Trash talk

Trash talk

City Hall’s attention has been taken hostage for the last 48 hours by an audit of the trash in park bins which shows that dog poop makes up 25% of all waste, while disposable coffee cups are nearly as ubiquitous. Proposed solutions include having dog owners cart their pet’s poo back home and cracking down on waste from fast-food chains. Which begs the question: How, exactly, are trash bins full of coffee cups and dog poo problems per se? What did they expect to find in the trash?

Let’s focus for a moment on the proposal to have Rover’s master keep a warm steaming baggie of excrement in his pocket until he gets home, so it can find its way into the green bin, where it will get composted and returned to wormy earth for the benefit of some farmer’s field. Beneath the ostensible matter of correct waste classification lies another issue that gets little attention, but that needs urgent discussion given the activist bent of the current council: the rules of engagement for living in the city.

As it happens, I have developed my own classification system for the rules of city living. There are first-tier rules, which are common to all cities: don’t walk in the street, cross on the green, don’t litter, don’t mow your lawn at midnight, mind the gap. Then come the second-tier rules, which are specific to a particular city. In Toronto, these include: don’t stand idle on the left-hand side of subway escalators, point into the road before crossing at a crosswalk, book ice time for shinny eight months in advance, sort your trash appropriately. Toronto’s second-tier rules also include things like knowing how to log on to the 401’s traffic-camera Web site, learning where the cops lay their speed traps, and memorizing the GO Train schedules—the kind of stuff that’s essential to city survival, and that becomes part of daily routines. (Some second-tier rules eventually become ubiquitous and graduate to first-tier rules; 20 years ago, no one scooped their dog’s poop. There are also third-tier rules, which have to do with social grace and good taste, and nothing to do with governments, and which this magazine is expert at cataloguing: where the celebrities hang out, where to get the best knishes, that sort of thing.)

New ideas for rules are being floated all the time, such as linking property taxes to front-lawn usage: pay less if you have trees, pay more if you have a parking pad. Last month I blogged in favour of a new rule that would abolish leaf blowers. What I liked about it was that the rule was easy to follow, since it was a pure and simple ban. Not: only use leaf blowers between certain hours on weekdays, and different hours on weekends, and only for specific purposes. Just: leaf blowers not allowed.

Now comes the revelation that Torontonians use public trash bins for, of all things, trash. The only problem here is semantics: in Toronto, the second-tier rules for waste classification dictate that there is no longer a single catch-all category known as “trash.”

Whatever solution the city devises must, above all else, avoid further leadening the simple act of being out and about in the city. Forcing people to cart dog poop home or carry reusable coffee cups with them are killjoy rules. Apparently Pickering has solved the poop issue by putting green bins in city parks, complete with a roll of biodegradable baggies for scooping. This is the best solution because it’s simple for people. It is also probably the most expensive option for the city, but greening the city has its price, and this is the best way to bear it.