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'I literally inherited a mess,' Chow says as city unveils new sidewalk litter bins

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Mayor Olivia Chow says residents can expect to see cleaner sidewalks across Toronto as the city works to install new and improved sidewalk litter bins.

Throughout the year, the city is planning to replace hundreds of older garbage receptacles along city streets with redesigned bins that city staff say are more functional.

“I literally inherited a mess,” Chow told reporters during a news conference on Thursday. “We are cleaning it up.”

She said it irks her to watch the front covers of the old litter bins “flapping” in the wind. She noted that the older bins do not even have openings wide enough to accommodate larger coffee cups.

“I came into the job in July and I went to a lot of (festivals)… whether it is Taste of Little Italy or Ukraine, and I see the need for us to have cleaner streets,” she said.

“I have been working hard at it.”

She noted that designing and testing the new bins “took a bit of time.”

Four of the new bins were placed in downtown locations for testing in December and January as part of a pilot project.

Chow said the pilot was a success and four additional bins will be installed this week.

More than 1,000 new bins are expected to be installed in high-density areas by the end of the year, the city said in a news release issued Thursday.

According to the city, the new sidewalk bins include a wider opening that “reduces the likelihood of disposed items getting stuck.” They also feature a “stronger, self-closing hinge.”

The bins will also have added durability with the reinforcement of the frame and doors, the city noted.

Just two garbage options are included on each bin, a change the city says will reduce the “likelihood of overflows and contamination of recyclable materials.”

In addition to the new bins, the city says it is planning to conduct a “bin sensor pilot program” this year on about 250 of the street litter bins.

The sensors are designed to “detect the fullness” of the bins and communicate when the bins are at or near capacity.

Additional staff is also being hired to inspect street litter bins, gather data, and report overflowing and maintenance issues “for a period of six months” to allow the city to gather trends and recommendations for “optimal collection frequency.”

Presently, litter operations run 20 hours a day, seven days a week in Toronto, with more than 50,000 collections of litter bins per week, the city said.

According to city staff, 99.9 per cent of collections are done “proactively” and collection is done at night for “safety and efficiency.”

While the city is responsible for collecting garbage, repairing broken or damaged litter bins is the responsibility of Bell Media-owned Astral Out-of-Home, which has been contracted to maintain them.

The service provider, the city says, is “committed to completing weekly inspections” of the approximately 11,000 sidewalk bins and twice-weekly inspections in high-density areas.

“They install, maintain, and fix the bins so we are going to hold them to all of that,” Chow told reporters Thursday. “I got a copy of the contract because I want to take a closer look at how we can work better with them.”

When asked why it took so long to introduce more effective sidewalk litter bins in Toronto, Brad Chebott, a senior manager for Astral Out-of-Home, said they are always looking to improve the program.

“It has been a continuous improvement since 2007 when we took over,” he said.

He would not say whether Astral hopes to extend its contract with the city when the agreement ends in 2027.

“Our objective is to meet our obligations within the current agreement,” he added.

Astral and CP24 are divisions of Bell Media.

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