gor[b] Paul Gorbould: Words and Pictures

17Nov/0613

Paul’s Super Ultimate Raccoon-Proofing Guide

Raccoon-proofing your garbage: A compendium of knowledge for battling and besting the backyard beasts.

Several times a week, I get someone coming to my blog via a Google search for “raccoon-proof garbage”, landing on my previous diatribe on the subject, Procyon horribilis.

I’m obviously not alone in my battle against the fell creatures. So - and this is new for me - I'm writing this entry strictly for those frustrated Googlers. The rest of you can get your CBC trivia, pithy anecdotes and lame stories about my kids next time around. I’m hardly running out.

Message to raccoonsI was inspired to research and write something after my sister Alison e-mailed me this hilarious, if profane, image from drewtoothpaste on Flickr. His accompanying comment:

I understand that raccoons don't really have a choice about whether or not to eat garbage. They just make a bad mess and don't put anything back.

You might think, "Raccoons don't read." Well, people don't read either, but here I am on the internet, typing anyway.

No truer words. Though I expect the raccoons in my neighbourhood can read, are probably reading this on their Blackberries, and are developing countermeasures at an undisclosed location under my deck.

Oh, and they tried to eat my jack-o-lantern.

Why don’t I just chill out?

OK, nobody likes sweeping up banana peels, used diapers and coffee grinds, but it’s not really any worse than changing said diapers or coffee filters.

But I should mention two specific problems I have, which make the raccoon issue vexing instead of just a mild irritant.

1) Storage. I live in a semi-detached house with an extraordinarily narrow alley between it and the house next door. There’s no room for a storage shed or other clever device. And the wall is covered in vinyl siding, so I’m loath to drill holes in the wall to tie back the containers.

2) Location. My street is exactly one block from the yard where the City of Toronto garbage trucks begin their rounds. So they arrive at 7:00 a.m. on the dot. I don’t get up that early, so I need to put out the garbage and recycling the night before. Also - and this may become a later blog entry - the garbage men are not on their best behaviour first thing in the morning. They look for any excuse to avoid collecting our stuff, so bungees etc. are out.

Hence my search for a way to make the city-provided green bin raccoon proof. Read on.

Scope of the problem

Torontoist claims that Toronto has one of the largest raccoon populations of any city in North America. Wikipedia says they are second only to the grey squirrel here. On average, they weigh 25-30 lbs.

According to the Toronto Humane Society, many people believe Toronto has a lot of raccoons because of all the parks and ravines, but the real answer is garbage (read: food.)

Toronto is known as a "clean" city, but it still has enough readily available garbage to support a very large raccoon population. The city is able to provide necessary shelter (in the form of attics, chimneys, garages, porches and mature trees) and a convenient supply of food from your garbage. The number of raccoons in an area depends on the amount of available food and shelter. If one of these factors is reduced, the raccoon population will decline.

(Of course, the Humane Society also says, “Raccoons cannot cause problems unless people allow them to do so. Instead of blaming them, we should work together to find a solution, satisfactory to both humans and raccoons.” Well, fuck that.)

Raccoons are built for getting into your garbage. The Project Wildlife website says:

Raccoons have keen senses of smell and hearing. They are strong and agile, hence good tree and fence climbers. Each foot has five long and slender digits, which operate with remarkable dexterity. In the wild, they use their front feet for finding food in water, opening shellfish, and conveying food to the mouth. In adapting to human habitat, they often apply this dexterity to opening garbage cans and pet food storage containers.

What’s more, they pass on their nasty habits:

Zoologists attribute the raccoons adaptability to transmission of culture, a mammalian trait this creature has developed to a high level. The young quickly pick up new skills from adults and then can make their own adjustments or adaptations to new circumstances.

Because I’m sticking to the garbage issue, I’m not going to get into the diseases (Baylisascaris roundworm, canine distemper, parvovirus and rabies) and other problems (attacks on pets, damage to houses, gardens, etc.) associated with raccoons.

Green bin grocery

Today more than half a million Toronto houses put organic waste in a separate, green container for compostable food waste.

Though almost all downtown residents know how often raccoons get into the bins, the city seems to think it isn’t a big deal. They did a survey of 900 Etobicoke homes that bordered golf courses and ravines (this decidedly does not describe my neck of the woods!) to see if the bins were opened:

During the four weeks that curbside set-out was observed, only seven bins out of 900 were opened. While one can’t be sure exactly how they were opened or by whom, it appears that raccoons were not a problem. The City followed up these findings with a further inquiry to Toronto’s Customer Service staff, who verified that from January to July, there had not been one complaint about raccoons getting into green bins from those homes audited.

So, we must all be imagining this problem, I guess.

