February 22nd, 2018

City council trashes curbside recycling plan

By Lethbridge Herald on October 2, 2017.

Originally published Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Melissa Villeneuve
Lethbridge Herald

“The status quo continues.”

Anyone with dreams of a citywide curbside recycling program in Lethbridge got those dreams squashed when council members defeated the resolution put forward by Councillor Bridget Mearns on Monday.

After more than two hours of debate, council voted 5-4 against it.

Mearns was emotional in her final remarks after she realized the resolution would be defeated. She read a list of emails and letters she had received from citizens in support of curbside recycling.

“Eighty per cent of our community says they want it. I’m disappointed for the citizens of Lethbridge,” said Mearns, fighting back tears.

“Me personally, I recycle. I have a car, I have the ability to do it. We’ve just told the majority of our citizens in the city that we’re not going to support them to make it easier. So the status quo continues and, unfortunately, that means a very low diversion rate for our landfill as well as having an environmental impact we don’t need to have.”

The issue of waste diversion and recycling has been on the table since 2008. Mearns said surveys indicated citizens wanted curbside recycling even then.

“When people talk about recycling in Lethbridge they say it’s inconvenient. They don’t do it because they don’t want to drive, or don’t want to sort, or don’t have the time to invest what it takes to recycle,” she said.

“The letters we’ve received over the last couple days have been overwhelmingly in support. They are emotional pleas saying they want to do this, they just can’t with the system we have in place.”

In Nov. 2014, Finance Committee supported the principle of delivering curbside recycling. Last year, council commissioned studies on the feasibility of building a recycling facility and options for curbside recycling.

Council has already approved several policies which set specific targets for waste diversion and reinforce the city’s commitment to take a leadership role in preserving the environment.

Mearns’ resolution proposed a “Blue Bin” recycling pilot project this year, with full implementation of bi-weekly residential curbside recycling and garbage collection by 2018. It also proposed the construction of a Materials Recovery Facility, estimated to cost $12 million.

The projected increase to household utility bills was $5.50 per month in 2018.

Currently only about 20 per cent of residential waste is diverted from the landfill. The Waste Diversion policy, approved by council last July, sets a goal of increasing residential waste diversion to 50 per cent by 2021 and 65 per cent by 2030. It was anticipated that mandatory residential curbside recycling would help the city achieve those targets.

Recycling is important, said Coun. Blaine Hyggen, who voted against the resolution. As a business owner, he said it’s also important to support other local businesses, including the private recycling companies.

“We can still have recycling without curbside recycling,” said Hyggen. “We have different ways of recycling and there are companies that do that now, as well as the drop-off bins. By encouraging people to use those current providers and the stations we have, I think we can still divert from the landfill.”

Coun. Rob Miyashiro, Liz Iwaskiw, Joe Mauro and Jeff Coffman also voted against.

Mauro said he couldn’t support it because there was no option for residents to “opt out” of the program. Iwaskiw said she believes the industrial, commercial and institutional strategy will have a much bigger impact on the city. Miyashiro said the issue has gone “around and around” for months, but since there was “no foreseeable impact” the program would make on the environment, he couldn’t support it.

Coffman presented three amendments to Mearns’ original resolution, all of which were voted down. Coffman stated he couldn’t support the resolution because he felt more planning needed to be done, including a business plan for the MRF.

Coun. Jeff Carlson, who voted in favour, said he heard “loud and clear that most of our community wants us to join the 20th century.”

Carlson was hopeful after eight years, the city would catch up with the times.

“Clearly it’s not,” he said.

Mearns said she hopes council gets whatever they need in the future to implement a curbside recycling program in Lethbridge, like so many other cities have before it.

“I know, to my core, that this is the right thing to do.”

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