Residents of Ontario cottage country are incensed by a controversial proposal to switch from black garbage bags to clear ones.

“We have to use clear bags and it’s gross and feels like an invasion of privacy,” Muskoka resident Ky Lee wrote on Facebook. Locals also said they were frustrated over a lack of consultation.

On June 19, the proposal to ban black garbage bags was revealed by Director of Waste Management and Environmental Services Renee Recoskie, during a District of Muskoka Engineering and Public Works committee meeting. She said the clear bags are supposed to encourage residents of Muskoka to better sort their recycling and compostables, assist in the removal of hazardous items from the waste stream and increase worker safety when handling bagged waste.

The District Municipality of Muskoka is situated just north of Barrie, Ont., and contains several municipalities, such as Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Huntsville, Georgian Bay, Lake of Bays and Muskoka Lakes. The region is home to roughly 63,000 year-round residents as of 2020, however another 83,000 seasonal residents only reside in the area for a select few months of the year. Some of these people include celebrities, like Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Justin Bieber. The area, which has been nicknamed “The Hamptons of the North” is also home to the secondary residences of Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Weston family, which owns Loblaws and Shopper’s Drug Mart.

The deputy mayor of Huntsville, Ont., Daniel Armour, told National Post that he agrees with the proposal but that he understands people’s concerns.

“The reason for the clear bags was to control the waste that’s going into our landfill sites as our landfill is quickly becoming full, and I think it was 2035 possibly to reach its maximum, so part of the strategic plan they were looking at, introducing clear bags to mediate what’s actually been going into our landfill site, to increase organics, and to increase recycling,” said Armour.

“Anything you can do to lessen the impact on our environment, if that’s introducing clear bags so we can mediate what’s going in, and hazardous waste from going into, our landfill, I think it’s a good thing. But I think there’s got to be some concessions made also.”

At present the proposal does not have a concrete plan nor has it been brought to the district council, which consists of 16 district councillors, the mayors of all six area municipalities, and an appointed district chair. However, people have already begun to make their thoughts known about the idea.

Residents took to social media to express their discontent with the proposal and skepticism about its purpose.

“Having the dump guys look through my garbage filled with menstrual pads and wrappers and intimate things, food wrappers, toy packages feels judgy,” Lee wrote. “Maybe it will help recycling but honestly the whole recycling thing is pretty scammy too.”

That was in reply to a post by fellow resident Ruby Truax, who referred to the move as “greenwashing”. Greenwashing is defined as the act of making false or misleading statements about the environmental benefits of a product or practice.

When asked by another Facebook user why this move seemed like “greenwashing,” Truax, an administrator for the group Huntsville Voice, stated that, “People who are environmentally conscious are already recycling, separating compostables, and disposing of hazardous materials properly. This only serves as an invasion of our privacy, having intimate or embarrassing items visible to waste collectors and neighbours.”

There have also been concerns regarding implementation and logistics, with Councillor Robert Lacroix of the Township of Lake of Bays asking how the policy will be enforced. “Are we adding more staff or is this on the honour system?” said Lacroix in reference to the as-of-yet sparse details about the mandate.

Recoskie said at the meeting that further details surrounding the plan, such as a timeline of implementation and measures to address privacy concerns will be considered in the budget report to the council, which is coming later this July followed by the budget deliberation meeting in September.

The proposal is not without precedent. In July of 2023, the city of Peterborough implemented a similar policy requiring clear trash bags to improve worker safety, citing hazardous goods commonly thrown in the trash such as used syringes that pose a risk to workers even with gloves.

“Clear garbage programs have been successfully implemented across many Ontario municipalities, so the district certainly isn’t the first, but we’ve been very fortunate to learn from those municipal experiences,” Recoskie told National Post. “The city of Orillia has had a clear bag program in place since 2022 as have both the Township of Algonquin Highlands and Township of The Archipelago.”

Regarding privacy concerns by the residents of Muskoka, she cited a measure taken by the aforementioned municipalities with their own clear bag programs to ensure the peoples’ peace of mind.

“In the city of Orillia and others, they allow for privacy bags, opaque privacy bags, within the clear bag so that folks wishing to keep certain items private to themselves, they do still have that opportunity to do so within those privacy bags.”

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