OPINION: ‘Environmental council’ nearly rejects regional composting at city’s behest

A column by Bruce Edson

By Bruce Edson

At the Jan. 7 city council meeting, city administration recommended to councillors that recycling rates remain the same. They then casually tacked on a resolution to not participate in the RDCK’s regional composting plan. And asked councillors to vote.

For neophytes who have no experience with industrial composting systems, the intuitive answer to the municipal composting question is often the same: Local and small must be better. But to professionals, this is rarely the case.

So when rookie councillors started talking about localized solutions, pilot projects, education funding and innovation, it was nothing new. That’s been going on for decades. But what was new was the city taking advantage of the naiveté to try to kill regional composting altogether – something that needs the Nelson’s participation to be viable. The existing regional composting draft plan has been years in the making, spurred on by not only by provincial policy inertia but also by the newly released provincial climate plan, of which composting now appears to be a pillar.

The city seems to be leading councillors down the garden path, again citing rising costs of shared services with the RDCK as a substantiation of inaction or withdrawal.

This is now a perennial and adolescent whine. The whole waste management issue is in provincial upheaval and needs co-ordinated leadership, not isolationism. The same is true for whatever other issue the city has an intrinsic responsibility to work with other levels of government on such as wildfire, watershed issues, and emergency management. These are critical issues with consequences, and do not benefit from a head-in-the-sand approach. There is going to be no contentious avoidance of cost. We pay now or pay a much greater price later be that wildfire, lack of integrated response to an emergency, or larger environmental catastrophe.

One would think that for a vote on such an item of consequence, the city would have done its job and substantiated its recommendation – but this was not the case.

Councillors were not provided with the draft regional composting plan. They were not provided an opportunity to be briefed by the RDCK. The city did not provide any analysis of municipal composting issues in Nelson. They were not provided with the recent Nelson industrial composting study. To top it off, the city stated that rejecting regional composting was ‘Not Applicable’ to city sustainability goals, even though organic waste is a specific component of the Path to 2040 Sustainability Strategy.

Not Applicable? What?

Regional composting is a time-sensitive issue and the city knows it. Nelson needs a new truck, a new plan for a new curbside recycling and possibly composting system (with bins), and the RDCK is almost ready to go ahead with building a central composting facility. The city is well aware that the regional plan needs Nelson’s participation — and that any ‘local’ composting pilot project will most likely be abandoned.

In coming to their vague conclusion to ‘keep composting local,’ did the green councillors do any research beyond superficial and self-indulgent conjecture? If they had, it might have given them pause. Their blind and self-important speculation has now set a trajectory towards the replacement of a professionally endorsed system with… something else.

It is now obvious that council is going to have to stand up and demand good information on this or any other issue that might happen go against the administration’s agenda. At some point, it would be nice if they were able to take the reigns and direct the administration, not the other way around.

There is another scenario. The RDCK could just inform the city that organics are no longer allowed in the landfill. The city would then learn quickly how to efficiently deal with organic waste.

In many jurisdictions, this is just the way it is done. Industry professionals know that involving municipalities in facility establishment usually results in this kind of messy and counterproductive politicking.

The city administration’s attempt to railroad struggling new councillors might be called devious if it wasn’t so transparent. To behave in such a manipulative and underhanded manner towards their own council shows either significant and strategic contempt or, in the other possible scenario, egregious incompetence.

But in any event, the new council is 100 per cent responsible for their actions.

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