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Free Sheets Mean Piles of Litter

The profusion of throwaway transit papers in Toronto created disposal difficulties.

By Shannon Rupp 14 Mar 2005 | TheTyee.ca
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[This is the last of three part series on the new free dailies coming to the Vancouver area. Read parts one and two.]

Toronto in 2000, three new "commuter daily" papers were rushed onto the street in a matter of weeks. The tabloid Sun chain, the Toronto Star's parent Torstar, and Europe's Metro International SA chain were all competing to occupy the emerging newspaper niche. The experience offers Vancouverites a glimpse of one thing they can expect from the three giveaways expected in the city in the next month — a lot more garbage.

One of Metro's marketing slogans is: "I love a newspaper I can read before my coffee gets cold." In Vancouver, CanWest's Dose, Sun chain publisher Quebecor's 24 Hours, and Metro, which is now in Toronto and Vancouver a partnership between Torstar and the chain's Luxembourg-based founders, will flood our city streets with at least 320,000 12- to 24-page tabloids a day. And all are designed to be discarded in minutes.

"Because they were free, people took them and then threw them out right away, and it increased the amount of paper garbage significantly," said Marilyn Bolton, spokesperson for the Toronto Transit Commission. "We have had to add a lot of newspaper recycling bins and garbage cans."

And who pays for that disposal? In Toronto part of the cost was covered by Gateway, the company that runs the kiosks at the TTC and distributes Metro. But in Vancouver these giveaway papers are more likely to be distributed through street boxes, restaurants, universities, and community centres. And they will become a problem for municipal governments.

City becoming boxed in

The City of Vancouver already had 29 companies with about 3,500 news boxes on its streets before Metro added its 700 boxes this week. Although city permission is required to field the boxes in Vancouver, the cost is minimal: $25 a year, and distributors have to show proof of liability insurance. Tom Hammel, street administration engineer, said there are guidelines limiting the number of boxes per corner to three (24 per intersection) and boxes without permits are removed at the expense of the owner.

Hammel said he has heard a rumour that 24 Hours is planning to distribute its boxes without city permission (as they have in other cities), but he said the city won't tolerate it. "If they do that they're going to get hauled away," he said, explaining that news-box owners have to apply for locations and many of the preferred spots have been occupied by papers like the Globe and Mail and the Georgia Straight for years.

As for the potential litter problem of at least 320,000 tabs being junked daily, Hammel said the city has no plan to charge the publishers for clean-up.

"We can't go back to the news-box owners and bill them for the litter we have to pick up," Hammel said, adding that the existing newspapers haven't been a problem. "It will just come down to our clean-up crews that do our regular litter pick-up. Hopefully people will hang on to them and take them home or to the office for recycling."

Although there is no policy limiting the number news boxes, the city is looking at requiring distributors to provide boxes that hold multiple publications to cut the clutter of "street furniture."

Charles Gauthier, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement Association, said his organization already deals with complaints about graffiti on boxes, street clutter, and other aesthetic problems caused by the explosion in news boxes. (In 1998, the policy that limited news boxes to subscription papers and alternative weeklies was revised to include other giveaways.)

"What's the cost to the city? Someone has to foot the bill for recycling these products," Gauthier said, adding that his organization's Downtown Ambassadors are already picking up the discarded freebies that litter city streets.

THE THREE "AMIGOS"

MetroLaunch: March 14Format: Tabloid newspaperOwner: Metro International and Torstar Vancouver Metro's Acting Publisher Bill French told CBC radio on March 14 that CanWest has also joined the partnership between Metro and Torstar.Local editorial staff: one editor, two reportersContent: Toronto Star reprints, Reuters, local freelance columnistsCopies printed: 160,000Distribution: 700 news boxes in Vancouver, many more elsewhereTarget audience: under 34, transit riders

24 HoursLaunch: possibly late MarchFormat: Colour glossy lightweight paper, like supermarket tabloidsOwner: Quebecor Inc., owner of the Sun Media chainLocal editorial staff: maximum fourContent: Toronto Sun reprints, Reuters, local freelance columnistsCopies printed: unconfirmedDistribution:  news boxesTarget audience: women in their 20s and 30s, transit riders

DoseLaunch: April 4Format: tabloid newspaper, web site, and mobile portalOwner: CanWest GlobalLocal Editorial Staff: uncertain, two hired in Vancouver, most based in TorontoContent: CanWest wire service, columnistsCopies printed: 80,000 in Vancouver, 240,000 in four other citiesDistribution: news boxesTarget audience: readers in their mid-20s, transit riders

Previously in this series by Shannon Rupp:

The Invasion of the Tiny Tabs  

Three New Dailies to Flood Vancouver Area

Shannon Rupp is a regular contributor to The Tyee and writes for many other publications.  [Tyee]

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