When city officials introduced the green bin program, they swore on a stack of bibles that they’d be raccoon-proof. They’ve since toned it down a little, claiming it is “designed to be animal-resistant.”

Here’s what the Green Bin FAQ has to say of the container:

It is durable and has a tight-fitting latch. In fact, the latch on the bins produced for Toronto, East York and York has been further tightened to resist the prying claws of various animals like dogs or raccoons.

Meaning they didn’t really work.

An article published on the excellent CBC Unlocked site (created by locked-out journalists like myself during the 2005 CBC lockout) exposed the latch issue further:

The biggest problem was the latch. It was stiff and raccoon-proof at first, but became easier to open over time.

A wise friend told me that all green bins have not been created equal. He had two, one that opened with the flick of a finger, and another that required hands of steel.

But Norm "Trapper" Torrie, who makes a living catching raccoons, said business has never been better since he began five years ago.

"I've yet to hear of any raccoon who can't open a green bin," said Torrie of Racoons.ca.

"They get on top of the bin and pull the latch up," said Torrie. "Raccoons don't turn their wrist the way you and I do. They always pull. What green bins need is a sliding latch, but even that I'm sure raccoons would solve."

Though the problem is usually with the green bins, the Humane Society site says that different garbage cans help keep raccoons out of the garbage, if that’s a problem. “Garbage cans with twist-top lids are the best deterrents. They are available from hardware stores at a reasonable price.”

Alternate latches

While claiming the green bin latches are fine, the city green bin site admits that extra measures may be needed.

So, rather than offering a better bin, they sell you an upgrade.

To provide additional security against persistent pests like raccoons, the City provides residents with the option of purchasing a latch lock addition to your current green bin latch. This extra latch costs $9.00 and is available at the same Works Yards serving as recycling container pick-up locations (PDF) and at local Community Environment Day events (not Home Hardware stores). It comes with easy to follow installation and usage instructions.

This mystical latch was in development longer than the space elevator, and I've never seen one. I called the city today (416-338-2010), and was told that they are "white plastic latches called Raccoon Latch", and that they CAN be bought at Home Hardware.

However, they weren't available at my local Home Hardware, and they aren't in the Home Hardware catalogue. In fact, they don't appear to exist on the internet at all.

Raccoon-check on green binThere is another product available there, though, and my aforementioned sister - always the wiseass - bought one for me for my birthday.

The product is called Raccoon Check, a nifty strap and buckle system that bolts onto the lid of your green bin. It costs under $8. It was developed by Toronto residents Warren Walker and Jim Millar, and is getting rave reviews.

"Raccoon Check is the first really effective system for keeping raccoons from turning your trash can into a smorgasbord," says Jane Wall, Product Manager for Home Hardware. "It's simple to install. It's easy to open and close. And unlike bungee cords, which don't work that well anyway, you don't have to worry about that springy, whiplash effect."

Though I’m the first one on the street to install one, other residents of my neighbourhood seem happy with it too:

"It's so satisfying to see the green bin laying on its side in the morning knowing I don't have to clean up what would have been a disgusting raccoon-made mess," says south Riverdale resident Mary Ann Sievert.

Raccoon proofing your green binI found the device easy enough to install in about ten minutes. The instructions say you need to drill holes in the bin to put the bolts through, but I found the green plastic soft enough to just poke an awl through. Then screw in the straps (which come adjusted to the right size for a green bin) and you’re good to go. I’ll let you know if it works.

The CBC Unlocked writer tried it too:

My own solution, after nearly abandoning the green bin for old-fashioned composting in the back yard, was a woven strap called Raccoon Check, purchased at Home Hardware. It's not the city-approved latch, which is still in the works.

Garbage collectors have no obligation to undo the strap for dumping, but so far they have.

The day after I'd mounted the new strap, I walked out onto our porch to see our green bin lying on its side by our neighbour's air conditioner about six metres away. It had been pulled down our stairs and dragged through the garden. I could tell because a deep groove was cut through the dirt.

It was not open.

Raccoon proofing your green bin 4See, there’s the rub: the garbage collectors don’t have to unclasp the simple buckles, because as with bungees, the city says "the collectors don’t have time to do so.” And in my neighbourhood, trash collectors would view this as a reason to skip the whole block.

A rep from the city tells me that garbage collectors WILL unlock the "raccoon latch" clasps - if you can find one.

So, alas, I’ll still have to get up at 6:55 a.m. every Friday. But at least it won’t be to sweep up the mess.

Other methods

People have tried everything from bungee cords to moving tape, string, chain, nylon stockings and weights to keep the bins shut, usually without success.

