Blue-Box Scavengers

August 7, 2008

An article in the Globe and Mail discusses the City of Toronto’s plan to Crackdown on Blue-Box Scavengers.

“A lot of people tend to think it’s providing cash to homeless individuals, whatever, but from a solid-waste perspective, we do want to crack down on it,” Mr. Rathbone said, acknowledging that the city does not yet have a firm estimate on how much money scavengers are costing the blue-bin system.

Once the material is at the curb, Mr. Rathbone said, it is legally city property, adding that the city won a court case a few years ago against companies that were scavenging cardboard from blue boxes when prices for that commodity shot up.

This makes me giggle endlessly, mostly because it shows what a smarty-pants I am. I think a new breed of blue-box scavenger has emerged who are mostly after beer/liquor bottles. When Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a new program to bring Ontarians “out of the dark ages” by adding a deposit to wine/liquor bottles together with a beer store return program I asked why?

But why? Doesn’t the Blue Box program work? The claim is that this program will help “divert about 25,000 to 30,000 additional tons of glass from landfills”. Wow. That can’t be right. That claim feels false to me mostly because, personally, the Blue Box is the absolutely best way to get rid of bottles and glass. I don’t want to put them in the garbage. Bottles are big, heavy, and they break. So where does this 25,000 tons of LCBO orginated landfill waste come from?

Read the rest of the full post to get my guess at an answer which I still think is correct. What I find interesting is that people continue to put wine/liquor bottles in the blue-bin despite the lost deposit and disdain from our elected officials.

The lesson here is that incentives are funny things and politicians should be careful about what they wish for. Incentives should be tied to intended outcomes. The desired outcome of the wine/liquor bottle program was to “divert about 25,000 to 30,000 additional tons of glass from landfills”. I suspect the program has done no such thing.