The City of Ottawa has extended the length of its garbage collection contracts as it tries to determine how the Ontario Progressive Conservative government’s recent environment plan will impact an updated municipal waste strategy.
A new waste strategy will inform the city’s requirements for garbage collection in the next contracts.
Marilyn Journeaux, the city’s director of solid waste services, said the collection contracts have provisions for two one-year extensions. The city has picked up an extension; the contracts won’t expire until May 31, 2020.
That means city council won’t be under pressure to approve a new waste management strategy right away, although the work will be a big part of the next term of council.
A new waste strategy determines how often garbage should be picked up, what material is allowed in each recycling stream and, possibly, any new limits for how much trash people can put out for pickup. Changes could impact the garbage collection fee on property tax bills.
Underpinning the debate will be the city’s residential garbage diversion rate, which at the end of 2016 was 44 per cent, and how council can increase it to free up space at the municipal dump on Trail Road.
The PC government’s “made-for-Ontario environment plan” includes a section on waste, proposing actions to reduce the volume of trash trucked to landfills and improve recycling programs.
The city has been waiting to see what policy decisions the province makes about waste management before sharpening its pencil on a renewed local waste strategy, but the PC plan has high-level goals that, so far, might not be a huge help to municipal staff.
“The city has reviewed the provincial environmental plan and will continue to actively follow the province’s consultations and future waste management proposals,” Journeaux said in a written response relayed through city communications officer Carly Wolff. “The city’s solid waste branch will continue to consider all provincial direction in the planning process.”
The previous Liberal provincial government released a Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario plan in February 2017 with rough timelines for actions, but it’s not clear yet how the PC government’s environment plan is meant to mesh with the 2017 strategy.
The provincial Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act requires the environment minister to maintain the strategy, but the legislation allows amendments to happen sooner than the mandatory 10-year review period.
“Once our new environment plan is finalized after consultation, we will look at how the Strategy for a Waste-Free Ontario can be aligned with Ontario’s new plan to ensure we have a balanced and effective approach to reducing and diverting waste in Ontario,” environment ministry spokesman Lindsay Davidson said in an email.
Municipalities have been pushing to transfer the costs of processing waste to the companies that produce the waste. The blue box program alone costs municipalities $125 million annually.
The City of Ottawa is already doing much of what the PCs propose, such as having a green bin program.
A sidebar in the PC plan zeroes in on making sure compostable materials are accepted in green bin programs, and it celebrates the work of Club Coffee, which makes compostable coffee pods for major brands. Club Coffee, however, hasn’t been able to convince the City of Ottawa to accept the pods in the green bin program.
John Pigott, the CEO of Club Coffee, said the company hasn’t made inroads with the city.
“No movement with Ottawa,” Pigott said. “They’re waiting for the other municipalities, particularly Toronto, to decide what they’re going to do.”
Other proposals in the PC government’s plan include creating an “official day” in the province for cleaning up litter and working with municipalities to clamp down on people who litter and illegally dump garbage.
The plan also talks about investigating thermal treatment of garbage to avoid sending heaps of trash to the landfill. The City of Ottawa was doing that up until 2015 when it cut ties with Plasco Energy Group, which was running a waste-to-energy demonstration plant near the Trail Road dump. The company wasn’t able to build a full commercial facility and the city stopped pursuing landfill alternatives.
City council just started its four-year term and is setting up its governance structure. Council on Wednesday will finalize the memberships of committees, including the environment committee, which is responsible for waste management.
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