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Ottawa could impose clear garbage bags on households to reduce waste to landfills

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Your garbage may be on display for your neighbours and waste collectors in the future through clear garbage bags, if Ottawa's new three-bag limit is not effective in reducing the amount of waste heading to landfills.

The City of Ottawa is implementing a new three-item limit on garbage in September, as part of a plan to extend the life of the Trail Road Landfill beyond 2034-36.

The city's environment and climate change committee approved the new Solid Waste Master Plan on Tuesday, which will outline the long-term solutions for Ottawa's garbage, recycling and organic waste. The Solid Waste Master Plan proposes a series of initiatives to extend the life of the Trail Road Landfill to 2049, including organizing new repair cafes, offering recycling in parks and requiring green bins in multi-residential buildings. 

The city's draft Solid Waste Master Plan says clear bags for curbside garbage will be considered in 2027, "when effectiveness of Council approved 3-item firm limit is reviewed."

A clear bag garbage program would require households to use "transparent bags for curbside garbage collection."

"Garbage bags with excessive recycling and/or organic waste would not be collected," staff say.

The city explored several options before deciding on the three-item limit, including a partial pay-as-you-throw system (bag tag), and the clear bags for curbside waste.

A report outlining potential options says a clear bag garbage program with a ban on recycling and organics from the landfill would result in a 33 per cent garbage tonnage reduction by year five and increase waste diversion rates by up to 10 per cent.

Staff say a clear bag garbage program was not recommended at this time due to "estimated impact on diversion was dependent upon the enforcement of a recycling and organic waste ban," along with concerns about the ability to enforce a ban given the number of households that use garbage bins.

Privacy concerns and a shortage of supply were raised as issues towards a potential clear bag garbage policy.

Coun. Shawn Menard, the chair of the environment and climate change committee, notes other municipalities have implemented a clear bag policy for garbage.

"Clear plastic bags, I think, were the most effective when we researched of all the solutions and really, I think, the cheapest to the municipality, there are no tags involved," Menard said on Tuesday, noting the city could look at a clear plastic bag policy with a ban on organics and recycling materials from the landfill.

"Clear plastic bags with a privacy bag able to be inserted, had the largest diversion potential of any of the solutions we looked at."

Menard added, "As we think about our waste solutions; the hundreds of millions of dollars in the future this municipality is going to have to commit to, this is a very simple, very low cost potential solution that we should also be thinking about just given that there is no tags involved."

"Fairly simple for a huge impact for the municipality."

The committee was told Halifax, Markham and several municipalities in Nova Scotia have clear bag mandates.

Staff estimate the capital cost for implementing the clear bags for curbside garbage would cost up to $2 million, with a $1 million operating cost.

The committee carried a motion from Coun. Riley Brockington to direct city staff to work with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario to advocate for a ban on organics from the landfill across Ontario.

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