By Trevor Busch
The Town of Taber has approved implementation of a controversial three-cart system for disposal of municipal solid waste, which will see the present system of large-scale bin collection going the way of the dodo by early 2016.
After months of deliberation by town council and administration, including a split 4-3 vote to defeat implementation of a cart-based municipal solid waste initiative in late 2014, the Town of Taber is now pushing forward.
At their April 13 meeting, town council voted 5-2 to direct administration to begin implementation of the changes to the town’s municipal solid waste and recycling system, and that administration keep council regularly updated on the initiative to allow for input and fine tuning of the new system. Coun.(s) Randy Sparks and Andrew Prokop opposed the motion.
“If we take the initiative and at least go down that road, at least the community knows the direction we’re going, and we can start the education seminars, because we’ve got up to eight months before all of this stuff arrives,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas, prior to the vote. “But at least we’re going down that green path, and taking a stride towards a better environment. That’s only positive for us.”
Administration believes the new system will save town residents a substantial sum (estimated at over $200,000 annually) based on the composting element, and is expected to be break even regarding recycling, while increasing recycling volumes.
“The only way I’d ever buy into this, is if Bio-Can was the player,” said Sparks, referencing the town’s proposed compost site operator. “That’s what we’ve been waiting for all along, because of a substantial savings that’s supposed to be generated through Bio-Can. Through those savings, this was going to end up paying for this program. We’re still in limbo on that. None of us are professionals at composting, and there are issues that could arise because we’re not experts.”
According to administration, while the town’s existing municipal solid waste system may be easy to use, it is inefficient and ineffective. The system being proposed by administration is very common in North America, but a three-cart system to be utilized by the town is more “leading edge” because of the composting component, which is likely to be mandatory in Alberta in future.
“I would like to see the residents of the town of Taber educated before the fact, not after the fact,” said Sparks. “That they’re given the opportunity to really know what the Town of Taber has in store for them before the fact. We had an open house and how many people came — 34? That included us as counciIlors, the employees there running it, and the people from Bio-Can. So that wasn’t much of a public awareness program. We’ve talked before about education — we’ve done nothing about education. We’ve not taken out any full-page ads in The Taber Times to let residents know what we’re planning.”
Key elements of implementation include immediately initiating the change from bins to carts; holding public meetings for educational and system refinement benefits; begin with blue recycle carts and large garbage carts, before adding the composting component once an approved facility has been constructed; start in low density residential areas, before adding apartments, industrial and commercial properties in future; formulation of a solution for disposal of large items that can currently be placed in bins, to avoid dumping of materials once the bins are removed; and work with the M.D. of Taber to ensure a solution for dealing with waste currently placed in town bins.
“I agree completely with Councillor Sparks and his comments. You’ve said it before right here in open session, Mr. Birch, that the education component is so important,” said Prokop. “We haven’t fulfilled that yet. That’s come out publicly. Talking to the general public, those I’ve spoken to, they want to be part of this. They want to be educated more than they are. Right now, we’re not giving that to them. I have big concerns about that, and justifiably so. This is a big decision, and we have to do something. We want to make the right decision, and I think we owe it to our public to help make that right decision.”
In order to implement the strategy, administration has proposed undertaking ordering one new side-load garbage truck immediately to pick up carts (this will require an estimated eight month delivery period); hold public open houses in coming months for information and customization input; finalize selection of carts in terms of design, size, number, on-cart messaging, and supplier; begin identification of pick up routes and schedules, based on elimination of hand pick routes in initial stages of implementation; development of pamphlets for town residents to inform them of the new system; continue work to create a cost-effective compost site; and investigate optimal methods for disposal of the recyclable material collected.
“And they need to be made aware — they’re not going to come to a open house, unfortunately,” said Sparks. “We gave them an opportunity, but that’s a very small percentage of people that came out, and most of them there, judging by the comments, were mainly concerned with recycling. Few comments were associated with garbage. I still haven’t been sold on this project yet, because we haven’t done an adequate job of letting people know exactly what the Town of Taber is planning on doing.”
Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux objected to Sparks’ assertion that the education process has been entirely absent from the equation involving the disposal of municipal solid waste.
“I think the education has started, as a matter of fact. There is a Facebook page. I have people coming up to me and asking for this, without me encouraging them. We’ve seen letters to the effect that a lot of people in town want this. I agree there could be more education done, but the people I’ve talked to are very much in favour of change.”
Future considerations will include discussion of implementation of a municipal solid waste collection system for the industrial area; consideration of an optimal way to collect waste from higher density dwellings, such as apartments, and determine the need for a second garbage truck.
“Myself, I’ve been getting emails forwarded, and the only ones I’ve been getting are positive,” said Mayor Henk De Vlieger. “Sure there’s some people that, no matter how you educate them, they will never participate because it’s too much work. I think you can educate people to death, but unless you start the system and then educate the people, they won’t buy in because they still don’t understand. Secondly, as you drive through the back alleys, I find it a shame that people take all the easy ways out, and the only way they’re not going to take the easy way out is there’s a system in place where there is no easy way out. They have to separate, and they have to become more responsible. The majority of people, no matter how you educate them, will always take the easy way out. It’s been proven in many municipalities.”
Council initiated discussion of various methods to improve the Town of Taber’s municipal solid waste system several years ago. A study undertaken in 2012 suggested the preferred option was to move away from the current bin system to a variation of the roll-out cart system used by a significant percentage of communities in North America. At the time, this initiative had originally stalled in the face of unresolved questions from town council and significant public opposition.
“I look at recycling, reducing, and re-using as a greener way to be smarter with out waste,” said Coun. Rick Popadynetz. “We’ve come almost through the first quarter and not made a decision on this. Oil prices are low, so I see plastic bin prices coming down. Before, when oil prices were high, I didn’t see a good savings. In feasibility, right now plastic bins are a lot cheaper, and this makes sense. This is a start. Eventually we might move into a communal bin system, but this is the right start, and this is the right time. We need to make a decision, and we need to make the best decision. Personally, in the past few months I’ve read some books, I’ve read through the package Mr. Birch gave us — this is the way to go, it’s been working for 20 years. It’s a smart system, and I’ve been sold on it.”
The municipal solid waste initiative is a system of collection which would eliminate the need to sort containers at home and deliver them to a central location, replacing it with a system where recyclables would be picked up in one cart at each resident’s property.
Other municipalities in Alberta have moved to municipal solid waste disposal systems that are similar to that proposed by town administration for Taber, although only a relative handful have moved to a full three-cart recycling and disposal system.
“I know we need to go green, I know we need to handle our garbage much better than we are, but have we educated our people? No,” said Sparks. “Take a drive around and see all the sofas laying around, all the metals laying around the garbage cans, all the tires laying around — we have not educated anybody.”