Council vote puts Winnipeg back on track

There is little doubt that Winnipeg City Council was doing what most citizens wanted when they voted by a strong 11-4 majority at their meeting on October 19 to approve a new Garbage and Recycling Master Plan.

Some 18 months in the making, the plan will boost Winnipeg’s waste diversion rate from a dismal 15 per cent to a predicted 50 per cent by 2020. The move will be achieved by collecting and processing compostable leaf and yard waste, switching to wheeled carts to pick up recyclables and residual waste, and establishing resource collection centres to co-ordinate recovery of a range of other waste materials. A trial of compostable kitchen waste collection is also in the works.

Green Action Centre grumbles when decision-makers fall short. Not this time. In adopting the waste plan, Winnipeg City Council took a critically important first step. Congratulations to Mayor Sam Katz and members of Council for a thoughtful debate, a constructive vote and a workable plan.

In addressing Council about the plan before the final vote, Green Action Centre’s policy chair, Peter Miller, urged councillors to “pass it, complete it, and improve it” – a position taken up persuasively by Mayor Katz in the subsequent debate. Councillors Havixbeck and Fielding, who earlier had opposed the plan, changed their minds after hearing from residents adamantly in favour. Good for their constituents for voicing their views and to the two councillors for listening.

In all this, it should also be noted that Winnipeg has been well served by Manager Darryl Drohomerski and planners in the Solid Waste Department. They presented a well thought-out, practical and affordable plan designed to achieve ambitious improvements in waste diversion. Championed by Councillors Dan Vandal and Jenny Gerbasi, endorsed by Mayor Katz and applauded in principle by Green Action Centre, the plan is what most Winnipeggers have been waiting for.

It’s not perfect. Dissenting councillors spearheaded by Councillor Ross Eadie raised important questions about the ability of lower income residents to pay the new waste fee. Green Action Centre shares the view that future changes in the system will be required to address gaps, inequities and missed opportunities. For example, we have recommended a sliding fee structure that significantly reduces costs for those choosing smaller carts to handle smaller volumes of residual household waste. We look forward to participating in the ongoing community advisory committee approved by Council as part of the package.

The community has long led the way on this issue, starting in the mid-1980s when citizens formed the Recycling Council of Manitoba to demonstrate convincingly that people are eager to reduce landfill waste. In 2011, City Council has taken an impressive step forward. As a result, Winnipeg just got a little greener.

May we see more of this!