The City of Whitehorse will not enforce a regulation requiring cardboard to be kept out of household waste.
At Whitehorse city council’s April 14 meeting, members voted to suspend the enforcement of that section of the Waste Management Bylaw until one month after the public health emergency declared in light of COVID-19 has been rescinded.
The decision comes after council had deferred a decision on the matter at a special meeting on April 9.
There, members highlighted work over the years to keep cardboard out of the landfill and pointed to concerns brought forward from Raven Recycling (which has been closed to public drop-off since March 25 due to COVID-19), with many stating their desire to look at ways of storing cardboard for the time being.
Council learned at the April 14 session that no such solution has been found.
Peter O’Blenes, the city’s director of infrastructure and operations, said while the city and Raven had worked through the day to find a solution that hasn’t happened yet.
“In the meantime, administration’s highest concern with respect to operation of the Waste Management Facility is public health and staff safety,” he said.
The city had focused on reducing traffic at the landfill with the removal of recycling bins and allowing residents to put recyclables into their black garbage bins, but traffic into the landfill actually increased over the long weekend. Typically, there would be about 60 vehicles coming in over the weekends in early April, but this year there were 150.
In an interview following the April 14 meeting, O’Blenes said it’s not clear why so many were dropping off waste at the landfill — whether it’s that black bins are filling up more quickly or more people are home and perhaps getting some spring cleaning done or for a variety of other reasons.
O’Blenes pointed out in his report there could be areas to stockpile cardboard in certain parts of the landfill, but there’s concerns around cross-contamination and risks due to heavy equipment working in the area.
“During the present closure of the recycling processors, the likelihood that incoming waste loads will surpass the 10 per cent threshold is extremely high,” he said. “The outcome, if the waste processors are assessed the associated penalty, is that those costs will be passed along to the customers, creating additional financial pressure during the current COVID crisis.”
While council members remained clear they want to continue working with Raven to come up with a solution that will help keep cardboard out of the landfill, they also agreed that until a solution is found, enforcing the regulations around cardboard in the landfill will have to be suspended.
“Public health and safety have to come first,” Coun. Dan Boyd said.
Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu pointed to the “unprecedented circumstances” and encouraged residents who are able, to store recyclables until they can once again go to recycling processors.
Others voiced their agreement with the temporary bylaw change as well.
In an April 14 interview prior to the council meeting, Raven executive director Joy Snyder highlighted the multi-year efforts to keep cardboard out of the landfill, stating she’d like to see cardboard continue to be separated.
While Raven isn’t open to the public, she said it is continuing to collect commercial cardboard, commercial paper and the area for electronic waste drop off remains open. Those are materials that do not have to be directly handled by staff.
At the same time, officials are exploring how it might be able to reopen with restrictions in place that protect staff.
Along with physical distancing protocols, officials are trying to figure out a way to process recycling without having staff handle it for a certain period of time.
Discussions between the city and Raven on the cardboard issue are expected to continue.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org