There are limits to our planet’s resources, and dumping them into landfills leaves an impoverished legacy for future generations. Winnipeg has among the lowest rates of waste diversion in the country. It is an urgent task of our city government to increase recycling, composting and other waste reduction activities.
A report by the Winnipeg public service lays out a plan that could see waste diversion double over the next few years – not as far as we need to go, but a good start, nonetheless. The plan includes the creation of local recycling hubs, more e-waste drop-off depots, an end to autobins, a pilot program for picking up kitchen scraps and eventually a move towards full-scale compost pick-up. These are tried measures that have been successful in a number of municipalities across Canada.
This week, the plan hit a stumbling block regarding how it should be funded. The integrated waste management plan calls for a new fee of $50 per month to be added to household water bills. Half of the mayor’s inner circle, the Executive Policy Committee, voted against the plan, leaving in doubt whether Mayor Sam Katz has the support he needs to push the plan through council next week. Councillors Jeff Browaty, Scott Fielding and Paula Havixbeck voted against the plan, which was approved unanimously by the Public Works Committee that looked at the proposal last week. Fielding has suggested that the recycling plan should be funded from existing sources, meaning no new money for better programming. Sadly, these councillors give the impression that for them, the environment is not a priority worth paying for.
As well, several inner city councillors are balking at the plan because it imposes a regressive flat tax on households across the city. Certainly, there is an element of unfairness in a plan that sees households pay the same regardless of their ability to pay. As Canadian cities become more unequal, and poverty increases, these disparities are becoming more glaring. One method of addressing this inequality is to have different rates for households depending on how much they throw out. Green Action Centre has proposed that Winnipeg adopt the system used in Toronto whereby households can choose the size of bin they need, paying more for the larger bins, or even getting tax rebates if they choose the smallest bin. Such a system could give low income households an option to pay less, especially given that consumption and waste tend to correlate with income.
The Public Works Committee heard evidence that there may be technical difficulties implementing the multi-sized bin system in Winnipeg related to contamination of recycling or top-heavy bins falling over. These technical difficulties should not be insurmountable, and over time, solutions can be found. Meantime, it is worth remembering that at $50 dollars per household, the fee is cheap compared to the total cost of garbage collection and disposal. Toronto households pay up to three times as much.
As a community organization that has been working on waste reduction in Winnipeg for more than 25 years, we urge all councillors to support the current plan. For too long, the public service has been running catch-up attempting to negotiate multiple contracts in the absence of an integrated plan for waste. Last year, the City agreed to attempt to bring waste and recycling into the 21st century. After a year of consultations, city staff have developed a concrete and realistic plan for improving garbage, compost and recycling service.
Commending the current plan is its existing widespread support. The mayor and five councillors, Dan Vandal, Jenny Gerbasi, Devi Sharma, Grant Nordman and Justin Swandel, have already voted in favour of the plan. Among residents, a CJOB poll last month showed 50% of Winnipeggers support a $50 fee for improved garbage and recycling collection. When was the last time a majority of Winnipeggers showed support for any new fee? Consensus is difficult to achieve and requires compromise. It rests on the mayor now to reach out to undecided councillors to find ways they can support the plan.
There are many things to build on to improve it, but if we do not support the plan now, it may be years before a better one emerges. By then, the mess we will have left for others will be still bigger and costlier. Let’s get on with the clean up.
Read Green Action Centre’s submission to the Public Works Committee here.