits that politics was at play. "What you saw here today was politics; that is this forum. You have staff recommendation and that data and that good work that is done and then you have politics of this. Sometimes you get emails as councillor and there is pressure from residents to vote a certain way, regardless of what the data may say, and sometimes I think you see that occur."

How the city addresses waste diversion is the ultimate goal, says Menard.

"In this case, it is important to recognize our goals as a city and keep that in mind as a city councillor. You have to think both about your ward and as a city," he says. "I think we have to do a little bit more thinking as a city in this situation. It is not an easy vote. It is never going to be the most popular you are always going to have people on both sides."  


City staff looked at three other policy options to encourage waste diversion and extend the life of the landfill: Firm Garbage Limits, a material ban on recycling and organics in garbage bags, and a clear bag garbage program with a recycling and organics ban for garbage.

A motion by Coun. David Brown suggested Ottawa move instead to a hard limit of four bags per collection every two weeks. His motion failed on a 5-5 tie. Voting in favour were Matthew Luloff, David Hill, Tim Tierney, Riley Brockington, and David Brown. Voting against were Theresa Kavanagh, Sean Devine, Rawlson King, Marty Carr, and Shawn Menard. 

Brockington attempted to reduce the hard limit from four bags to three. That amendment failed on a 2 yeas to 8 nays vote. Only Brockington and Kavanagh voted in favour.


Council voted last month to direct staff to explore incineration and other technologies to help divert waste from landfills.

A motion from Coun. Allan Hubley, seconded by Coun. David Brown, directed staff to look at other options instead of a new landfill, and report back to Council as part of the Solid Waste Master Plan in the fall.

technical memorandum as part of the Solid Waste Master Plan consultations outlined several mixed waste processing approaches and technologies, landfill disposal technologies and recovery technologies for the city to explore. The recovery technologies included mass burn incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, waste to liquid fuel, hydrolysis and landfill mining.

Staff will present medium and long-term options for the city of Ottawa to deal with waste during this term of Council.

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Leah Larocque. Top Stories

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