Curbside Recycling Pick-Up: Why Not?

This spring a survey on curbside recycling pick-up received over 1700 responses—the largest public participation in an SCRD survey ever. So one thing is very clear. There are a lot of people living in Areas B, D, E and F who want to receive curbside recycling pick-up.

And yet the directors, after a whole lot of research and agonizing, voted against starting that service. (See Coast Reporter Article)

Why?

  • The strongest argument for a curbside service is that it would encourage people to recycle instead of throwing recyclables in the garbage, and thus decrease the amount of garbage going to our landfill. Unfortunately, we have no idea how much diversion we’d gain. When Sechelt started to pick up recycling, how much did it decrease the volume of garbage going to the landfill? We don’t have the data. Staff looked at other rural areas in the province, but it turns out none of them are comparable to us. Other areas with curbside pick-up only have very limited depots (e.g. a few dumpsters)—nothing like the full one-stop service provided by Gibsons Recycling Depot.
  •  The curbside program would ONLY pick up paper and plastic containers. Everything else would still have to be driven to the depot. (This isn’t our choice—this is mandated by Recycle BC.) So it’s a partial solution at best.
  • It is too late now to have any significant impact on the life expectancy of our landfill which is due to close in 2025.
  • Therefore, the main reason to provide the service is convenience. I’m not knocking that. I like convenience, too. But am I willing to raise everybody’s utility bills for some people’s convenience? The cost of approx. $50/year isn’t a lot for most families, but for low income folks it’s yet another increase when taxes are rising and their income can’t keep pace. (Opt out isn’t feasible.)
  • Curbside collection would be funded from utility fees paid by residents in the rural areas. However, the new service would reduce the volume of paper and plastic dropped off at the Gibsons Recycling Depot, decreasing their income from Recycle BC. That shortfall would have to be made up through taxation that’s paid by everyone, so the Town of Gibsons, District of Sechelt, and Area A would be subsidizing a rural service they don’t receive.
  • The staff in Solid Waste are working on plans for what to do after our landfill closes. It makes sense to me to focus their efforts on that problem right now, instead of starting up a new program.
  • Finally, our Solid Waste Management Plan is up for review starting this September. This plan is required by the province and it will determine how we handle our garbage and recycling for the next decade. That’s the time to review rural curbside pick-up.

What’s the Alternative?

A number of people have asked why we don’t have a private service that people can subscribe to, so that folks who want their recycling picked up can pay for that service.

The answer is Recycle BC regulations. If your local government hires a commercial contractor to pick up RESIDENTIAL recycling, Recycle BC considers it RESIDENTIAL and they accept it and pay to ship it off coast. But, if a private contractor independently picks up RESIDENTIAL recycling, it magically becomes COMMERCIAL recycling, and Recycle BC won’t take it. So the operator must pay to ship all the recycling to a commercial facility in Metro Vancouver, which is cost prohibitive.

In my opinion, this regulation places an unreasonable burden on rural and remote areas and it needs to be changed so that local businesses can step up and provide the service to anyone who wants it and is willing to pay. We’ll be urging our MLA and the Province to change the rules.

No Clear Wins… yet.

If you think you’ve heard some of this before, you’re right. I sat on an SCRD Recycling Review committee over ten years ago, debating the trade-offs between increased recycling, fewer car trips to the Recycle Depot, and more big trucks lumbering and belching along our roads. It’s not a clear win, and the benefits are even murkier near Gibsons where most people combine grocery trips with recycling drop-off, and the Gibsons Recycling depot enjoys tremendous community support.

Of course the ultimate solution is a drastic reduction in single use packaging (especially plastics), which will have to be legislated by the federal government. We aren’t there yet, unfortunately.

I want to thank everyone who participated in the recycling survey, and apologize to those of you who had your hopes raised for curbside pick-up. This was a very hard decision for the rural directors and I know lots of people won’t be happy.

Curbside recycling is not permanently off the table. But honestly it would be a big help if all our local governments could coordinate and implement the same program.

For Further Reading….

Here’s a good article on how provincial recycling programs don’t meet the needs of rural areas: Reducing, Reusing and Recycling Is Easy — Except in Rural BC (Tyee July 2, 2021)

Posted by Donna