People want blue box, but will they pay for it?

It's the same story that's been recycling through city council chambers for years. Whitehorse needs a curbside recycling program, but who's going to pay for it?

It’s the same story that’s been recycling through city council chambers for years.

Whitehorse needs a curbside recycling program, but who’s going to pay for it?

“Many of the people I’ve talked to while campaigning say they want a blue-box system,” said Ranj Pillai, who is running in the upcoming election.

“Sometimes it’s the first thing they bring up to me,” he said.

Recycling isn’t necessarily in Pillai’s platform, but he supports the city moving towards a citywide curbside program, as long as the business plan accompanying it is a sound one.

He was one of six candidates who attended an information session organized by Raven Recycling last week in an effort to build momentum for the idea during the election campaign.

Raven is lobbying the city and the territorial government to invest in the creation of a new “eco-centre.”

It would beef up the capacity and efficiency of Raven’s current operation to allow for a blue-box program. It would also include areas to safely dispose of e-waste and hazardous materials and house a future Habitat for Humanity building supply “re-store.”

The goal is to complete the centre in two to three years, said Raven executive director Joy Snyder.

But first, it needs money.

And Raven is seeking a $1.5-million commitment from the city, a hard sell, according to current Mayor Bev Buckway.

“It costs a lot of money and time to institute something new like this,” she said.

“In 2007, we only had a surplus of $49,000 – there’s no pot of gold hiding under city hall.”

And this year the city has already forecast a deficit of $500,000.

“We have a lot of people in the city saying, ‘Great, we support this,’ without thinking about the cost attached,” said Buckway.

“To make this an election issue is not practical at this point.”

A survey carried out by Raven earlier this spring found 65 per cent of people were in favour of footing the bill for a curbside recycling program if it were instituted.

And the majority of the 465 households surveyed said they would pay about $6 a month to have their recycling hauled away every two weeks.

Pushing for a curbside program is key during this election, said Snyder.

“We’re at the stage now where we have the opportunity to grow,” she said.

Raven is waiting to hear back about a Canada Strategic Building Fund grant it applied for earlier this year.

If Raven is awarded the grant, the federal government would cover 75 per cent of the cost of the $15-million eco-centre.

“When we hear back from the Canada building fund (and our grant is successful) then we would need to partner with the city,” said Snyder.

This year Raven received $88,000 through the city’s waste-diversion program.

The money is helpful, said Snyder, but it’s not enough.

“If you look at other municipalities, diversion credits aren’t the norm – usually the city budgets for recycling.”

Recycling is so commonplace in Ontario, for instance, that any community with more than 3,000 people is mandated to provide curbside recycling, said Snyder.

“It’s a standard out there.”

Raven receives calls all the time from people who want to recycle, but can’t make it to the drop-off site in the industrial area, Snyder added.

The current system discriminates against people who don’t have cars, she said.

Mayoral candidate Al Fedoriak thinks Raven should be working with the private recycling depot in town, P&M Recycling.

He’s wary of the nonprofit organization receiving handouts from the city and the territory.

“The private recycling people are still in business without a grant … (and if subsidies are given) the private company would have to absorb the losses,” he said.

A feasibility study of a curbside recycling program is needed, he said.

As part of the city’s sustainability plan, the city will discuss recycling when it does its solid-waste audit at the end of 2010, said Buckway.

Residents should focus instead on how the city recently instituted its composting program, she said.

In 2008, the city diverted 1,300 tonnes of compost away from the landfill, about 39 per cent of its total waste.

“We started talking about composting carts when I was in council in 2003 and we only received those carts this summer, so you see how long something like this takes,” she said.

A feasibility study in 2010 could be too late if Raven were to receive the Canada Building Fund grant this fall.

But the nonprofit will keep lobbying for a curbside program, said Snyder.

“The blue-box program is really just the carrot at the end of the line,” said Snyder. “Some stuff needs to fall into place first, like a new facility, and the city taking a more active role on recycling”

Contact Vivian Belik at