Toronto’s “raccoon-resistant” garbage cans aren’t as effective as city officials hoped. As NPR reports, the self-proclaimed “raccoon capital of the world” has been unable to outwit some of the city’s cleverest "trash pandas."
For years, Torontonians have struggled to contend with the city’s booming raccoon population and its insatiable appetite for old pizza, overripe bananas, and just about everything else that gets thrown out with the trash. In 2016, the city spent CA$31 million (about US$24 million) on waste bins that were specially designed to keep furry scavengers out. To open one up, a rotating handle on the lid must be turned to unhinge a gravity lock. The hope was that raccoons, which lack opposable thumbs, wouldn’t be able to break in.
Cameras cast doubt on that theory. In a heist that would make National Treasure's Nicolas Cage proud, footage uploaded to YouTube by the Toronto Star shows a determined mama raccoon cracking the code to open the lid and get to the good stuff inside.
Even without thumbs, raccoons have nimble paws. On top of that, urban raccoons boast some serious street smarts. One study by raccoon expert Suzanne MacDonald revealed that raccoons knew to avoid busy intersections, and another study found that city raccoons are better than their country counterparts at figuring out how to open garbage can lids.
Research from the early 1900s showed that raccoons could crack 11 out of 13 locks—which included latches, levers, buttons, hooks, and bolts—to open a box with food inside. As for the episode seen above, Toronto officials and an employee from the garbage can company said broken bins are to blame. The faulty bin was replaced, but the camera kept rolling, and footage showed that raccoons were able to knock over and break into the new bin, too.
This time, the bin manufacturer blamed the breach on a faulty handle. On the bright side, the city reported that these break-ins aren’t widespread. Out of nearly 500,000 bins, only 24 raccoon-related problems were reported.
MacDonald has been tracking whether the city’s “very fat” raccoons have lost any weight since the new bins have been rolled out. While the results aren't yet conclusive, “they’re not starving to death, that’s for sure,” she told Toronto Star reporter Amy Dempsey.