Charities contemplate garbage bill increases
City of Toronto institutes collection and dumping fees for non-profits
By Mags Storey | Friday, July 27, 2012
An immense amount of sorting.
TORONTO, ONYou would be amazed at what people leave in charity donation bins, says Bill May of The Salvation Army. Some of the stranger items found have been weapons, cremated human remains, and bloody evidence from a crime scene.
"Sometimes we find good stuff and sometimes we find weird stuff," says May, properties and facilities manager of Salvation Army Thrift Stores of Eastern Canada. "It all comes down to things that people don't know how to get rid of."
Garbage in donation bins has led many charities across Canada to move their bins inside. But even then, some people bring in items that aren't in sellable condition, or that charities can't take for safety reasons. Some even try to stiff charities with their ordinary household waste.
"You get people who believe if you take a bag of clothes you should take a bag of garbage too," says May.
Others just pitch goods over the fence.
No more free garbage
Municipalities across the country provide a variety of financial breaks to help charities deal with garbage costs.
But this summer, the City of Toronto is going from offering them completely free collection and dumping to phasing in new fees which will bring charities in line with other types of properties.
Starting in July, collection fees are going up by 25 per cent per year until they hit 100 per cent of the city's standard fees. Dumping is escalating by $25 a ton per year until it reaches $100.
Among those affected are three Salvation Army stores.
"It's obviously an escalating cost," May says. "We're looking at paying about $12,000 for the remainder of this year. Next year, it will be an additional $36,000.
"So we have to be very careful in making sure that what we receive in store is what we can actually use, and try to communicate that to the donors."
This can put frontline staff at odds with people bringing in donations.
"It has created some backlash," he says. "We can't afford to lose donations because of this issue."
A question of fairness
Critics say the new fees mean charities will end up paying for other people's garbage.
But it's not that simple, says Vincent Sferrazza, director of policy and planning for the city's Solid Waste Management department.
Unlike most cities, Toronto charges residents by the amount of garbage produced. While "non-residential customers"like charities, churches, day cares and hospitalshad been receiving free waste services, the situation was messy and "inequitable."
Churches with manses, for example, were already paying. While "the church across the street" that regularly produces "30 bags of garbage" by renting out its hall, was getting free pick-up. Plus, these properties had no incentive to recycle.
"We're trying to encourage diversion and recycling, by establishing a fair and equitable system to provide services at a reasonable fee," says Sferrazza.
Charities can also take advantage of free recycling and composting.
"I will even come visit your site," he says, "go through your garbage and help you find ways to reduce your bill."
Sferrazza is going before city council this fall to propose that charities that apply for assistance, recycle, and undergo a "waste audit" be able to receive a financial break on trashing the portion of their garbage caused by donations.
But the days of completely free garbage are not coming back.
Giving with dignity
Paul Davidson, mission operations officer for The Yonge Street Mission (YSM), oversees garbage collection at all of the organization's properties. He's also a professional "garbage guy" having spent 16 years as a waste management engineer.
While he's not thrilled at finding room in the budget for new garbage fees, he also believes in the importance of responsible waste management.
"We don't want people just throwing away good stuff which can be recycled," he says.
Double Take, a used clothing store, is a YSM project that provides employment and job training for people in the low-income community. Hundreds of items flow from the collection warehouse to the shop floor each day. Each one is inspected by at least five pairs of eyes.
It allows people to "shop with dignity" says manager Kathy Webster.
"Here we say, 'If you wouldn't buy it, then don't put it out on the sales floor'. I would say the same thing to donorsif you wouldn't buy it, then why would you give it?"
YSM already uses private collection firms for some of the garbageincluding Double Take'sbut those fees are also increasing. Right now, the city's new fees are set to add an estimated $23,000 to YSM's bills over the next three and a half years.
As with all new costs, Davidson says, YSM will "need to carefully review the cost impact on our various social programmes and determine if we're able to financially carry them on in the future".
He's also worried about the impact on charities nationally, if other cities follow Toronto's lead.
"For smaller agencies, who are already on the edge, it just might be a death knell."