City staff trash automated yard waste pickup plan, propose kraft paper bags only

Toronto city staff are canning the idea of automating household yard waste pickup—and are instead pushing for a plan that allows leaves and garden clippings to be collected in kraft paper bags only.

In a report set to be reviewed by city councillors, solid waste staff say a pilot project that examined the feasibility of using city-issued “brown bins” for yard waste did not yield any operational efficiencies, and is not worth adopting.

The standardized bins were distributed to approximate a thousand households in late 2018 to assess whether the collection could be fully automated, to reduce worker injury while also allowing the city to staff the trucks with one operator instead of two.

But the problem proved to be that in peak yard-waste periods, homeowners needed additional containers for leaves and clippings—requiring non-standardized bins or bags for the overflow.

“We needed a special truck, obviously then, to collect the automated bins for the yard waste, but we also needed a truck that wold be able to accommodate workers to be able to lift those kraft paper bags into the hopper,” Annette Synowiec of Solid Waste Management Services told CTV News Toronto. 

“And really that was not an ergonomic solution either.”

According to a 2018 consultant’s report, Solid Waste Management incurred approximately $626,00 in costs related to musculoskeletal injury claims between 2013 and 2017, most commonly attributed to manual handling of containers. 

To reduce worker injury, staff are now recommending that non-standardized bins for yard waste be disallowed beginning in 2023—giving homeowners the option to use kraft paper bags only. Currently homeowners are permitted to use their own rigid open containers for yard waste.

“[Those containers] sometimes requires an extra shake or dump of those contents, so at the beginning of the spring or late fall we can get cold snaps where the material can become stuck or frozen, and that’s also difficult ergonomically to be able to release that material,” said Synowiec. 

But infrastructure and environment committee member Councillor James Pasternak questioned the advice, saying it ran counter to years of asking the public to use reusable containers to reduce waste.

“Now we’re doing a pivot, where we don’t want them to keep using the same item week after week that they’re supplying at their own expense,” Pasternak said. “We’re asking them to stop doing that and go out and buy kraft paper bags, so that’s a bit of a paradigm shift that we’re going to have to work on.”

The city’s infrastructure and environment committee will review staff’s recommendation July 5.

Any changes to the yard waste collection protocols would still need to be approved by full council.