By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Changes in the waste industry had the Town of Coladale updating it’s waste collection bylaw.
During their regular Nov. 23 meeting, Coaldale town council received an update on the town’s Solid Waste Bylaw.
Justin MacPherson, director of operational services for the town, requested that council amends the bylaw so it better reflects changes to the waste handling market, although administration will continue to explore ways to create a convenient location for a drop off site for excess materials, such as branches, organics and recycables. However, he stressed that even if a future drop off site is made available, the same market-driven material restrictions that apply to the blue and green bins now will still apply to the site.
The town’s waste-handling contractor, GFL, had informed them about changes to the materials they are able to accept. These changes applied to other municipalities as well and are not specific to the town’s contractor, but rather reflect the overarching recycling and organic waste handling markets.
The town will need to amend three aspects of their current Solid Waste Bylaw in order to reflect these changes.
The first change is removing glass from blue bin collects. Glass is being phased out as a useful recycling commodity. In addition to a lack of global market, glass is causes an issue in recycling because it breaks and contaminates all the other recyclable material in the blue bins. MacPherson noted that glass has been banned from blue bins since Aug. 1, 2020.
“Every time broken glass contaminates a load of recyclables, we are charged for tipping fees to the landfill, so all those recyclables that would have went to recycling material went to the landfill,” said MacPherson. “Thats at an additional cost of $15 per ton, and with the frequency of broken glass contaminating bins in the recent past, the added cost was averaging about $675 a month for the past year, because of broken glass.
“Given the two factors, although it is certainly more convenient for consumers to place glass in recycling bins, the environmental benefit nor the cost savings of avoiding glass adding to tipping fees can justify the continued placement of glass in the bins. Glass is therefore needed to be placed in the black as opposed to the blue bins.
Another change is removing plastic bags from collection. Plastic bags and stretchy plastic films get tangled in machinery, can damage the equipment and cause the sorting facility to shut down, and can contaminate other types of recyclable products. Because of this, they need to be collected separately for recycling, which can be done at participating retailers. Plastic bags are also no longer allowed in the town’s blue bins as of Aug. 1, 2020.
The last change is removing compostable, or BPI, bags. As of Jan. 1, the Taber Compost site no longer allows compostable bags, which was a requirement from all communities that use the site. On Nov. 1, 2020, the the Town of Taber banned all BDI compostable bags in green bins, and the communities of Okotoks, Cochrane, Chestermere, Canmore and M.D. of Rockyview are also working with contractors to eliminate the bags to follow industry standard, as they do not compost as fast as was originally thought.
“Large communities like Calgary can still use these bags because they do break down correctly in large indoor industrial sites. Unfortunately, Calgary, their site is at capacity or over capacity already.”
The compostable bags are not breaking down as quickly as Taber or the compost contractor, GFL, would like, and they end up being picked up by high winds and littering neighbouring properties, including farmland, and if they are untouched by the wind, they break down so slowly compared to other compostable materials that debris remains in the finished compost.
“I’m not a compost expert, but the way understand it is you need a very high temperature for these bags to break down, so in an indoor, industrial site, like the one Calgary has, these bags do break down,” said MacPherson. “But in an outdoor site like most compostable sites that are financially feasible for all other communities, unless you’re the size of Calgary, these bags aren’t breaking down. So this is not just in southern Alberta, this sounds like this is across the nation, this is becoming a large issue.”
While there are paper bin liner options available, their cost, compared to plastic bin liners, is about four to five times more expensive, per bag. Coun. Bill Chapman said at the Lethbridge Landfill, they put a top layer on as a cover so debris doesn’t fly away, and asked why wasn’t the compost site doing the same thing. MacPherson replied it wasn’t just the debris causing issues, it was the bags breaking down, or rather not breaking down, getting mixed with other compost and blowing in the wind. While he has discussed possible solutions, such as a wind fence, with the contractor so they can continue using these bags, but they aren’t working.
“These bags are just are not breaking down, even in the final compostable material.” Coun. Briane Simpson asked if there was any other solution to this issue, as paper bags would leak and she has a feeling that nobody would want to continue to compost without a bag, as the bins would need to be cleaned often and would be “fairly disgusting”. MacPherson said they are researching other options, but paper bags were the option presented to the town and other impacted communities. Spencer Croil, director of planning and community development, said in exploring the paper bag option, they found two companies that offer bags that are “water proof enough” that they don’t leak even after a fairly lengthy use.
“We’ve been testing them at the town office for instance, recognizing that it’s an office full of people that regularly compost and the bags turn over more quickly than they might in a residential setting,” said Croil. “It’s also worth recognizing that the bags, paper bags, are more costly, relative to how much each bag would cost.”
Croil noted that staff could look into incentive programs to encourage the community to continue to compost, and could come back with what that would look like on a longer-term basis.
Chapman asked is it would be would be helpful to have a education component to composting for the community, which MacPherson said they were working with a communications team to get ahead of it, and are working on a video.
“Unfortunately, we had very short notice on this, as well did the other municipalities,” said MacPherson. “We are working with them and work with the experts in this field to explain this better and to break this down so we can educate the public as quickly and as efficiently as possible.”
MacPherson added that these changes would still need to take effect in the bylaw to enable them to move forward with these communications. Croil added they can also look at what other municipalities had released in terms of communications, because it is such a “pervasive issue”. Coun. Roger Hohm wondered if they should run the number to find out the cost difference between having a single dumping of the black bin and “put the green and blue bins away forever”, as there may be some big savings there for the town.
“Maybe there’s some big saving to us because we don’t have garbage trucks coming and recycling trucks coming and then green bin trucks coming and having that beat up our roads even more,” said Hohm. “I’m totally against it, but I would like to see that number because I know that as soon as this came out, my mailbox got pretty full pretty quick by the neighbours all going: what is this about? Now I got to have my apple peels and everything else sitting in this green bin without a bag in it? And I got to wash this bin five times a week? No thanks.”
Hohm reported hearing similar things when people learned that glass couldn’t go in the blue bins, and said they should see the numbers on having a single bin. MacPherson said they could look into it, and the industry for recycling and organics does change very regularly and has been more restrictive than in the past, so that they know their recyclables are being recycled.
“I think past recycling programs have been at fault for a lot of recyclables ending up in landfills, I think that’s one thing that is being more proactively looked at,” said MacPherson, adding e agreed it will be a hard sell.
Mayor Kim Craig noted it wasn’t a “luxury item” as they either change the bylaw or they aren’t complying with their contractors and the system, so he didn’t see a way around it. MacPherson added that if they don’t change the bylaw, the town’s organics go to a landfill at a much higher cost. CAO Kalen Hastings said the reason why this wasn’t brought to council sooner was because they were meeting with the contractor to try to find a different solution, but unfortunately, “there isn’t an immediate solution” to this issue, although they were still going to look for one.
Council unanimously passed first and second reading of Solid Waste Bylaw 791-R-11-20, and passed third reading in a split 5-1 vote, with Hohm voting against third reading. Con. Doreen Lloyd was absent from the meeting.