Public Works Committee

I went to the Public Works Committee Tuesday afternoon.  Where the recommendation for the Enhanced Waste Plan was approved by the committee with a few amendments (not exactly worded).

From Councilor Clipsham

– There should be political discussions within the Regina region regarding the Waste Plan diversion and diversion of municipalities that use the Regina landfill

– Prepare a report (fourth quarter of 2010 or by 2011) regarding baselines for ICI and C&D diversion

– Have a diversion target of 40% for 2015

– Have a diversion target of 65% for 2020

From Councilor Browne:

– To add “in principle” to recommendation one

There were three presentations that afternoon. The first came from the Environmental Advisory Committee.  Some of their main ideas were:

– Supporting a 65% waste diversion by 2020

– Double the diversion of ICI and C&D waste

– Link the Waste Plan to the Land Fill expansion especially by meeting diversion expectations with other municipalities who use the Land Fill

– Eliminate grass clippings from the landfill

– Use incineration for energy production

– Promote social marketing as a support for continued compliance

– Use the Waste Plan as a opertunity to show leadership in Canada

Next Brady Burnett representing the Heritage Community Association spoke of the challenges his community has with solid waste.  He wished the city could expedite the Waste Plan process because waiting years for implementation would not solve Heritage Community’s issues.  Mr. Burnett also suggested Heritage Community be used as a demonstration project.

In question period Councilor Clipsham asked about how having a high percentage of rental homes in Heritage Community is related to solid waste.  The presenter agreed that frequent tenant rotation councilor Clipsham refered to, along with insufficient  capacity for higher density apartments were two major issues in the neighbourhood.  Questions from Councilor Bryce continued on the theme of resident compliance regarding costs and adopting new practices like recycling.  Mr. Burnett offered that most residents cared about getting rid of the garbage problem and costs came second to that goal. Further, he felt education on new waste practices could be a challenge in the community but most residents would make it work.

The third presenter was John Hopkins, CEO of the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce.  He was broadly in favour of the Plan, but did not want the increased costs to come from property taxes.  Mr. Hopkins wanted to see a utility model like water and sewer which would have some type of user pay arrangement.  Generally the Chamber wanted there to be continued engagement with the City and public as the implementation continues avoiding any top down directives.

Councilor Clipsham brought up how businesses privately pay for collection already and then pay towards general city collection through their property taxes.  Councilor Hutchinson questioned what elements of the Comprehensive Plan the Chamber would support and the response was that there’s isn’t public support for triple the cost and, again, uncertainty how’s it going to be paid for?

Finally, Councilor Browne asked about public and private competition for service provision.  Mr. Hopkins would be concerned by any public competition with private business (oh it’s not fair of me but all I could think of was this) especially new ventures where public options have not been in place.  Again, the goal should be continued consultation with private sector partners.

For at least an hour the Committee asked questions of City environmental services director Derrick Bellows.  Some highlights:

Initial questions from Councilors Browne and Hutchinson fleshed out the private and public relationships and how the system would be rolled out; with trials finding neighbourhood-specific solutions.  The way of this Plan is not certain: the type of trucks, what products will be diverted or what sort of bin you’ll use will be explored in the next few years.  Mr. Bellows emphasized a change in the social contract with citizens was necessary.  This could be helped along by utilizing social marketing but in the end the effectiveness of the Plan comes down to people adopting it.

Mr. Bellows spoke about how market value is important for recycling products and in reality these  products a type of commodity.  Inherent with these (paper/tin/ aluminum/plastic) products is risk (potash anyone?).  Part the City’s conversations with the private sector is finding businesses to take up that risk, rather than have the municipality financially responsible for all these products. Councilor Clipsham raised the question of organics with regard to the new Global Transportation Hub and other point sources (restaurants), conversion of this waste into compost could offset costs.  Mr. Bellows strongly questioned how much compost could offset costs, especially with a more commercial quality and if that was outside the City’s core business.

Councilor Clipsham was concerned that much was being made of the preventative nature of the costs.  He  pointed to the possibility of the provincial government’s multi material recycling program to reduce the cost of  garbage pick up by about $50/household.  Mr. Clipsham was quite concerned with measuring progress and providing  baselines and targets.  Mr. Bellows explained how targets were rarely effective in waste plans and, by way of an example, to reach 40% diversion by 2015 you’d need to include glass because the determination is done by weight and glass is heavy.  But is glass really something to divert?  Similarly ICI waste doesn’t come to the landfill so the city doesn’t measure it, thus it doesn’t know baselines with which to measure successful diversion.  Having meaningful targets, for Mr. Bellows, would be a hard thing to accomplish.

Picking up on some Reginan’s mis-understanding of recycling as a valuable product Councilor Bryce asked why people still felt recycling was cost effective?  Mr. Bellows indicated that products like aluminum were valuable (25-50 times more valuable than the same weight of paper) while glass or some plastics were nearly worthless. Most people, he felt, did understand that recycling cost money and didn’t necessarily make money.

