Here’s what we know about Ottawa’s proposed ‘bag tag’ garbage policy

Ottawa residents may soon be required to put tags on every piece of garbage set out at the curb.

City staff unveiled a proposed “partial pay-as-you-throw” program for garbage collection, in a bid to encourage people to use green bin and recycling options and extend the life of the Trail Road Landfill. It would give homeowners 55 bag tags for a year, with a $3 charge for every extra bag, bin or piece of garbage put out for collection.

“It’s not meant to be punitive, but rather to encourage residents to rethink their disposal habits,” Nichole Hoover-Bienasz, program manager for long-term planning with the city of Ottawa’s solid waste services department, said. looks at what you need to know about the proposed “partial pay-as-you-throw” garbage program for Ottawa homeowners.

Why is the city of Ottawa looking at making changes to garbage collection?

The city of Ottawa is looking at ways to encourage waste diversion and extend the life of the Trail Road Landfill.

“If changes aren’t made to waste disposal habits, the Trail Waste Facility Landfill could reach capacity in the next 13 to 15 years, between 2036 and 2038,” Alain Gonthier, Public Works general manager, said in a memo. “Siting and developing a new landfill or implementing an alternative residual waste management technology could cost taxpayers between an estimated $300-450 million and can take up to 15 years to become fully operational.”

The short-term plans to change waste disposal are designed to defer the need to begin the process to find a new landfill or alternative residual waste management facility in the short term.

The Ontario government is also requiring municipalities to divert more waste from landfill by setting a target for curbside households to reduce and recover 70 per cent of food and organic waste from its waste stream by the end of this year.  Ottawa is currently at a 60 per cent capture rate.

What is the “bag tag” system?

City staff are proposing the city of Ottawa adopt a “partial pay-as-you-throw” program for solid waste collection moving forward; also known as the “bag tag” program.

The program requires residents to put a tag on each garbage bag, bin or item placed at the curb for pickup. Curbside recycling and green bins will not require a tag under the proposed system.  

How does the “bag tag” system work?

Each household would receive 55 tags from the city of Ottawa for the full year. The tags would be distributed each year as part of the Solid Waste user fee homeowners pay on their property tax bill.

When residents place their garbage at the curb for pickup every two weeks, every garbage bin, bag or item would be required to have a city of Ottawa garbage tag on it to be collected.

For residents using a garbage bin, the top bag in the container would need to have a city of Ottawa tag wrapped around the top.

The city says the maximum weight for the garbage bag or bin will be 33 lbs.

No loose garbage in a container would be picked up.

What is considered one item of garbage for one tag?

Every item placed out on the curb would require one tag for collection.

“A garbage container would count as one item of garbage; so regardless of the number of bags that can go in that container so long as, again, the container does not exceed the size and weight parameters,” Hoover-Bienasz said.

City staff say all garbage bags placed inside one, 140-litre garbage bin would be considered one item.

“A garbage item could be a garbage bag, container, or bulky item,” the city of Ottawa said in a statement. “Households can put several smaller bags in containers up to 140 litres with no need to purchase additional bags or tags.”

According to a graphic provided by the city of Ottawa, large items like a rug would require one tag.

The city of Ottawa provided examples for accepted items under the partial-pay-as-you-throw system. A 140-litre garbage bin would be considered one item, requiring one tag. (City of Ottawa/handout)

Additional tags

Once residents run out of their 55 bag tags for the year, they will be able to purchase additional tags for $3 each.

City staff will look at having bag tags for sale through the city of Ottawa’s website, at city of Ottawa facilities or stores.  More details will be released before the program is launched, if approved.

What are the benefits of a ‘bag tag’ program?

City staff estimate the switch to the “partial pay-as-you-throw” program would reduce garbage tonnage by 19 per cent per capita in year one, and up to 28 per cent in year five.

A report says the “bag tag” program will increase waste diversion rates by six per cent and increase the curbside recycling tonnage by 19 per cent.

Recycling and green bins

The city of Ottawa says there would be no change in recycling and green bin programs.

“There would continue to be no limit to how much residents can set out through curbside recycling and green bins,” the city said.

What is the city of Ottawa’s current garbage collection policy?

The city of Ottawa currently allows households to put out six items for pickup every two weeks.

Statistics released by the city show 74 per cent of households set out two items or less every two weeks.

A total of 96 per cent of garbage set-outs are within the current six item limit.

The city says more than 80 per cent of homes that set out four or less garbage items each week also use the blue bin, and more than 63 per cent also set out the green bin.

What’s next for the plan?

The Environment and Climate Change Committee will debate and vote on the proposed Curbside Waste Diversion Strategy on Monday, June 5.

Council will have the final say on the plan on June 14.

In the fall, Council will receive a report on the mid-term and long-term action plans for dealing with solid waste, including a multi-residential diversion strategy.

When will the “bag tag” program be launched?

If Council votes to proceed with the “partial pay-as-you-throw” program for solid waste, it will start in the spring of 2024.

City staff say there will be a promotion and education campaign about the new program in the three months ahead of its launch.

Other cities using the “bag tag” garbage program

The city of Ottawa says 132 municipalities across Ontario currently use the “pay-as-you-throw” model. Here is a look at some of the programs in Ontario and across Canada.

Carleton Place: The “bag tag” program in Carleton Place allows households to put out one bag of untagged garbage for collection each week. Any additional bag requires a tag, at cost of $3.

Gatineau, Que.: The city of Gatineau provides gray bins on wheels to all residential units with municipal curbside pickup.  Trash that does not fit in the gray bin requires a tag for collection, with a package of five tags costing $2.50.

Kingston: Kingston collects one untagged bag/container of garbage a week. Residents need to buy bag tags to go on extra garbage bags or containers, at a cost of $2 per tag.

Toronto:  The city of Toronto’s Solid Waste Management Plan is a rate-based program where residents pay fees for the services they receive based on the size of their garbage bin. The fees for a bin range from $286.59 for a small bin to $548.25 for an extra large bin.  Excess garbage that doesn’t fit in the bin with the lid closed must be tagged. Tags cost $30.70 for a sheet of five bag tags.

Region of Waterloo:  Residents in Kitchener-Waterloo living in a single-family home and a duplex are limited to three garbage bags/cans every two weeks. Each additional bag or can must have a garbage tag, which costs $2 each.

London, Ont.: Each household is limited to three containers of garbage. If residents have more than three containers, they need a $1.50 garbage tag for each extra container at the curb.

Region of Peel: Residents can put a total of four garbage bags or four full-containers out on garbage collection day. Garbage tags for additional garbage cost $3 each and come in sheets of 5.

Niagara Falls: Residents can put out two bags or cans of garbage every-other-week. Additional bags/items require a garbage tag, at a cost of $2.85 each.

Sarnia: Residents are allowed three containers for garbage collection. A bag tag, at a cost of $1.50 each, is required for any additional bags and containers.

Vancouver:  The city of Vancouver provides homes with one bin for garbage collection. It costs $2 per sticker for extra garbage bags/items.

Calgary: The city of Calgary provides black cart garbage collection to single-family homes every two weeks, and one bin can hold four standard garbage bags.  If the cart is full, you need to buy tags to put out extra garbage bags, at a cost of $3 a tag.

Winnipeg: The city of Winnipeg says residents can request the pickup of extra garbage and/or large items for an additional fee.  The fees range from $12 per item for large items and large appliances to $20 for up to three garbage bags.

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