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Mayor's Monthly Column - March 2015

It is likely apparent to anyone who has been following the curbside recycling discussion that City Council has been struggling to reach consensus on this issue. 

I think that the place where we currently find ourselves as a council reflects the differing views that exist in our community. Council is composed of nine different people with different backgrounds and perspectives trying to come up with a solution that addresses the needs and desires of our community.

My colleagues and I on City Council have heard from many people on the curbside recycling issue. Based on the feedback we’ve received, it is clear that many Lethbridge residents have passionate views both for and against the curbside recycling options Council has discussed to date. 

Some opponents have told us they object to the idea of residents bearing a disproportionate burden of responsibility for waste diversion while others object to paying increased costs for enhancing our existing recycling services. At the same time, it’s abundantly clear that a significant segment of our community would welcome a municipal curbside recycling program and would willingly pay for it. Some of these folks have already subscribed to curbside collection services available from the private sector. 

On behalf of City Council, I want to thank those who have taken the time to contact us to express their views. All of these different perspectives are valid because we are all part of the same community. 

Recycling fits within the larger context of waste diversion and environmental preservation. The reality is that landfills produce leachates and greenhouse gases. A comprehensive community effort will be required to make a meaningful difference in reducing the amount and types of waste that enter our landfill, which in turn would reduce our impact on our natural environment. 

Residential waste is just one component of our overall waste stream in Lethbridge. There are a number of distinctly different waste streams that originate in the non-residential sectors of our community, and unique strategies will be needed for each of them. For example, a waste diversion strategy for the commercial food sector would look much different from a strategy for diverting waste from building construction and demolition. 

Within the local non-residential sectors, there are some excellent examples of best practices for waste diversion. Some businesses carefully monitor their waste streams and compile reliable data that demonstrates they are making significant progress in achieving their environmental objectives. But when we consider that a total of more than 100,000 tonnes of waste from within our city enters the landfill each year, it’s clear that much more could be done. 

As a city, we are still a long way from the point where every organization and business has a responsible environmental program in place to help our community maximize the diversion of organics and recyclable materials from our landfill. In my own interactions with people in the business, industrial and construction sectors, I’ve seen positive responses to the idea of promoting best practices for waste diversion in each sector. 

My personal perspective on curbside recycling has changed substantially in the past 18 months as I have learned more about the waste we generate in Lethbridge and where it all comes from. I came to City Council in October 2013 as an advocate for a municipal blue cart curbside recycling program. Since then, I’ve learned that although a blue cart program would provide an added element of convenience for city residents, there are other avenues of waste diversion also worth examining that would have greater environmental benefits. I have come to favour pursuing solutions that would offer the greatest impact in terms of waste diversion at the least cost to residents of our city. 

Our goal was to seek ways of diverting waste from our landfill and extending its life. While we continue to discuss and debate, the reality is that our landfill continues to fill up. 

In closing, I want to assure you that as City Council, we are doing our best to make informed decisions about waste diversion while taking into consideration the differing views and values of our community. Although we don’t know yet where we will land on this issue, I thinks it’s fair to say that a serious and comprehensive examination of our community’s waste diversion efforts is beginning. As your Council, we are determined to demonstrate leadership that will have a favourable and measurable impact on our environment.

Mayor Chris Spearman
March 20, 2015