Once questions were finished, Councilor Browne made a motion to have no recommendation on the grounds he wasn’t comfortable with the lack of an implementation plan and that council should have its say without the weight of a committee recommendation one way or the other.  Councilor Clipsham fought this line of thought and eventually the motion was defeated.

Councilor Clipsham made the case for his amendments, one of which, a waste energy technologies progress report to be produced in 2015 was not put forth because Councilor Bryce and administration felt new initiatives could come forward as they arose.

Ms. Bryce was also uncomfortable with the 65% diversion by 2020 and asked that a vote on the two aspirational diversion targets be separated.  There was significant discussion about goals with Mr. Clipsham very adamant about their importance.  Mr. Bellows persisted that western cities largely aren’t goal oriented with their waste plans.  Asked about the feasibility of 65% diversion, Mr. Bellows felt it must include organics to reach that amount and that could create problems for energy generation for example, because what’s there left to burn?

Mr. Browne reaffirmed the 2020 target as being in-line with the City’s Vision and the motion passed 4-1.

My thoughts

I was impressed with how councilor Clipsham used the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) to reaffirm his own amendments.   A week before, he had set his stall in the EAC that there would be some recommendation from them.  The meeting then closed to the public while the members drafted their presentation.  How much imput came from the councilor can’t be said, but at the meeting his thinking didn’t stray from the tone of EAC presentation.

In general, I find the position of the recycling question very strange:  According to Mr. Bellows and the Chamber of Commerce recycling is a very risky, low value commodity and only because of public perception, or reduced waste costs for businesses, is there any current incentive to recycle.  If the system became user pay and people were punished financially for garbage than diversion might make some sense.

I find it strange that the City’s environmental guy is telling everyone recycling is sort of pointless in Regina.  It certainly suggests to me that, in reality, the public will happily pay much more to see their products diverted at their doors, only for them to end up in a segregated pile somewhere, not actually being recycled because there’s no market for it.  Why should our embarrassment at a lack of recycling  in a national context dictate irrational practices that don’t work in our regional context.  Maybe Toronto has markets for glass and can effectively divert that; we can’t.  Shouldn’t we be thinking locally and about what makes sense for us?

Mr. Bellows pointed out that perhaps 10% of Regina households had a recycling subscription.  I worry that diverting the other 90% will just nose dive the price of paper because of the huge boom in the supply.  Will we be poisoning our own recycling product/commodity prices by doing this?

Of course the flip side is how little organics are included in the initial discussion and how Mr. Bellows and the Chamber of Commerce poo poo the city as producer.  Generally the “Corporation” doesn’t see itself in the role of producer.  No, lets not take the real GHG emission causing, compost creating organics out and fund our city with their sale in the context of a vast agricultural region. Even if it were only for City use with the excess sold to Regina residents, surly that couldn’t be too much of an imposition on the ‘free hand’.  But no, ‘we’ wouldn’t want a system where our trash got to compete with Canadian Tire or Rona’s petroleum by-products, just in-time delivered from who knows where.

In the big picture, Mr. Bellows and the Chamber are simply reflecting reality, they can’t be blamed for their sensitivity to the current relations of our capitalist economy.  Those who tap bottom lines and scoff at idealism have something to tap and scoff at.

But I’m staring at a system where it is financially prohibitive to recycle our waste compared to just piling it and covering it with dirt.  Mr. Bellows said it’s down to cheep energy, cheep products that make it so.  How astoundingly backward is our society that  producing  things new out of finite resources remains cheaper than re-using those products.

So forget about Halifax or keeping up with the Jones’ and understand, in Regina Saskatchewan, recycling will be more than a luxury in the future, oil wont run our lives forever.  The scary question is: with our society so backwards and the various calamities running parallel will there be the capital to start recycling when all the economics are in place.  That’s why we need to get on this now. Build some social contracts, create broad understanding and most importantly invest in the physical infrastructure of Reducing, Reusing, Recycling and Recovering all waste possible.   Let’s start changing now in comfort so when what makes sense locally is recycling we’ll be prepared.

Public Works Committee

5 thoughts on “Public Works Committee

  1. pfeiferlaura says:

    I think you make some good points here (i.e. thinking ahead, and planning), and I am glad that there are still some councilors that represent forward thinking views. I find it very odd that councilor Browne would say that council should have its say without the weight of a committee recommendation one way or the other… that is kind of their job, isn’t it? To look at what is presented and make a recommendation to the rest of the councilors who are less familiar with the material.

    Realistically, the various committee’s make recommendations all the time and it doesn’t mean that council ends up accepting them. It certainly seems at times that council can just be a rubber stamp (i.e. accepting the Planning Commission’s recommendation to approve the construction of an apartment complex in the east end, in a commercial zone, against City administration’s recommendation and argument that it went against the City community plan). But this doesn’t mean it is always the case.

    I also am rather offended at the argument that western cities largely aren’t goal oriented with their waste plans… does Mr. Bellows then posit that we shouldn’t be? I understand that it is important to put all things into context, but simply looking around you and saying, “well no one else does it, so we might as well not try” is a pretty lame argument.

