Ottawa garbage workers could have tools to search your trash

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On average, there are one to two cases of discarded needles poking garbage workers a year, plus several cases of truck fires and chemical backsplashes.

Lucy Scholey, Metro

It’s not quite like finding a needle in a landfill – more like finding (and fining) the dirty syringe tosser.

The City of Ottawa may soon have grounds to sift through your garbage bag if they suspect you have discarded something harmful to its waste collectors. But one councillor says it’s a veiled attempt to ensure Ottawa residents are complying with garbage and green bin rules.

On Monday, the city’s environment committee approved amendments to the solid waste bylaw that aims to prevent Ottawa residents from tossing things like syringes or sharp items. It would also allow city employees to enter private property “at any reasonable time” to inspect your garbage.

But Capital Coun. David Chernushenko, chair of the environment committee, said staff would need to have “reasonable suspicion.” Garbage employees could not just go into any apartment building and start opening bags at random.

“If someone is putting dangerous materials in a bag, we need to identify who that is and tell them to stop,” he said.

City staff said there are, on average, one to two cases of discarded needles poking waste collection employees a year. On top of that, there are several cases of truck fires and chemical backsplashes on workers.

City staff says they could enforce fines on property owners if they do not comply with the rules.

College Coun. Rick Chiarelli was the only dissenting vote on the bylaw amendment. He said it’s a way to hold Ottawa residents to the green bin rules.

“You’re spending a lot of money to try to find one or two needles in a garbage bag stack that is tens of millions of bags full,” he said after the committee.

Chernushenko said the city does regular anonymous green bin audits in which employees check trucks for organics, but not individual green bins.

Other cities, like Markham, Ont., require clear plastic bags. Halifax also enacted a similar rule earlier this year. However, both cities allow at least one black privacy bag.

The garbage bylaw amendment must go to city council for final approval.