2. Implementing the Bag Limit

2. Implementing the Bag Limit

Establishing bag limits low enough to encourage greater participation in waste diversion programs while minimizing resident backlash is challenging. The better practice is to set the initial limit below the current average set out volume to encourage most residents to re-think their waste generation/disposal habits and to participate in alternative waste diversion programs. Most residents should be able to meet the bag limit and will not be shocked by what they perceive as an unreasonable reduction of service. The bag limit may be gradually reduced over time until municipal waste diversion goals are met.

Residents need ample time to prepare for any new limits. The following schedule is considered a better practice:

  1. Begin regular community wide public service announcement (PSA) messages at least 4 months prior to any changes.
  2. Start positive promotional information 3 months prior to implementation including set out monitoring results and reasons for introducing limits (e.g. financial, extending landfill capacity, new collection contract, etc.).
  3. Start concurrent P&E 3 months prior to implementation on local alternative waste diversion services available so residents minimize their perception of curbside service level reductions.
  4. Readers are cautioned that 3 months should be considered a maximum timeline. Over-extending the transition timeline can actually be counterproductive because it can leave the municipality in a state of turmoil for longer than necessary and weeks of complaints can cause Council to reconsider their commitment to a policy position. One month is considered a minimum.


Communities may offer a range of options/exemptions to support large families, infants or medical conditions. A typical approach involves the use of amnesty or double-up days on which residents are permitted to place more than the usual bag limit such as after statutory holidays when people may host parties and events that will generate abnormally high amounts of waste. This can help make limits more palatable for residents during the early years of the new policy. Read more.

Among 28 communities surveyed in Ontario with bag limit programs in place (no PAYT), the majority had either a 2 bag limit (43%) or a 3 bag limit (25%).

Examples of Ontario municipal bag limits (weekly set out restrictions):

  • City of Hamilton – 1 bag limit with no PAYT
  • Emo Township – 2 bag limit with no PAYT
  • Lanark Highlands Township – 2 bag limit with no PAYT
  • Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula – 2 bag limit with no PAYT
  • Haldimand County – 3 bag limit with no PAYT
  • City of North Bay – 3 bag limit with no PAYT
  • City of Ottawa – 3 bag limit with no PAYT
  • City of Espanola – 4 bag limit with no PAYT
  • Norfolk County – 4 bag limit with no PAYT

Case study: City of Peterborough – has a 2 bag limit with no PAYT. When the community reduced the bag limit from 3 to 2 bags, it experienced a significant increase in recycling and leaf/yard waste diversion rates.   

City of Ottawa – has bi-weekly waste collection and permits residents to set out 6 bags of waste per collection (avg. 3 bags/wk.). Ottawa does not allow residents to purchase tags for additional bags but has a range of exemptions available to help residents producing extra waste such as families with infants or generating incontinence waste.

Typically most communities find that the average set out is 1.8 bags/week. Thus 3 bag limits tend to be ineffective for increasing diversion compared to 2 bag limits.