    I hope that our city councilors and citizens continue to push to have vision with these types of matters. Goals are goals. Sometimes they are met and sometimes they are not, but they give you something to strive for. They give motivation. Without goals, we have no reason to do one thing or another… we are nowhere land. Let’s not be nowhere land.

  2. Cheryl says:

    I was very happy to see this blog about the discussions at the public works committee on the proposed waste/recycling plan. We often don’t get the inside view of what happens in these committees and how decisions are made.

    The tone of the discussions on recycling and waste management concern me. There seems to be a lot of narrow-minded thinking about waste reduction in Regina. What happened to the “infinite horizons” mantra? Regina is so backwards when it comes to recycling and environmental action, and now we have councillors who worry about stepping on private business toes and what this will cost. The cost of doing nothing — or doing the minimal — is greater.

    Friends of mine in Ontario have access to wet/dry waste programs — something that wasn’t even proposed as an option for Regina. With wet/dry, the diversion rate is much higher than what Regina is considering. Why don’t we move in that direction?
    Here is a link to the city of Guelph and their comprehensive waste and recycling program:

    1. Cheryl – thanks so much for the link! I appreciate when our readers provide stuff back and engage in this dialogue. I agree with you that waste reduction is a much bigger concept that just recycling and that often it is more of a mindset that needs serious committment to tackle.

      I noticed on Paul Dechene’s write up (as well as Martin’s) that the city is propsing a target of incorporating more comprehensive waste management options (i.e. composting) in the future (in addition to starting a recycling program more immediately). I think this is a great idea and hopefully the wet/dry option can also be worked into the mix. With all of these options I think there needs to be more aggressive implementation though. Planning a recycling program should not take two years when there are so many examples of it functioning now to use as best practice guides.

  3. wourliem says:

    Thanks for the responses Laura and Cheryl, I’m sorry I haven’t got back to you sooner.

    Laura- your argument that making a recommendation is the councilor’s job was the same used by councilor Clipsham when responding to Councilor Browne’s motion. I think councilor Browne concern came with approving a plan that hasn’t any implementation info yet. It might be a case of a young councilor (he’s at the start of his second term) not familiar with how some projects go forward, that they, in some cases, aren’t a finished article when approved.

    We’ll see tonight if he continues on this tack at City Council.

    This plan is quite open right now, there is a variety of options within the enhanced that may or may not be adopted, or could be adopted later. I’m not sure I fully fleshed out in my original post how this intends to be an evolving process.

    The Western cities comment was in answer to a question from Councilor Bryce. She asked, what are cities around us, or similar cities doing? Mr. Bellows answered as he did. I would agree that there is a point where if all you take into consideration is the status quo around you, the city won’t do anything innovative. On the other hand, as you say about context, nearby cities often have important similarities that can help a person better understand an issue.

    There’s good and bad there. However, I agree that it’s a lame argument and something of a cop-out. It’s a negative position rather than a pro-active one.

    As far as Mr. Bellows desire for this waste plan, in seeing him twice now discuss the topic he does not seem excited or passionate about the concept. He seems to be a very practical and not at all aspirational when it comes to what should be done. I think he’s sees his roll as providing the facts for the public and council and it’s up to them from there.

    Cheryl- I do think there are some important concerns in our specific region, which mitigates the slam-dunk case for aggressive waste diversion. Again, it’s a matter of priority and vision. There is a strong belief in this council that the city should not step on the toes of private industry. They won’t attempt to interfere in the market beyond what they consider their domain of responsibility. So for example, city owned public housing initiatives are not going to be seen in Regina during this administration because their role is to facilitate private or public (from higher orders of government) development. I’m not sure they’d even pro-actively court say a glass recycling company to build a plant here, to give its self a market for its recyclables, never mind providing capital to build a city owned plant.

    The city council lives in a very practical mindset that is concerned more with road repair and snow removal than big, global issues like the environmental crisis. This lack of interest is largely driven by the public at large, who’ll probably only raise hell when their streets not been cleaned. I think there are some councilors who are very pliable in the sense that if their constituents want something the councilor will take it as their mandate to explore that option if not fight for it.

    I sense your frustration but I think adopting the plan is a first step. Once its in place, the city administration will being exploring options and implementation strategies.

  4. Cheryl,
    During the Waste Plan consultation process, three waste management options were presented to the public. The third option, called Comprehensive, would have involved wet waste collection for composting. So, had that option been adopted, it could have evolved into a system similar to what they have in Guelph.

    Unfortunately, according to city staff, the majority of Reginans who took the time to provide feedback during the consultation expressed their preference for the second option, Enhanced. Curbside recycling is the big move in that plan.

    I think the biggest obstacle to wet-waste collection is that a whole new facility would have to be built to accommodate it. And that entails a hefty price tag. I think the added cost to the homeowner might have been what scared a lot of people off that plan.

    Plus, yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if The Powers That Be would prefer to tackle waste management incrementally — so recycling today, whatever else X years from now — and that’s why we didn’t see anything in the way of a sales pitch for the more aggressive management options.

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