The City of Lacombe is looking for a viable and sustainable option to replace it’s curb-side recycling program, which has been discontinued.
City council made the decision after the recycling contract ended on May 31.
The central Alberta community wasn’t able to find a contractor that could demonstrate that collected materials were being diverted from the landfill.
“We wanted to see some demonstrated proof that this material was actually ending up being recycled,” said Matthew Goudy, city manager.
Only one company bid on the contract, Goudy said, and it was able to collect and track a limited amount of materials.
The system proposed by the bidder was also more expensive, at a monthly cost of $7.50 per household. The cost was $4.50 per month under the previous recycling program, which was started in 2014.
Changes in the recycling industry, including the fact that China is no longer purchasing recyclables from Canada and elsewhere, also prompted questions about sustainability.
“You need to re-evaluate that and say, are we being proper stewards of the environment and proper stewards of public funds?” Goudy said.
Councillors have asked for a review of other options to reduce waste, such as composting.
“I saw it as an opportunity now to have some honest conversations about what does recycling look like right now in Alberta,” said Cora Hoekstra, deputy mayor.
Many residents were surprised by the decision, Hoekstra said, but most understand the city’s rationale.
“They too want to believe that when they are filling their blue box, that it is genuinely being recycled or reused in some way,” she said.
“Once they realize that that may not have been the truth, they also don’t want to be part of an illusion, if you will.”
Curb-side recycling will be re-established once the municipality finds a viable option, Hoekstra said.
“We would like some proof to know that some of these initiatives will work,” she said. “That’s the journey that we’re on now.”
Commercial recycling is still being offered in Lacombe, and residents can drop off materials in the bins provided for that purpose.
The review will also look at the viability of the commercial recycling program.
Extended producer responsibility
But finding a solution to the problem goes beyond the municipal level, said Goudy.
“It’s a national conversation that should be happening,” he said. “It seems to be delegated to each individual municipality, each local authority, to try and resolve this problem.”
The City of Lacombe is asking the province to establish an extended producer responsibility policy, similar to the one in place in British-Columbia.
The policy puts the onus on producers, who fund programs to recycle or safely dispose of their products throughout their life cycle.
“That is a provincial responsibility,” Goudy said. “Yet no action is happening.”
Other municipalities are also expressing support for that model, he said.
Alberta Environment and Parks is open to the idea of establishing an extended producer responsibility policy, spokesperson Scott Lundy said in an emailed statement.
“We will continue to consider stakeholder feedback and will look at what other jurisdictions in Canada have done,” wrote Lundy.
Hoekstra hopes the recent news reports that highlight the limitations of the recycling industry will motivate municipalities to push for change.
“We need to work as a whole, because this is important to us. It’s important to our country. It’s important to all.”