By Trevor Busch
The Town of Taber is continuing to weigh the advantages and disadvantages inherent in a new approach to the disposal of municipal solid waste through sustained information gathering efforts.
At their March 23 meeting, town council voted unanimously to accept as information a presentation by Coun. Randy Sparks regarding his attendance at the 5th Annual Alberta Recycling Spring Seminar, hosted in Banff from Feb. 25-27.
Sparks spoke with numerous municipal representatives at the conference in an attempt to ascertain which systems are working well in the province.
“When I was there, I talked to as many people as I could possibly get to sit down and talk to me about how they handle their recycling and waste management within their town or county.”
“What has worked for them, what has not worked for them. So it was quite enlightening to see that Taber is not the only municipality within the province that has special concerns with waste management.”
Sparks learned that not all municipalities have experienced a full measure of success in switching over their solid waste disposal and recycling options.
“The first municipality went to a two-cart system two years ago, they service 1,400 residents, as well as some county residents within a 14 kilometre radius.”
“The cart system, after two years, some of them actually prefer the curbside pickup over the cart system.”
“This municipality admitted to me they do a very poor job of sorting their garbage, so because of this, when they take this to a transfer site, their tipping fees range from $150 to $400 per tonne.”
At their Feb. 9, 2015 meeting, town council had voted unanimously to postpone discussion of the municipal solid waste initiative until the first regular council meeting in March in order to allow Sparks time to attend the conference and report his findings back to town council.
This postponement occured just a fortnight after a split 4-3 vote to ignore town council’s own policy against returning to discussion of a defeated agenda item. At their final regular meeting in December 2014, council had voted 4-3 to defeat a motion to continue with the municipal solid waste initiative as proposed, with a new cart system to comprise of curbside or laneway pickup of compost, recycle and garbage containers in the residential portions of Taber.
According to town council’s own policy (Bylaw 3-2007), further debate surrounding the controversial three cart roll-out system which had been proposed for implementation should have ceased for at least six months when the motion to approve was defeated on Dec. 15, 2014. Article VI.5 of Bylaw 3-2007 prohibits discussion of an issue that has already been voted on by council being added to a meeting agenda for a six month period following the vote. An exception can only be made when a notice of motion to revisit the matter is approved by a majority of council.
Sparks provided a description of various presenters at the conference, detailing different recycling-related initiatives in different areas of the province.
This included metal recycling, and the use of portable bailers, for the efficient processing of all non-hazardous metal from sites; a presentation on zero waste at special events, with government-funded trailers available to come to special events to educate on recycling; and pesticide container recycling and best practices in managing and handling farm waste, such as agricultural plastics and packaging which are recycled into drain pipes.
New federal “stewardship” regulations being formulated could impact product packaging in the near future, according to Sparks.
“It will affect everyone, because we become the stewards, we become responsible for dealing with the packaging on anything that we get.”
Other presentations focused on residential medical waste and fluorescent bulb recycing, using a five stage filter system to capture 99 per cent of any mercury; the operations of a Calgary mattress recycling company, as by 2020 no mattresses will be allowed into transfer stations or landfills in Alberta; details surrounding the operations of the Recycling Management Authority, which in Alberta in 2014 saw the handling of seven million tires, 826 million TVs and computers, and 2.3 million litres of paint, at 460 different sites across the province; and a company offering a pre-fabricated waste transfer or recycling facility which could be set up and operational in three to five days.
A tour of Canmore’s recycling facility proved fruitful for municipal attendees, detailing the operations of what is considered a showpiece facility for that community.
“Canmore, we visited their sorting facility, it was awesome,” said Sparks. “It cost $4 million to build, and they financed this over 40 years. Just with their pop cans, milk jugs, et cetera, they generate $3,000 per month in revenue. They built this facility way larger than it needed to be, but they’re forecast to have a huge population growth in the Canmore-Banff area in the next few years. In Canmore there’s no roll-out carts. They have what’s called communal bins, which has the garbage and recycling within the bin, one on each end of the block. Their garbage trucks are much smaller than the ones we have here in Taber. They haul their garbage to Camrose. It costs $85 per tonne, and they pay a $35 tipping fee.”
Council initiated discussion of various methods to improve the Town of Taber’s municipal solid waste system several years ago. A study undertaken in 2012 suggested the preferred option was to move away from the current bin system to a variation of the roll-out cart system used by a significant percentage of communities in North America. At the time, this initiative had originally stalled in the face of unresolved questions from town council and significant public opposition.
The municipal solid waste initiative proposed a system of collection which would eliminate the need to sort containers at home and deliver them to a central location, replacing it with a system where recyclables would be picked up in one cart at each resident’s property.
Other municipalities in Alberta have moved to municipal solid waste disposal systems that are similar to that proposed by town administration for Taber, although only a relative handful have moved to a full three-cart recycling and disposal system.
“Athabaska went to a two-cart roll-out system four years ago and are very pleased with the system,” said Sparks. “Leduc started with a brown cart for garbage only, but residents complained that the system was just not big enough. In talking to their administration, they were hoping that was going to be the case, because then in their genius, they instituted a blue cart for recycling. When they did this, there was an automatic 65 to 70 per cent lessening of diversion into the landfill. Because of this, now if your brown cart does not fit enough garbage in it, you can go to the city hall there and buy tags for your garbage, and you can put that on the bag and they will pick it up, but it costs you to do that.”
Other municipalities — even sizable communities — still use systems similar to Taber’s, but rising costs of disposal and inherent inefficiencies involved in such systems is mandating consideration of alternatives.
“Red Deer still has a system similar to Taber, with dumpsters in the back, and in other places in the city they have hand pick up,” said Sparks. “Red Deer county was forced into building a transfer site at each end of their county, costing $6 million, $3 million each. Calgary has a two-cart roll-out system. There’s talks going on about adding a third cart. Edmonton is a curbside hand pickup system. St. Albert is a two cart system. Many thoughout the province still use a curbside hand pickup system, being that this is much faster than a truck pickup. The downside that many have talked about is the rising number of injuries and WCB claims with hand pickup. They say it’s starting to get out of hand.”
Sparks finished his report to council with the admission that no matter how much education and effort is put into the roll out of a new municipal solid waste disposal initiative on the part of a given municipality, there will always be those resistent — or outrightly opposed — to change.
“Regardless of what system is chosen, the way that most within the province think about and handle their garbage needs to change. A lot are really trying, through programs. But education is so important to any program used, and regardless of how much time you spend educating the public — some will never change.”