Thursday, 23 February 2017

Regina Recycling - Just How Well Are We Doing?

Hello Regina!!

Coming up on Monday at City Council will be an update on the Waste Plan Regina, or more specifically the "annual" update that was postponed from 2015, and then again in 2016 due to the election. What you will find in this report is something that many of us already know - Reginans are awesome at recycling and the City of Regina is only accepting a fraction of what they could be because it "doesn't make enough money". This became brutally evident over Christmas when the whole "should we recycle wrapping paper" debate came to head.

Below is my delegation for your consideration. I encourage you all to read and share, and provide your feedback. I also encourage you to read the full Waste Plan Regina (2009) report, and corresponding 2016 update, so you can get a better sense of how far we've really come in seven years. Spoiler alert: We haven't really come that far.

Regina City Council Delegation – Monday, February 27, 2017
RE: Waste Plan Regina 2015/16 Update

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, my name is Chad Novak, and I am here representing the Saskatchewan Taxpayers Advocacy Group, which is a grassroots organization proudly standing up for the rights of individual taxpayers. I am here to address the item that is recommended to be removed from the outstanding list, that being the 2015/16 Update for the Waste Plan Regina.

I’ve spoken on this issue previously, and I’ve also monitored a lot of the online discussions that occur around this topic – specifically when questionable actions of the City take place. Like, for example, the recent revelation at Christmas time that the City of Regina would not accept certain types of Christmas Wrapping Paper. What transpired during that short time frame was the revelation that the Regina Residential Recycling Program is more about profits than it is the environment. This became quite obvious when the comment was made by Emterra that while it could recycle regular wrapping paper, it is lower quality and would not bring in as much money for the company or the city, which gets a share of the profit (See Appendix A). This was then contradicted by the City (See Appendix B) suggesting that these materials simply were simply “not recyclable” – which is concerning as it demonstrates a clear effort by the City of Regina to sway citizens opinions from the truth, which was graciously explained by Emterra. The fact of the matter is, these items are recyclable, it’s just that Emterra, and in turn the City of Regina, wouldn’t realize a reasonable profit – or possibly even experience a loss – by recycling the material. This is further supported by the fact that many of the items that we currently reject are actually recycled by many other cities (See Appendix C), and is included in the list of industry accepted recyclable materials in material the world over.

So, what first needs to happen is turning our attention away from the potential profit of a fully-recyclable item. Once we do that, then we can realistically expect to see our diversion rates increase. After all, the City of Regina realizes such a minimal return from Emterra for profit-sharing (Average $150,000 [approx. 2.5%] – see Appendix D), it’s almost meaningless to look to refuse certain items because of their profitability. I can guarantee when you go to residents and tell them they can recycle any material included in a generally accepted recycling list – not just the items that turn a tidy profit – you will realize a significant jump in your diversion rates. Not just because it’s going to make things a lot less confusing for residents, but also because you are actually diverting a lot of material that is currently going to the landfill now, simply because it’s been determined it doesn’t make enough money. The environment needs to be the #1 driver here – period.

It’s been suggested that it’s actually Emterra who is the one deciding what material gets recycled, but I’ve since found that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it’s right there in black and white in the legally binding contract with Emterra that they “shall receive all collected materials regardless of the level of contaminants” (See #36 in Appendix E). Further, that “it will be the operator’s responsibility, at it’s sole cost, risk and expense to dispose of all contaminants.” This confirms that Emterra must accept and process every single item that residents put in the blue bins, regardless of whether or not it can be recycled, let alone it’s profitability. With regards to what Emterra must contractually process, it is clearly stated that they “must accept and process any and all of the designated materials received.” (See #43 in Appendix F) As you will see in Appendix G, there is no differentiation of certain types of materials that the City of Regina has since designated as “non-recyclable” (or “non-profitable”).

What I’m saying here is essentially, the City has the ability to enforce this contract, and Emterra is legally bound to accept and process all materials that the City tells its residents to include in their Blue Bins. What residents deserve an answer to is this: Will the City step up to the plate and encourage residents to include any and all recyclable material (according to standard practice in many other jurisdictions, and as accepted by industry standards) in their Blue Bins, regardless of profitability? If not, can they please explain why? It should not be residents’ concern as to whether or not it costs Emterra more money to process certain materials, as that is something that Emterra ought to – and most likely did – take into consideration when negotiating the contract in the first place.
What you really need to come to terms with is that, until the City makes meaningful changes to our curbside recycling program (by increasing what is accepted), it’s going to be that much more difficult to increase that rate by any meaningful amount. Instead of coming back to residents in 2020 and saying “sorry, we tried”, why not proactively do something now to meaningfully increase that diversion rate?

Thank you for your time this evening, and I will gladly answer any questions you may have.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION (Subject to inclusion based on time and questions by Council):

The City of Regina continues to realize significant surpluses at the Regina Landfill of $15 Million or more. The actual cost of processing our recycling – aside from the collection of it which is a subject for another day – is only $1.5 Million (See Appendix H). Why are we not funding this program entirely from the continued surplus at the Regina Landfill, as the two would seem to be intrinsically linked.

Also, the City of Regina now realizes additional revenue of approximately $775,000 from the Multi-Material Stewardship Western (MMSW) program, which is over and above what was originally considered in 2013 when introducing the curbside recycling program. The MMSW program is specifically intended to cover “up to 75% of the net costs for a municipality to operate a recycling program for waster paper and packaging.” Why, then, are residents not realizing a reduction in their recycling fees as a result of this new funding source, which is expected to last for the foreseeable future? Also, considering the goal of the MMSW program, it would directly contradict the intention of the program if we are not actually using that money to offset the operating costs of our recycling program, which is evident in Appendix I where it speaks to exactly what this money will be used for (taken directly from this 2015/16 Waste Plan Regina Update). For the City to use this money for further public outreach is effectively a slap in the face to that industry.

An added cost savings that can be realized down the road is implementing offset biweekly collection, so that we aren’t doubling down on the environmental footprint that is caused by the dual collection system as it exists today. (Loraas is contracted out to collect recycling biweekly and in-house staff collect garbage weekly) This would not only improve our environmental impact (which is consistent with the public feedback in Appendix J – also taken directly from this 2015/16 Update), but it would result in significant cost savings, furthering the call for eliminating the separate fee for curbside recycling.

While residents are being lead to believe that our diversion rate is steadily increasing, the statistics in your own report suggest otherwise, going from 16% in 2009 when the Waste Plan Regina report was released, to only 20% in 2016 (See Appendix K), or a 4% increase in seven years. Obviously, there are a few ways to impact that rate, including reducing our waste and increasing that which we recycle, but at the end of the day, the numbers are pretty consistent over the three years in this update, with the total tonnage of recycling actually decreasing over the years included in this report. It should be noted that in the 2009 Waste Plan Regina, there is no suggestion that anything beyond 40% could be attained without additional improvements (See Appendix M), so is the lofty goal of 65% by 2020 truly realistic, or are we just setting ourselves up for yet more failure?

 Interestingly, our garbage has reduced over this time by over 6,000 tonnes, without any corresponding increases in recycling or other programs, pointing to the fact that people are possibly consuming less? As well, considering that only 14% of what residents toss in the garbage bins ought to have been thrown in the blue bins (See Appendix L – again taken directly from this 2015/16 Update), it is not the fault of residents not knowing what to and what not to recycle – which goes against the idea that more public education is necessary. Contrary to what is planned, it is obvious that further public education is NOT required nor is it the solution – spending money on this kind of campaign is both wasteful and meaningless as it is clear that residents do fully understand and support a properly run recycling program.