Raven Recycling calls for bailout from city

Unless the city boosts its “diversion credits” soon, Raven Recycling will become nothing more than a bottle depot, executive director Joy…

Unless the city boosts its “diversion credits” soon, Raven Recycling will become nothing more than a bottle depot, executive director Joy Snyder told Whitehorse council this week.

Plummeting commodity prices brought about by the world financial crisis have taken a huge bite out of Raven’s operating income resulting from sales of recycled materials, jeopardizing the depot’s processing of “nonrefundables” such as cardboard, glass, paper and cans.

“If we don’t receive some help, be it from the city or the territorial government, or both, then it looks like we’re going to end up having to shut down our collection system for nonrefundables,” said Danny Lewis, the education co-ordinator for Raven Recycling.

“Every tin can and newspaper that’s collected throughout the territory would have nowhere to go,” he said.

Salvation may lie in Whitehorse’s diversion credits, a program that provides financial support to groups that divert waste from the landfill.

These credits currently stand at $30 per ton, up to a limit of 1,000 tons.

Remove the limit, say Raven representatives.

“Last year, had we not had a cap on it, we probably would have made somewhere in the $50,000 to $60,000 range,” said Lewis.

The city also needs to boost the credit, say Raven reps.

“We are asking the city to raise the cap from $30 to $70,” said Snyder.

“Get us through this crisis, so that we can keep recycling,” she told council on Monday night, along with nearly a dozen supporters.

The city would see no financial difference between supporting Raven or allowing them to fail — as $70 per ton is what it costs to bury waste in the landfill, said Snyder.

“Seventy dollars wouldn’t even cover it,” said public works manager Jim MacLeod.

The real cost is probably much higher, he said.

Commodity prices fluctuate constantly, but the most recent drop is catastrophic, said Snyder.

Within “a month and a half,” commodities prices have dropped “at least 50 per cent,” said Lewis.

“Many more have just dropped right to the bottom,” he said.

During the summer, copper wire had been selling at $1.50 a pound, said an employee.

Now, a pricing board listed copper at just 55 cents — an amount that was scheduled to be reduced later in the day.

Since the drop began in late September, Raven has been forced to lay off “a lot” of people, said Lewis.

Raven differs from other municipal recycling programs in that they are an independent non-profit organization, rather than a municipally-contracted recycling authority.

The depot’s independence is what makes them vulnerable.

Municipally-run recycling programs, such as in Calgary or Vancouver, would see drops in commodity prices absorbed by the larger city operating budget.

Raven could weather the storm without additional city support if Whitehorse residents simply opted not to collect refunds on their cans and bottles, said councillor Dave Stockdale.

Raven distributes $300,000 annually in returns, estimated Snyder.

“If the general public were just willing to donate their returns, and even if only half of them did, it would be a fair chunk of money that would help the situation,” said Stockdale.

For Raven employees, the crisis has illuminated the “scary” reality that the recycling business is so closely tied to consumerism.

“Really, this is what we want, isn’t it?” said Snyder.

Contact Tristin Hopper at tristinh@yukon-news.com