ST. JOHN’S, NL — Since St. John’s city council made mandatory recycling in the capital city last year, some issues have popped up, one of which is keeping the bags from blowing away.
st. John’s is a notoriously windy city and recycling can be very light, so it was for that reason the council recently looked at options to provide residents with easier access to recycling bins, to help combat the elements.
A few different options were presented, such as applying an annual fee to all households that receive curbside collection to support and maintain a recycling bin or net program; council purchasing bins and providing them for a fee to residents; or working with a retailer to help residents get them at a discount.
Coun. Sandy Hickman, who presented the motion, said there were pros and cons to all three options and staff feel that while recycling has increased and improved since it was made mandatory, many people are still getting a handle on things like dealing with wind.
Hickman said the issue was extensively discussed at a recent committee of the whole meeting and the recommendation that came out of that was, given current budgets, for the city to encourage people to recycle and work with them on curbside collection.
Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary, who voted against the motion, said it’s an ongoing situation the city needs to address, and she wants to see a more systemic approach to dealing with it.
“The whole reason we are recycling is to obviously improve the cleanliness of our city,” she said. “It’s so that we continue to reduce the amount of garbage that goes into the landfill, and if we have recycling bags that are rolling around the city, I feel that kind of works against the grain.”
O’Leary said she understands a one-size-fits-all solution that would not be possible for the city, especially the downtown core, but she wants to see the city spearhead it and not leave it to private industry.
“I think that the city certainly could be at the helm of having a consistent way of approaching it, whether that is a very specific weighted type of net for the downtown core so that we can avoid all those ugly blankets and things like that, that have been a longtime complaint, or to have something available to people especially in those high-elevation areas where we know that recycling is going to be blown all over the place and will end up in the garbage.”
Coun. Ophelia Ravencroft also spoke on the issue, saying they supported the idea of more communication around recycling, but couldn’t support the motion. Ravencroft said the single biggest issue that had been brought to them was people not having the space to store recycling, especially in parts of downtown that don’t have automated garbage collection.
“We need to make sure people are breaking this stuff down so that we can divert waste from the landfill and we also need to set up an infrastructure that enables them to do that effectively,” they said.
“I struggle with the idea that we’re going to say, ‘OK, well, we’re demanding that you do this, there could be fines in it for you if you don’t, but we’re not going to help , we’re not going to give you anything to make it easier.’ In most other cities, bins are provided.”
Ravencroft said they were fine with any of the three options represented to help residents get bins and were fine with giving the issue a year, but was voting against the motion to keep the discussion going on the issues raised by residents.
Coun. Ron Ellsworth echoed some comments O’Leary and Ravencroft made on finding different solutions for different parts of the city, especially downtown, but said the cheapest and most cost-effective way to deal with the issue is for the most property owners to take responsibility and find solutions.
“Realistically, folks, it’s like all things, sometimes if it’s extreme wind on the day your garbage and recycling goes out, it doesn’t go out,” he said. “I know that’s tough for people, but we have to own this ourselves.”
He said property owners shouldn’t wait for the government to fix the issue, but take the responsibility themselves.
Coun. Jill Bruce also spoke in favor of the city expanding its communications around the issue, giving it another year to collect data and seeing if bins are the right idea for recycling. Bruce said providing bins now after only having the program for one year might be counterproductive.
“I’m OK with giving it a year and seeing what comes out of it. I also think we need to see if the amount of recycling increases to the point where perhaps even a bin might not be enough for recycling,” she said. “I think getting ahead of ourselves and providing bins and finding it’s not big enough to house the recycling might be counterproductive.”
The motion passed 8-2, with O’Leary and Ravencroft voting against it.