Yellowknife plans to cut waste by half – what it means for you
By 2030, Yellowknife will cut its waste in half if City Hall’s new plan is successful.
Right now, the city generates around 1,000 to 1,200 kg of waste per resident each year. In 12 years’ time, the goal is to drop that figure to 500 kg.
Councillors have already signed off on that broad ambition. Last week, City staff brought forward a 12-year plan setting out gradual changes to make it happen. The plan costs approximately $3.9 million over the 12 years.
So what does that mean for you as a resident? What’s going to change and how are we going to end up producing half the waste in 2030 that we do right now?
We asked Mike Auge, the City’s manager of sustainability and solid waste, to explain more.
Does each household’s waste have to drop by half?
Mike Auge: Fifty percent is a very ambitious figure but it’s also a realistic figure. We could be doing it pretty easily if we implement a lot of the ideas in this plan.
It’s not just your household waste, it’s all of our waste, including the industrial, commercial, and institutional sector. A lot of our waste is construction and demolition waste.
We’re not asking individual households to cut their waste in half. We’re asking the City as a whole to cut in half what they throw away by 2030.
What will this help?
Mike Auge: The major impact is any less waste we throw into our landfill means we are prolonging the life of the landfill. It was about a $3.5 million project to build the most recent cell we have at the landfill, which is intended to last about seven years. With those numbers, you’re looking at $500,000 per year just for the construction – that’s nothing to do with the operations, maintenance, or closure, which are significant costs on top of that.
The more waste that we can divert from there and either reuse or recycle, or just not buy in the first place – which would be great – the more beneficial it is, in terms of dollars and cents, for the next landfill cell that we’re going to have to build.
It definitely pays for itself. Any of the projects in here, on an individual basis, are going to pay for themselves fairly quickly in terms of the money we’re saving.
What will happen first?
Mike Auge: One of the first things we want to look at is expanding our organics collection and recycling, making those opportunities available to everybody – especially the multi-family residences in town. That’s the next logical step.
From there, a lot of it on the residential side is education – getting people to use the system. A lot of people are really gung-ho for this, but there are still people out there who say, ‘I’m not using the green cart. I don’t care what you do.’ Just educating those people on the benefits of diverting our waste is key to getting the buy-in.
Read more about the plan: Pages 23-32 of this committee agenda
Everything in the plan is scheduled to be introduced at some point, that was part of the implementation plan we presented. Saying that, we are going back to council on an annual basis, getting approvals on a year-to-year basis. Looking 12 years into the future, there are going to be some changes both in the market and the technologies that are out there. It’s definitely a project that is going to change over time, but everything in there is scheduled to happen at some point.
Will there be incentives, or fines?
Mike Auge: We like to start with the carrot, of course. We are hoping we won’t have to go to the stick.
One item that’s in here is some sort of differential tipping fees or fines for not separating your garbage. An example would be that we already have some differential fees in place – so if you’re bringing in recyclables or cardboard, on a commercial rate, it’s about 25 to 30 percent the cost of bringing in a load of garbage. If you take that one step further, you’d say if you have garbage contaminated with recycling or organics, we’re charging you an even greater fee. Hopefully that encourages people to use the diversion streams we do have available.
We have programs out there that aren’t being used to their full potential. If we can get people – and the City internally, that’s a big step too, practice what we preach – to use them… part of the process is learning why people don’t buy into these programs. Talking to those people, finding out how we can incentivize it so people do use the programs that are there, then going from there.
What about the impact on companies?
Mike Auge: A lot of this is commercial waste. There are diversion programs we can put in place like diverting more lumber – there’s a lot of potential there – and diverting our drywall. Diverting the asphalt and concrete from all the construction projects, reusing that material instead of just putting it into the landfill. That is huge and is going to increase our diversion rates by a lot.
How is change in China affecting us?
China, which previously took much of the West’s recycling for processing, recently changed the purity standards it demands of incoming recyclables. The effect on North American recycling has been profound.
Mike Auge: They’ve increased their level you have to qualify by. Before, it was 95 percent clean and now it’s up to 99.5 percent, which is a huge increase and nearly impossible to meet. Clean means your plastics can’t have any contamination like food, or if you’re sending in clear plastics, there can’t be any coloured plastics.
For Yellowknife, for the cost to the City, there is an immediate implication. The price we are getting on our recyclables has been reduced significantly. It was something like $75 a ton we were getting before, now that’s down to $10 a ton. Right there we’re seeing a huge loss in the revenue from recycling we are shipping out. Another implication down the road may be that we have to sort our recycling into a few more streams. We might need to do clean, brown cardboard, then another coloured cardboard stream, and separate our plastics a little more. You’re separating it anyway, it’s just another stop you need to make.
It doesn’t put a huge hole in the budget but it does affect our costs. That’s money we thought we’d be seeing this year that, now, we are not. By diverting this material or not producing it in the first place, we’re recouping that cost in other areas.