Lacombe to consider throwing recycling program in the trash

Taking blue bins out to the curb for pickup may soon be a thing of the past in Lacombe as the city raises concerns over a 66 per cent hike to the service within the community as a result of a ban of recycling exports to China and other Asian markets. Metro Creative Connection

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The City of Lacombe might just kick blue boxes to the curb – or rather, off it.

City council may choose not to renew their contract with their current recycling service provider, Environmental 360 Solutions (E360S), at their next regular meeting May 27, after learning a new contract would see costs jump 66 per cent from $4.50 per dwelling per month to $7.49.

Should council decide not to renew the contract with the lone company to bid for the contract, curbside recycling in the community would effectively come to an end.

“It may upset some and it’s unfortunate because, honestly, the service has not existed in the form that (citizens) would’ve thought it has for quite some time,” said City of Lacombe Mayor Grant Creasey. “If there’s no market for these items, sorting them and collecting them separately is very counterproductive and goes against all the principles you’re trying to accomplish as far as reducing waste and conserving energy goes.”

The hikes, paired with a reduction in targeted items for collection – only No. 2 plastics instead of No. 1-7, no glass or non-deposit containers – come as a result of a national and increasingly global recycling crisis that began with China’s decision to impose a ban on 24 different types of waste from Canada in 2018. Prior, Canada sent half of all recycling exports to China.

While the drop in Canada’s exports to China was mitigated by a 1,000 per cent increase of exports to Malaysia, as per an investigative report by Global News, the country was unable to handle the volume and banned plastic imports. India followed, while Vietnam and Taiwan imposed restrictions on what they’ll accept.

As a result, recycling companies across the country – including Quebec where the provincial government handed the industry a $13-million bailout package, followed by another $100-million in the 2019 budget – are now finding materials hard to move, and even going as far as to pay to move materials they can’t sell to the very landfills they’re supposed to be diverting from.

Creasey hopes the recycling crisis will lead to other options for waste.

“I think that over time it’ll prove to be a positive thing and it’ll help speed up some more viable options for municipal waste,” he said.

“When a person really examines it, shipping waste half way around the planet is not exactly a viable or sustainable way to operate. Hopefully this will provide encouragement both for private industry and provincial, federal governments to get on board and see that there are some genuine recycling (alternatives), whether it’s waste to energy or other options.”

In Lacombe, 900 tonnes of material are collected through the curbside recycling program at present, but with a reduced number of materials to potentially be collected, council members questioned whether the program’s cost warrants the merit of diverting what they referred to as a “relatively small amount” of waste from the landfill, especially with other municipal waste technologies now on the market.

Recently, members of council attended a presentation by FogDog Energy, a company proposing a “no landfill” solution, which sees waste converted into carbon “fluff” which can then be sold and used to create diesel and gasoline and other hydrocarbon products. A Halifax-based company, Sustane Technologies turns landfill waste into fuel they say will burn cleaner than fossil fuels, both of which have piqued interest amongst council members.

Similar technologies have already been employed in Europe, where waste is being recycled at higher rates and more waste is diverted from landfills, leaving council and administration questioning the viability of a blue box program, and if taxpayer dollars wouldn’t better achieve waste diversion or emission reduction by other means.

While a tour of the E360S facility is schedules for May 22 to aid council in their decision making process, Creasey still believes changes are on the horizon for the city.

For residents, that may mean throwing “recyclable” items in the trash.

“One of the challenges that the recycling industry is tackling is they’re recycling a lot of materials they can’t market so it’s going to landfill anyway,” said Director of Operations and Planning Jordan Thompson. “Locally, if there is no curbside recycling program, then residents would have to take their bottles to the recycle depot, for instance, or otherwise dispose of it as if it were any other solid waste.”

Some changes or direction for the city with regards to solid waste overall may be realized through the solid waste review. Council approved the scope of the review Monday, which will aim to develop a long term plan for managing solid waste, engage the public about the future of solid waste collection, and benchmark the value of service provided with that of comparable municipalities.

In discussing solid waste collection in the city previously, council questioned the value of providing solid waste – garbage – pickup themselves rather than contracting the service out. Thompson said the current form may have impacted the competitiveness of the bid process for the city’s recycling contract, where only one application was submitted.

“We reached out to other providers who do solid waste collection and asked them why they didn’t participate and it was for a couple reasons, but mainly, some of the providers would rather have the whole solid waste collection in Lacombe, and of course the city provides collection services for most of the solid waste side and not recycling,” he said. “Certainly we’d like to see more bids involved.”