Residents fight universal recycling program

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Okotoks planned universal waste management plan was met by resistance from residents in town council chambers on Monday.

Council was scheduled to hear first reading of a new waste management bylaw on Aug. 22 that would introduce organics collection and make curbside recycling collection mandatory for all single-family homes.

Though a handful of residents spoke up against the mandatory recycling plan on Monday, councilors passed first reading of the bylaw. It will return to council for second reading on Sept. 12 following public information sessions on Aug. 25 and Sept. 6.

Coun. Carrie Fischer was the lone vote against the bylaw.

“I have heard from so many people, and a heartbreaking number of seniors, who already do just about everything they can, and we’ve heard many of these perspectives this afternoon,” she said. “They’re already not putting out a whole lot of waste, so these massive bins…are a concern for them.”

She said most residents contacting her are already recycling in some capacity and don’t object to waste diversion itself, but the price tag that comes with it.

Many of the residents would be pleased to see a pay-as-you-throw program brought in at the same time as the recycling plan, she said.

“We can flippantly say it’s 23 cents a day, but it is making a big impact on their budgets when they don’t get that increase on their pension,” said Fischer. “Most of them are quite happy for alternative methods of this. They’re not against the program, they can’t afford it.”

Okotoks residents Janice Anderson argued against the bylaw in council, saying she can’t keep up with the fees that continue to be mandated by the Town.

“I am a single pensioner, with a big increase of $15 per month [to her pension],” Anderson told council. “This takes a real load off my increased money coming in to pay off this kind of stuff.”

She said she’s been recycling for years, taking her materials to the Town’s Recycling Centre and keeping a composter in her own backyard. She said this has allowed her to reduce the number of times her garbage bin hits the curb to one or two times per month, she said.

Anderson said she would prefer to see the program remain optional with more education for residents to encourage green behaviour.

“I think it’s great, I’m just saying it shouldn’t be mandatory for those of us who have a strict budget to adhere to and who do not mind recycling,” she said. “I recycle but I’m not forced into it, I do it because I want to be environmentally friendly.”

She said she was also disappointed with what she called a lack of public consultation. She said having meetings for residents after the fact is “just not right.”

“You’re not asking us for input whatsoever,” said Anderson. “I think it’s time you wake up and listen to us.”

Nancy Weigel, Okotoks corporate and strategic services director, said there has been extensive public consultation on the waste management plan, though most of the information sessions took place during 2008, before the original resource recovery plan was passed in 2009.

“It did look at both the universal recycling and organic waste diversion programs,” said Weigel.

She said it resurfaced in 2014 when the plan had fallen behind its goals and had to be tweaked. Universal recycling was also discussed during visioning sessions with the Town and the public through 2014 and again with the development of the community sustainability plan in 2015, she said.

“The residents each time were wanting to see recycling and organics,” said Weigel. “They wanted to see more diversion, more programs so they could be more environmentally responsible.”

Okotoks resident David Clark told council regardless of the amount of consultation and the purpose of the plan, he feels the waste management program shouldn’t be compulsory.

“I think the mandatory part is wrong, even though your hearts might be in the right way,” said Clark. “I hope you reconsider the mandatory part.”

He said his family has been recycling for years, and subscribed to the blue bin service when it became available. While he will not be financially impacted himself, he said he understands the impact the program will have on some households.

Charging for the service won’t necessarily convince people to recycle, he said.

“The thing is, you can’t just make people do it,” said Clark. “You can make them pay, but you can’t make them recycle.”

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