From experience, I can say that the usual M.O. for a raccoon is to knock the bin over, using the weight of the container to pop the lid open. They are often able to slide bungees and string aside just enough to pull garbage out. To keep your garbage upright during the week, here are some suggestions gleaned from the web:

1) Make it harder to tip over

raccoon lunch stopIf you use a bag (strictly optional) to line your outdoor green bin, make sure it is completely tucked into the bin when you set it out; otherwise the edges may be used by animals to pull the bin over, but more importantly you want to avoid any food residue left on the plastic from attracting animals.
Source: Toronto Green Bin FAQ http://www.toronto.ca/greenbin/faq.htm

A simple and very cheap way to keep raccoons out of your garbage. Simply hook the securely closed garbage pail a few inches above the ground, against a wall. To pry open lids the clever animals use leverage by tipping the pails over, then using their wieght and position to knock the lid off. This way, the pail swings back and forth but never rests horizontally - frustrating the masked creature into submission. I've watched and it works for me.
Source: WhyNot.net http://www.whynot.net/ideas/269

To prevent cans from being knocked over and rolled around, secure the handle to a metal or wooden stake driven into the ground.
Source: Project Wildlife http://www.projectwildlife.org/living-raccoons.htm

Another neighbour anchored eye-bolts into cement, and hooks rubber straps from there to the green bin latch.
Source: CBC Unlocked http://www.cbcunlocked.com/artman/publish/features/article_523.shtml

2) Make it unavailable

When you take your bin to the curb is important. If you know you’ve had a problem with animals, rather than putting your bin out the night before pick-up, wait until early the next morning and put it out before 7:00 a.m. on your collection day (raccoons usually feed at night). If you store your bin in a garage or shed, make sure the doors and windows are closed.
Source: Toronto Green Bin FAQ http://www.toronto.ca/greenbin/faq.htm

Keep garbage bins locked in the garage until the morning of pick-up and reduce access to the underside of decks where they will burrow and nest, suggests Ohio State University Extension's website. Raccoons only need an opening of 2.5x4-inches to gain entry.
Source: Home and Garden http://homeandgarden.canoe.ca/Homes/2005/07/04/1116754.html

3) Discouraging smells

cayenne pepperAs a last effort, place an inch or so of ammonia-soaked newspaper or rags in the bottom of the garbage can and sprinkle cayenne pepper on top of the garbage to discourage raccoons. Handle ammonia carefully, and keep in mind that it is toxic to children and animals. The ammonia is intended to deter raccoons with its odor, not to injure them.
Source: Project Wildlife http://www.projectwildlife.org/living-raccoons.htm

Make a raccoon den unlivable. Sprinkle naphtha flakes or predator urine around the area or hang ammonia-soaked cotton rags near the entrance and keep the area brightly lit. Raccoons dislike loud noises, bright lights and strong smells. Use the same methods in your garden or in the area where you keep your garbage or composter.
Source: The Gable’s Raccoon World http://www.geocities.com/rainforest/vines/4892/raccoonfaq.html

Place mothballs, ammonia or pour hot pepper sauce at the bottom and around the outside edges of your composter or garbage container.
Source: AnimalHealthCare.ca

(I’ve found that a little Lysol spray works well too, at least for garbage pails.)

There you have it. A little long, a little obsessive, and I still haven’t found a way to stay in bed on garbage day. But it’s been a week without having to clean up the side alley, and that’s a start. If you have any anecdotes or tips, I’d love to hear them.

Comments (13) Trackbacks (1)
  1. I also lived in a semi in the east end of the city. Two years ago, a mommy raccoon slipped under my neighbours roofing and made her way down to our side of the house. There is a small space between the house and the eaves that hang over the front. Within a week she had given birth to 6 cubs, kittens, joeys or whatever you call them. The damn things kept us up all night, while she was out eating our garbage. And then the urine and poop smells started wafting into our bedroom and our dog would spend hours on end digging at the wall.

    We eventually paid for a ‘humane’ service to remove them and then we had to get the aluminum and the beams replaced in our roof. Total Cost: $5,000! God damn!

    We now live in Europe and at the zoo here in Amsterdam they have a huge raccoon habitat. I have to laugh when I see all these Europeans oooohing and aahing over these little masked bandits. The zoo has even come up with clever ways to feed them so that they can have a wild and interactive existence in captivity. Crap… they could have saved some money – instead of dropping some Euros on a slick engineered contraption, they could have ordered a green bin from the City of Toronto!

  2. hey, how about someone invent a laser beam that would likely scrape the raccoon if it goes near the trash bins… lol… it’s brutal. Well, as long as the raccoon latch wins over them, then we can settle this in a peaceful way as of now.

