The regional district’s waste committee meets today to deal with public concern about recycling changes. Pictured above is an example of the new bins at transfer stations in the Nelson

Rural RDCK directors respond to recycling critics

The regional district’s waste committee meets today to deal with public concern about recycling changes.

A public backlash following rural recycling changes will be discussed at a meeting of the Regional District of Central Kootenay’s joint waste recovery committee today.

The regional district says the new system will save $200,000 per year and reduce recycling’s carbon footprint because a new compactor truck will make fewer trips from the bins to the central waste facility in Castlegar. To enable that, however, new bins have been introduced at transfer stations in Nelson, Kaslo, Salmo, and area, into which recyclers have to feed the material into a small slot one piece a time. Critics say this is time consuming and inconvenient.

In an article in the Star last week, regional district manager Mike Morrison explained the changes, and in a column, chief administrator Stuart Horn explains further the reason for the new bins.

In this article we check in with the elected representatives in the affected areas.

Aimee Watson, Area D (Ainsworth, rural Kaslo, Duncan Lake)

“In the media and on Facebook, there is a bandwagon with people jumping on it to complain. This does not mean their complaints don’t have merit, but there is not much context behind it. Local taxpayers are not supposed to be paying for this at all.”

Watson is referring to the fact that the province has moved to a producer-pay system in which manufacturers of paper and packaging pay for a company (Multi Material BC) to pick up and process their recycling, as happens, for example, in Nelson. But many rural areas, including those around Nelson, have been left out because MMBC is operating at capacity and can’t afford to take on more clients. (That, in turn, is because many businesses that produce paper products in the province have not signed on, contrary to provincial legal requirements.)

“I am grateful that we are providing what the province is supposed to be doing. We are still there because the province would have left our region high and dry. That is a bigger context that the public is not getting.

“A lot of people liked the convenience of being able to just toss it into the bin. But in all honesty the things that build capacity for an engaged citizenry are involvement. Don’t ask government to do it all for you and then tax you for it. People did not pay attention to what they put in the bins, they were lazy about it. We did not choose this infrastructure to be difficult, we did it to further our mutual goals of reducing waste and addressing climate change.”

Watson said the issue is complicated in her area by the moving of the Kaslo bins so the Village of Kaslo could promote the use of MMBC’s curbside pickup program (a move she says she did not approve of), and by the fact that, unlike in the municipalities, recycling in rural areas is also available to businesses.

Ramona Faust, Area E (the south shore of the West Arm from Balfour to Blewett and the north shore from Kokanee Creek to Queens Bay)

Faust told the Star that RDCK staff have been asked to make the system more user-friendly.

“I don’t like the small openings, I totally get it,” she said, “but looking at it from an ecological point of view this brings the most benefit in most ways, except for people who won’t stand there long enough to do that. We are betting on their better nature.”

Faust defended Morrison’s prediction that people will get used to it.

“I think there is always discontent any time there is a change,” she said. There was a lot of discontent with the blue bag system, so I think what he meant is that people will norm after a while, and he expects that this upset will dissipate.”

Faust said the new system is part of the regional district’s contract with the private company Waste Management.

“Our contract with them is based on the closed bin system, and it would take some leadership to change that.”

Tom Newell, Area F (the north shore from Bonnington to Kokanee Creek)

“Our CAO made a written statement today in the Star which is what I would have said,” Newell wrote in an email.

“As for changing the system,” he continued, “the directors have not met with staff nor at our committee thus it is impossible to answer at this time. Our goal throughout the process was increasing efficiency (including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions on the part of the RDCK), reducing the taxation burden on property owners and evolving our system so that the eventual transition to an MMBC-managed system would be as seamless as possible. We have met those primary goals with this transition. We now have to analyze the issue of ease of use for some users.”

Hans Cunningham, Area G (rural Salmo including Ymir)

Cunningham said he has heard a lot of discontent from his constituents.

“Going to this new system is almost like going back in time,” he said. “We have had people used to taking whole blue bags and putting them in there, and now they have to go and squeeze the recycling into the slot and it takes several minutes. Some people recycle everything including labels off tuna cans and their bottle caps, and that gets to be quite a nuisance, and there are quite a number of people who feel that way. Staff assures me they will get used to it, but when they do, will they recycle as much?”

Cunningham suggested some compromises.

“Maybe we could just have one cardboard-only bin and accept only flattened cardboard there. In the East Kootenay they use the same kind of bins but they keep the lid open and will take larger bags, and some have a slot at the front with an angled chute so you can dump more in at once. I am not sure what is possible.

“It is a three-fold thing: economics, encouragement of recycling, and making our bosses [the public] happy.”

Cunningham said the meeting today will try to balance those factors. The meeting is public and starts at 1 p.m. at the regional district office in Nelson.