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Toronto Asks Business to Pay Recycling Costs

EIGHTY-five percent of the citizens of Toronto dutifully haul their trash to the curb as participants in the province's recycling program.

But municipal governments are starting to balk at paying the bill for a program they see as long on idealism and short on generating cash.

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Everyone has a warm feeling about doing their bit for the environment. The trouble is, despite the record prices for old newspapers, it still costs a bundle to recycle.

While certain niches such as aluminum cans and newspapers are profitable now, recycling as a whole does not pay for itself, as expected when it began a decade or so ago.

Recycling costs Metropolitan Toronto $15 million (Canadian; US$11 million) a year, according to Andy Pollack, manager of waste reduction for Metropolitan Toronto.

So in 1996, the government plans to phase out funding for Toronto's recycling program.

Businesses, therefore, are stepping up to pay for a bigger share of the six-year-old program. They fear that if they don't act, the government will make rules on packaging that would be tougher than the voluntary restraints.

``They saw what was happening in France and Belgium, but especially Germany,'' Mr. Pollack says. ``What they want to avoid is the German `green dot' system, where every package has to ... show it is recyclable or else the [manufacturers] pay a terrible penalty.''

The municipal government, Pollack says, plans to analyze the true cost of recycling various materials - everything from plastics to steel cans. The packagers are also expected to pay one-third or more of the cost of recycling.

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In the initial phase, each corporate participant, be it a Coca-Cola bottler or Proctor & Gamble, will pay a $24 fee on every ton of packaging they use in their products. The money will go into a general fund to underwrite the cost of recycling packaging waste, Pollack says.

In the second phase of the program, municipal costs will be capped at one-third of the total cost, then recycling revenues will be added, and companies will make up the difference, Pollack adds. If there are no revenues, a company might end up paying two-thirds of the recycling cost itself.

``In 1993, our total cost of collecting and sorting recycled material was $185 a ton,'' Pollack says.

``This year, it is going to be $150 a ton and next year $140 a ton,'' he says. Currently, ``municipal garbage costs $100 a ton to collect and ship to landfill [dump] sites.''

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