  3. We have had great luck with a small strap the reaches from the lid down to the body of the bin. The clasp is the same kind that fastens your bike helmet. Same problems you have though; the garbage collectors won’t unbuckle it (oh, the dreaded two-week-old, maggot-infested compost!), so you have to be up early. The raccoons have given up on our compost. They have learned (yes, they are clever) that knocking the bin over is pointless. They try once in a while for old time’s sake but it’s fruitless for them. For us it’s satisfying to see the bin on its side unopened in the morning.

    As to how to get one: you have this guy come down your street and offer to swap your green bin for the buckled one he happens to have with him for $15.00. Couldn’t be easier.

  4. A comment from my sister that I meant to add:

    ———
    I do think that the “make a raccoon den unliveable” paragraph (which was only one tiny bit in the whole thing) goes over the line – humane societies generally abhor the use of cayenne – it can seriously damage their eyes and respiratory tracts, while not actually killing them. Either prevent them from getting in the garbage or kill them humanely. Maiming isn’t cool.
    ———-

    Good point. As for getting them out of your house, check out the contraption on my neighbour Pary’s house:
    http://www.flukemedia.com/blog/?p=130

  5. Can I get Raccoon Check in the US?

  6. Good question. I did a web search, and found no U.S. dealers. The Home Hardware catalog (Canadian) has it listed on page 85

    http://www.homehardware.ca/en/catalogues/

    STRAP, GARB SECURTY
    Model: HH RCCN CHECK
    HH Item Number: 4438-059
    See Dealer For Price

    But the ad for it says “exclusive to Home Hardware” so it may not be available elsewhere. I didn’t check to see if they’d ship to the U.S. – they might.

    I actually had a problem with my Raccoon Check a few weeks ago. The pail fell over on an extremely cold day, and cracked one of the buckles. It doesn’t close properly now, which may or may not be a problem.

    The buckles look like generic plastic web belt buckles, so you can probably get a replacement at any outfitter, camping or surplus store – not sure how hard it will be to fix. In fact, you could probably make your own out of a $2 web belt and some screws……. I’d recommend that approach, actually.

  7. I have experienced all the problems discussed here regarding the green bin and racoons. I live in a great downtown neighboorhood with small alleys between homes. I recently saw a rat in my backyard! I called a pest control company and they explained that the rat population is growing because the racoons are porviding take-out meals for the rats by tipping over the bins. I’m getting that strap from Home Hardware today.

    I confided my rat sighting to a friend who lives 10 minutes away from me – she has rats too! We have both lived in our homes for over 10 years and this is the first time we have seen rats. Racoons are irritating but rats are pushing me over the edge.

    Thanks for the tips!

  8. I successfully, wrapped a wire hanger around the handle of the green bin and around a post in the fence so the raccoons cannot move the bin, and then place a bungee cord (not over the top of the bin (handle to handle) rather) tied it from the underside of the bin and latched it onto the handle. It’s pretty hard for them I would imagine to pull it upwards to release it.

    So far I’ve been successful with the raccoons. However the garbage men throw the bin after they emptied it and it’s cracked in the bottom, now I get hundreds of these white little worms/insects and an aweful smell. Any tips from anyone on this problem?

  9. I am looking for tips on how to keep the raccoons off my roof. I have a deck in the back and they climb up the fence on either side, which is attached to the house. So it’s just a one foot stretch up to the roof of the first floor. They’ve pulled up a couple of shingles, sleep on the skylight, etc. It has been suggested that I get the tack edging that is used when laying carpets, and put 2-foot pieces along the top of the fence near the house. They step on it and decide not to go further. Any thoughts?

    PS saw the picture of the green bin strap — I think it was put on the wrong way. I thought the strap was supposed to be attached to the top of the lid and brought down to the front of the bin and secured. (?)

  10. How effective would mixing cayenne pepper with water be and then spraying the perimeter around my yard to keep racoons away from my fish pond? I would like to spray around the pond itself, but I have small children who like to play around it. What do you think? Thanks in advance.

    Gary Hoover

  11. That could work, Gary. Here’s one website that suggests a boiled pepper/water mix, sprayed as you suggest:

    http://www.urbanwildliferescue.org/humane/raccoons.htm

    But I must say I’ve had little success with the cayenne route – it seems to lose effectiveness very quickly.

    What do the raccoons do at your pond?

  12. Here’s a free (for now) design, using fewer parts, than the hard to get (Home Hardware only) variant that uses Fastex [tm] buckles.

    http://dakworks.wordpress.com/2008/04/21/my-anti-raccoon-gift-to-toronto/

    Best,
    David Keldsen

  13. I have a product that is now available called Oscarnet. Give it a try, it is getting great reviews.

    David


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