City Council seeking affordable, practical curbside recycling models that make sense for Lethbridge
On January 26, City Council members will meet as Finance Committee to resume our discussion of potential service models for residential curbside recycling in Lethbridge.
Our discussion of this important issue began in earnest in November during our operating budget deliberations. Although a majority of Council members support curbside recycling in principle, we have yet to agree on a service model that would be best suited for our community.
My Council colleagues and I have heard a great deal of feedback from Lethbridge residents about curbside recycling. Many in our city support curbside recycling, but the chief concern we hear from those who are opposed centres on the cost of such a service. As Council, we are looking for practical solutions that are affordable and make good sense for a city of our size.
I want to assure you that the concept of curbside recycling is not just a feel-good exercise. Curbside recycling has been in practice in other cities for decades. While I commend all residents who use the current drop-off depots, the fact remains that a high proportion of residents do not. The result is that only 10 per cent of the residential waste in Lethbridge is diverted from the landfill through the existing recycling stations. Through other diversion programs such as e-waste, yard waste and branch chipping, another 10 per cent is diverted.
In most cities, the residential waste diversion rate is 40 per cent or more, and they are continually seeking to increase their diversion rates to much higher levels. The main contributing factor to our comparatively poor rate of waste diversion in Lethbridge has been identified as convenience. I doubt that there are many in our city who are proud of our community’s performance to date regarding waste diversion.
An important consideration is that we have about eight years of capacity left in the existing, provincially approved waste cells at our landfill. Any efforts to divert waste away from the landfill will extend the life of the landfill and defer future costs associated with landfill development. We are in the process of seeking provincial approvals required to expand the landfill. By increasing diversion rates, we will extend the life of our landfill capacity.
A misconception exists that the introduction of curbside recycling would eliminate the need for the existing recycling stations. The fact is that curbside recycling and recycling stations are complementary: large cardboard, yard waste and large quantities of material will continue to be managed at the recycling stations.
We know that the residential sector is only one part of the solution. Residential waste comprises only 25 per cent of the material disposed of at the landfill. The other 75 per cent comes from the institutional, commercial, industrial, construction and demolition sectors. The City is developing strategies to work with these sectors. The first phase of this strategy has involved consultation with these stakeholders, and we expect a draft of this strategy to come before Council early this year.
I had the good fortune to be employed with a large local industry that adopted an internationally recognized Environmental Management System (ISO 14001) which reduced our impact on the landfill dramatically by 90% over 10 years. My experience tells me that if we adopt similar principles of continuous improvement, we can achieve similar reductions in waste as a community.
To do nothing and accept the status quo would be irresponsible and would only to defer the problem to future generations.
So far, Council has discussed four options for residential curbside recycling. Three of these are variations on curbside (blue cart) pickup of recyclable materials including paper, cardboard, food cans, clear glass and plastics while the fourth addresses curbside recycling of organics (green cart).
The recycling utility fee would be an additional $10-11 per month for weekly curbside pickup or $9-10 per month for bi-weekly curbside pickup while maintaining weekly garbage collection. If curbside recycling pickup and garbage collection were offered bi-weekly on alternating weeks, the recycling fee would be $8-9 per month while the garbage fee would decrease by $2 per month.
Unlike the existing recycling stations where materials are effectively pre-sorted when you drop them off, a curbside blue cart program would involve the pickup of unsorted materials which would be sorted, separated and shipped afterward at a local Material Recovery Facility (MRF). The projected costs of building and operating a local MRF are factored into the estimated monthly utility costs mentioned above. It is anticipated that it would take three years to design and construct a MRF to accommodate a blue cart curbside recycling program.
Food waste and other organic material such as yard waste are major components of the waste stream. A great deal more could be done to divert these organic materials from the waste stream. Organic waste represents 47 per cent of residential garbage and similarly high proportions of commercial and institutional waste. These materials generate leachate and greenhouse gases. Further, they expose us to future environmental risks. Organic waste can be recycled into compost locally with our current infrastructure and can be marketed within our region. The projected household utility fee for weekly organics recycling is estimated to be $7-8 per month.
Community education will be an essential component of the implementation of any new recycling program. These programs can only be effective with widespread community participation, and so any implementation strategy would include a major communication and education campaign to ensure people are well informed on how to participate.
I want to emphasize my belief that we need to find practical, cost-effective solutions for waste diversion which help us avoid creating a future environmental liability with unknown costs that will burden future residents and taxpayers. Our residents may only have the financial tolerance for proceeding with one program at this time. I hope our community will follow Council’s deliberations, recognizing that the status quo is not good enough.
Please take the opportunity to investigate what other cities are doing. The cities of Calgary, Edmonton, London, Ont. and Halifax, N.S. have web information and YouTube videos which explain their processes and provide data. Here in Alberta, almost all mid-size cities have curbside recycling programs in place. Examples of how other cities such as Calgary and Airdrie are providing curbside and organics recycling can be found at the bottom of this column.
Although this month’s column has focused on recycling, I want to note that our community will soon be hosting two events which provide the opportunity to welcome participants and visitors to Lethbridge from across Alberta. The 2015 Alberta 55 Plus Winter Games come to Lethbridge Feb. 19-22, and the Lethbridge Fish and Game Association will be hosting the Alberta Fish and Game Association 2015 Conference Feb. 19-21. I want to acknowledge and thank all the organizers and volunteers who are working hard preparing to host these events.
Mayor Chris Spearman
January 16, 2015
Green Cart (Organics):