Yukon’s endless recycling conundrum is a failure of government

There’s a letter to the editor in the Yukon News archive from Joy Snyder, executive director of Raven Recycling. It concludes: “We are looking forward to reaching an agreement with Whitehorse ...

There’s a letter to the editor in the Yukon News archive from Joy Snyder, executive director of Raven Recycling. It concludes: “We are looking forward to reaching an agreement with Whitehorse and Yukon governments to maintain recycling services in the long term for all Yukon people.”

That was seven years ago.

The territory’s for-profit and non-profit recycling operations have struggled to remain solvent because the fees they collect from the territory’s empty beverage containers don’t come close to covering the cost of recycling everything else, some 90 per cent of total recyclables.

We recognize that building a full-service recycling program in a small jurisdiction far from the recycling mills of the south is a challenging proposition for policymakers. But seven-plus years to sort out Yukon’s recycling woes is preposterous.

Both the City of Whitehorse and the territorial government have continued to kick the can on this file for too long. City council has punted important decisions and the territorial government has botched its own consultations on new fees for beverage containers and other recyclable products such as tires and electronics.

By the Yukon government’s own admission, it did not do a good enough job communicating with business owners about the how the program, which would expand the range of consumer products subject to point-of-sale fees, would work. Those business concerns are valid, although all businesses must already collect GST at the point of sale, so recycling levies are not an impossible task to manage. But the fees will not come into effect now until April 1, 2017, and it’s worth noting the Northwest Territories has already brought in a similar fee schedule for electronic waste.

It’s important to bring the commercial sector (which includes multi-unit residential buildings) and the construction industry into the recycling fold. Some 63 per cent of the city’s solid waste comes from the commercial sector, while nearly one third comes from construction.

At the city level, perhaps some staff and councillors feel like there isn’t pressure to solve Whitehorse’s recycling issue, given that by current estimates, the city’s landfill has enough space to last for another 41 years. But that isn’t the case everywhere. Dawson City’s Quigley landfill, for example, is rapidly approaching capacity and the town’s Conservation Klondike Society faces the same sort of cost pressures as the capital’s private-sector recyclers.

It is true that both levels of government offer diversion credits to recyclers to help keep them in business, but these credits clearly are not enough. Clearly, a range of funding sources must be made available to recyclers. One of the controversial elements of Whitehorse’s recently defeated mandatory curbside recycling program was the fact that it would increase monthly utility fees from $11 to $28 per month.

This gets the formula exactly backwards and punishes residents for doing what they ought to be doing, which is recycling their trash instead of throwing it away. Councillors should consider charging households for each bag of garbage they throw away, as is done in many municipalities, and use the funds to help subsidize recycling.

The Yukon government clearly erred when it rushed through the consultation process with business on new recycling levies. But with a territorial election nearly upon us, it’s too late to go back and the new date of April 1 will likely have to stand. Whichever party forms the next government must take solid waste issues much more seriously.

On Monday, when the Whitehorse curbside program went down to defeat, Coun. Betty Irwin suggested it may be time for the city to start over from scratch. “Let’s put on our big girl panties here and see if we can come up with something ourselves.” That seems like an incredible waste of all the myriad reports, debates and consultations undertaken over the last few years.

But the discussion over recycling has become so backed up that Coun. Irwin may have a point. Policymakers at both levels of government should ready their finest pair of undergarments and come up with a solution that works.

Just Posted

Silver rules out HST, layoffs and royalty changes

Yukon’s financial advisory panel has released its final report

City of Whitehorse budgets $30M for infrastructure over four years

‘I think we’re concentrating on the most important things’

Yukon community liaison for MMIWG inquiry fired

Melissa Carlick, the Whitehorse-based community liaison officer for the national Missing and… Continue reading

Yukon man holds no grudge after being attacked by bison

‘The poor guy was only trying to fend off someone who he knew was trying to kill him’

Straight and true: the story of the Yukon colours

Michael Gates | History Hunter Last week, I participated in the 150th… Continue reading

Get ready to tumble: Whitehorse’s Polarettes to flip out at fundraiser

‘There’s a mandatory five-minute break at the end, just so people don’t fall over’

Alaska’s governor goes to China

There are very different rules for resource projects depending on which side of the border you’re on

Yukon survey shows broad support for legal pot

But there’s no consensus on retail and distribution models

Yukon government releases survey on the territory’s liquor laws

Changes could include allowing sale of booze in grocery stores

Get family consent before moving patients to other hospitals: NDP critic

‘Where is the respect and where is the dignity?’

Bill C-17 passes third reading in House of Commons

The bill, which will repeal controversial amendments made to YESAA by Bill S-6, will now go to Senate

White Pass and Yukon Route musical chugs on without director

The cast and crew of Stonecliff are pushing forward without Conrad Boyce, who went on medical leave

Most Read