Whitehorse’s mayor says he’s “incredibly disappointed” city staff would recommend cancelling plans for a curbside recycling program.
Dan Curtis was away for last Monday’s council meeting when staff recommended the city drop a plan requiring 6,000 residents to pay for pickup.
“And one of the reasons that I am incredibly disappointed is because it didn’t come up with a plan B or something else. If this didn’t work, then what? That’s what I would ask administration.”
In its report to council, city staff said the required $17 monthly bump to residential utility rates “is higher than anticipated and the cost to increase utility rates may be too significant for residents to bear.” On top of that, the required changes to various bylaws and policies to fund the project haven’t happened yet.
To suggest that something might not be palatable to the public is not the job of city administration, Curtis said. “That’s not the decision of anyone other than an elected official to suggest that.”
In a survey released last year, the city heard from more than 1,900 residents, 69 per cent of whom said a curbside recycling program would make it easier for them to recycle.
But only 52 per cent of the respondents said they were willing to pay a fee to cover the costs of recycling.
“I’ve heard from the vast majority (of people) that they value the service and they want it to continue and they would be very, very concerned if it wasn’t able to because our processors were starved out,” Curtis said.
And that’s what’s at risk, according to the mayor.
Only 10 per cent of the items dropped off by Yukoners to recycle are actually worth any money, council heard. That leaves processors to make up the difference.
“Aluminum cans are subsidizing all the tin and the fibre and the plastic that aren’t worth anything.”
That’s not sustainable without help, Curtis said.
“I know that the City of Whitehorse cannot afford to do it itself, so we have processors that are gracious enough to do it, at a great cost to them,” he said.
“And if we’re not going to support them, then in my humble opinion it’s going to be inevitable that they will close.”
Executives with Raven Recycling, the non-profit slated to become the processor for the city program, have said cancelling it would mean changes to their business. They haven’t provided specifics.
Paying for recycling is not uncommon. A report commissioned by the City sampled some B.C. cities and found costs ranging from $160 to $304 per household per year for waste, recycling and organics pick-up. At $28 per month total, Whitehorse homes would pay $336 a year.
“Any other place in the world it costs money,” Curtis said.
“But here we’ve grown accustomed and are very fortunate to have it done for free on the backs of the non-profit organizations. In a very, very short term, if we don’t pay a little bit now, we’re going to pay a lot more later.”
Processors depend on diversion credits from the city and territorial governments to help cover their bills.
The city has already maxed out its diversion credit budget of $150,000 a year and it’s only July.
“When processors look back at us and say ‘Where’s our portion of the diversion credits?’, we’ll say ‘I’m sorry, we’ve already spent it, you’ve already shipped that product out of the territory, we’ve already paid for those waybills, and we don’t have any more money’,” he said.
For the 2015-16 fiscal year, the Yukon government contributed approximately $500,000 in diversion credits to recycling processors. The Department of Community Services did not respond by deadline to questions about how much is in this year’s budget.
Not dealing with the issue now means putting more pressure on the city dump. At this rate, Curtis estimates it will be full by 2040.
“We are going to be saddled with closing down this facility and opening up a new one to the tune of about $26 million,” he said.
“So, quite frankly, if we don’t pay a little bit now, we’re going pay a lot more later.”
To start the program, the major cost to the City is $500,000 to cover the cost of recycling bins.
Making that change to the city budget would not impact taxpayers because the cash would come from the federal gas tax, the mayor said.
As it stands, Whitehorse residents can already have their recycling picked up if they choose to pay a local company, Whitehorse Blue Bin Recycling, around $20 a month.
That company has approximately 800 clients.
Curtis said the company does a great job, but that’s not enough people to cover the costs for everyone else.
“It would be nice to kind of bury my head in the sand and say, as long as 800 citizens are recycling that’s great, but the reality is we’re at a breaking point that is not sustainable.
“You can mark my words – in a very, very short period of time you’re going to see something happen within our system in Whitehorse and Yukon because it’s just not sustainable.”
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