Whitehorse will not have a mandatory curbside recycling program anytime soon.
Citing reasons ranging from a lack of public consultation to the upcoming territorial election, city council voted 5-2 in favour of dumping the program.
Mayor Dan Curtis and Coun. Roslyn Woodcock were the only council members who wanted to award the recycling contract.
Earlier Monday evening, Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu proposed a motion that would have postposed the vote until after more public consultation, but that did not pass. She then voted to cancel the whole thing.
“I am really not confident that we’ve explored all of our options to deal with our recycling,” she said.
“I know that there’s been a lot of work done in looking at a curbside collection processing program and I suspect that due to the city’s limited capacity we haven’t been able to fully explore other alternatives.”
Had it passed, Whitehorse’s plan would have meant a $17 increase to the monthly utilities fees paid by about 6,000 residents. Bills would have gone up to $28 a month.
Residential waste accounts for about 10 per cent of the city’s waste, Coun. Betty Irwin pointed out. The rest comes from commercial waste.
“This is were 90 per cent of our problem is arising. We’ve got to look at this. Why are we penalizing the small percentage of the residents of Whitehorse?”
At one point Irwin suggested a city referendum might be the right way to go to settle the issue.
Curteanu said that could cost $10,000.
A handful of councillors said they voted against the contract because of the upcoming territorial election and planned changes to the Yukon’s recycling regulations.
Coun. Samson Hartland said the proposed curbside program was not just about diverting waste from the landfill but also sustaining Whitehorse’s processors.
Executives with Whitehorse’s Raven Recycling have said that without the city program the company’s business will have to change.
“I think that’s important, I think the sustainability of processors is important,” Hartland said.
“But as we’ve also already heard, there’s a number of different variables already in play this year, not the least of which is the territorial election and new amendments to how recyclable materials will be regulated.”
Hartland was talking about proposed changes to the territory’s beverage container regulations and designated materials regulations.
Those changes would have added surcharges and refunds on products like pop cans, juice bottles and alcoholic beverages.
On top of that, surcharges were also going to be added at the till to large tires, electronics and electrical products.
About 15 hours after the city council meeting ended, the Yukon government announced it was postponing those plans. (See story page 8.)
Coun. Rob Fendrick said he was voting to drop the program because of the pending election. He suggested the next government might be willing to consider a different type of funding model like extended producer regulations.
In southern Canada and in many countries around the world, EPR laws require manufacturers to fund and manage recycling and disposal programs for their products.
Fendrick said he was willing to reintroduce the idea of curbside recycling after the election if nothing changes.
Irwin said she wasn’t sure whether alternatives had been considered other than curbside recycling.
She suggested city administration go back to the drawing board.
“Let’s put on our big girl panties here and see if we can come up with something ourselves.”
Coun. Roselyn Woodcock was clearly disappointed when it became obvious the plan was not going to go ahead.
“I’m struggling because I’m so disheartened right now. All the wait-and-sees in the world, it’s taken so long to get to where we are,” she said.
“Even if magic happens and we have a brand new set of people who are all about recycling, it’s still going to be at minimum another year if not longer before any other process comes into play.”
Joy Snyder, Raven Recycling’s executive director, said the board is going to take the summer to think about things and then meet in the fall to decide what to do next.
The organization has often struggled without a reliable funding source.
For about seven months between 2014 and 2015, it shut down until both the municipal and territorial governments stepped in with a funding boost.
City council’s latest decision means “there’s no more certainty than there was before,” Synder said Tuesday.
Currently, recycling processors are funded by the cash they get from refundable products as well as money from the territorial and municipal governments.
Only about 10 per cent of what ends up at a processor is worth anything. That money helps subsidize the rest but its value is unreliable because of changing commodity markets.
The territorial government budgets about $500,000 a year to help pay for non-refundables to be recycled. The City’s annual budget is $150,000.
Unlike the City’s, the territorial figure isn’t capped, which means it could go higher if recyclers bring in more product.
“We pay X amount per tonne, depending on the material, period,” said Community Services Minister Currie Dixon. “The more they recycle the more money they get from the government.”
Snyder said Raven is able to pay its bills but has no money left to fix its aging infrastructure.
Some equipment, for example, is from the 1960s, she said. Other pieces were bought when the group started in 1989.
“We have supported the recycling of non-refundables, we financially boost that up. We have done that recently with aging infrastructure, with stuff crumbling around us,” she said.
Outside council chambers Monday, Fraser Lang, the president of Whitehorse Blue Bin Recycling, praised the council’s decision to cancel the curbside program.
Whitehorse Blue Bin has been running since 2012. For $20 per month, residents can pay to have their recycling picked up at the curb. Right now the company has about 800 customers, including 10 commercial businesses.
The city’s plan would have meant the end of that business. The contract would have been awarded to a different local pick-up company.
Lang said new customers were reluctant to sign up with Blue Bin because of uncertainty aurrounding the city’s recycling plans. That meant the company couldn’t spend cash on infrastructure.
“It’s very hard for us to expand and invest in new infrastructure, new techniques when we have the proverbial axe over our head,” he said.
“We’re very excited about moving forward and working with everyone and seeing what we can do in a fiscally responsible manner to make waste reduction in this town a reality.”
Lang insisted he would feel the same way about the program being cancelled even if his company had been in line to win the contract.
“I don’t think it’s a fiscally responsible move at this point. It’s very expensive and I think there’s better solutions to be had that we can look at down the road.”
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org