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.
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.