Good public policy has a number of attributes, among them equity, transparency and understandable outcomes.
Regina's solid waste management policy has the latter - the objective of diverting 40 per cent of residential waste from the landfill by the end of 2015. Unfortunately, our current diversion rate is about half of the objective.
What can be done to improve the way Regina manages its solid waste?
Creating a solid waste utility would be a step in the right direction. Under our current system, garbage pick up and disposal is paid for through the property tax. A residential property owner receives service from the city, but a business property owner does not. The business must contract with a disposal service to deal with its garbage and thus pays twice.
If Regina had a waste management utility, all costs and revenues would be kept in one set of books, not buried within the general city accounts. Knowing the exact numbers, and reporting them annually, is perfectly transparent. Knowing the numbers would also allow city council to set a rate for garbage service that reflects the true cost, just as it does through the water and waste water utility.
Council would have to remove the costs of waste management from the property tax once the utility is established and households start being billed for what they throw out. The lower property tax would keep the cost of garbage service revenueneutral.
This would create equity between residential and commercial property tax payers.
It would also set the stage for charging property owners according to what they throw away. If you use the service more, you should pay more. If you use it less because you carefully sort out the recyclable materials before you push the garbage bin to the curb, you should pay less. This is another way equity would be improved by creating a solid waste management utility.
Under Regina's current system, we pay for garbage through the property tax and for recycling through a charge that comes with our water bill. People do not see the connection between the two services, nor do they have any incentive to reduce the amount they throw away or to increase the amount they recycle.
Rewarding people for recycling (by charging them less when they throw away less) would be more transparent and move Regina closer to its goal of 40-per-cent diversion.
The technology exists to do this.
Each rollout bin can be assigned to a home through a chip in the lid. When the truck dumps the bin, a scale would weigh the amount of garbage and charge it to the property.
Equity, transparency and improved outcomes can all be achieved by an administrative adjustment. Council should press its staff to make the change.
Fred Clipsham served on Regina City Council from 1994-2012. The Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council recognized Clipsham with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 in recognition of his leadership in waste minimization.
[Original article in Regina Leader Post]