Whitehorse city council is moving ahead with plans to start a curbside recycling program.
Councillors largely voted in favour of a motion on Monday to issue a request for proposals for such a program. Councillors Dan Boyd and Samson Hartland voted against the motion.
The city’s proposed program would charge 5,800 Whitehorse ratepayers about $15 a month for both collection and processing of recyclables.
The program would serve residents living within the “urban containment boundary,” which includes subdivisions such as Granger and Whistle Bend but excludes country residential neighbourhoods.
But the idea has received a lot of criticism lately from people who suggest that it’s just a tax grab or that it might spell the end for a successful local company.
That’s the Whitehorse Blue Bin Society. The company already offers curbside pick-up of all household recyclables every two weeks for $20 a month. They pick up recycling from about 800 customers in every Whitehorse neighbourhood, which is then brought to Raven Recycling and processed.
Blue Bin currently picks up all recyclables, including glass and styrofoam – two categories that would be excluded under the city’s proposed scheme.
Blue Bin members have spoken in the past in favour of the city spearheading a city-wide recycling program – if Blue Bin won the contract, it could mean a big boon for the company. But at Monday’s meeting, Fraser Lang, Blue Bin’s president, expressed concerns that the company may shut down if it’s out-bid by a company from Outside.
“If the request for proposals is released and we shut down, we can’t help you reach your diversion goals,” Lang said, referring to the City’s goal of diverting at least 50 per cent of waste from the landfill by the end of 2015. That goal was not met.
Lang said the company wants to tackle the commercial sector next, which accounts for 90 per cent of the waste that goes into the landfill.
“It’s hard for us to invest in infrastructure to expand our business with the possibility that we could shut down at any time,” he said.
“Our mission is to expand and we need infrastructure to do so, but we can’t do it in the current climate.”
Uncertainty also continues to hang over the future of Whitehorse’s recycling processors. Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu said it was time for the city to move away from diversion credits, a stop-gap measure that is currently keeping local processors afloat.
“We don’t have any more money to continue to pay diversion credits to process recycling,” Curteanu said.
“Our processors will go under unless we do something like raise taxes. Our private sector is doing the best it can, but what we need in order for this program to be sustainable is a coordinated effort.”
The City of Whitehorse had to commit an additional $57,300 in diversion credits to recyclers last year, beyond its regular $150,000 funding cap for that program.
It also set aside $150,000 for 2016 diversion credits.
City Manager Christine Smith pointed out that the initial $150,000 comes from tipping fees the city collects, but any additional funding comes out of the water and sewer fund.
The Yukon government also kicked in $641,000 to support the processors in 2015, including $68,000 to ship out 400 tonnes of mixed plastics, but those diversion credits expired in December.
It continues to work on new regulations that would allow processors to collect more fees for processing beverage containers, tires and electronics. But only 10 per cent of the materials Raven recycles are funded through the beverage container regulations.
The stop-gap solution is only in place until the amendments to the beverage container regulations are passed or the city implements its curbside recycling program, according to Shannon Clohosey, the City’s environmental sustainability manager.
“It’s really meant to be an interim measure,” she said.
Coun. Roslyn Woodcock echoed Curteanu’s thoughts, stating the city is in a precarious position.
“We’re on thin ice and to pretend that the current situation works is to keep our eyes shut,” she said.
“Something must be done.”
Contact Myles Dolphin at