The City of Toronto is looking to take on one of its most persistent pests – raccoons – with a new generation of green bins specially designed to keep the animals out.
The proposed new design, which will be debated at Toronto's public works and infrastructure committee this week, comes after extensive public surveys, field tests and even the hiring of an "animal behavioural specialist."
"People were just fed up with the raccoons," the city's public works chair Jaye Robinson said in an interview. "They are very ingenious in Toronto, but we think we've outsmarted them with this particular bin."
The city's current 46-litre green bins – introduced in 2002 and used in about 500,000 households across Toronto to collect organic waste – are nearing the end of their 10-year lifespan, according to a staff report. After putting out a request for proposal, city staff are recommending a design by Los Angeles-based Rehrig Pacific Company – due in large part to its ability during field tests to stave off raccoons.
The bin, Ms. Robinson said, features a "twist-type lock" on the top – considered more difficult for raccoons to operate. "It will be easier to use for residents, but not easy to use for raccoons," she said.
"They can twist small things, but anything that is human-sized is too big for them to get their hands around," said York University raccoon expert Suzanne MacDonald, who helped test the bin design.
The problem of crafty raccoons getting into – and making a mess of – household garbage bins has been an enduring one in the city. Just last year, Councillor David Shiner asked the city's licensing committee to deliver a report on what he described as the city's "exploding" raccoon population. Former mayor Rob Ford remarked at the time on the "severe problem" of raccoons getting "braver and braver by the day."
In the lead-up to selecting the new bin design, city staff conducted a survey of more than 500 residents asking about their experience with the current bins. According to the report, "respondents mentioned that rodent resistant is the most important feature of their green bins" – with 67 per cent calling it the most important feature. Only 15 per cent of respondents said they were "extremely satisfied" with the current design.
Ms. Robinson said that in public consultations, the raccoon problem was "all we heard about" from residents. As a result, when six tenders came in from potential bin-suppliers, city staff consulted with animal behavioural specialists to test the finalists, before zooming in on Rehrig's "raccoon-resistant" version.
The design is about twice the size of the current bins, and able to fit about 100-litres – which could be a potential drawback in tight spaces, she said, but could also serve as added incentive for people to use them.
Representatives at Rehrig declined to provide details about the design, citing the ongoing approvals process at the city.
If approved by council, the 10-year contract would cost approximately $31-million, and the old green bins would be recycled and made into new ones. Distribution is expected to begin by late 2015 or early 2016, with the new bins rolling out first in Scarborough.