Instead of kicking glass off the curb, the Capital Regional District embarks on an education campaign after a sometimes heated board meeting last week.
In a bid to get more refillable glass back in circulation, the CRD Environment Committee suggested the region remove glass pickup from the roadside blue box recycling program. That didn’t sit well with all members of the CRD board, including Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen who openly voiced his opposition early and often leading up to the April 13 meeting.
He went into that meeting armed with a motion from Oak Bay council supporting the program as-is and alternately requesting exemption if glass was removed from the program.
“I was particularly concerned that by eliminating the program would potentially add over $200,000 to our CRD budget at a time we’re trying to do our best to keep costs under control,” Jensen said. “This was not only good for the environment but good for the bottom line.”
He was concerned residents wouldn’t travel to a bottle depot to recycle glass, instead slipping it into the garbage stream headed for the landfill – “not a desirable outcome.”
The recommendation was to end the contract with Emterra for compensation of no more than $150,000 per year to offset Emterra’s incremental glass collection capital investment, effective from Jan. 1, 2017 until the end of the contract on April 30, 2019. The recommendation also included an educational component to raise awareness that glass was no longer part of roadside collection and how to return or recycle glass instead.
“There were a number of pros and cons with each of the options put forward by staff,” said Vic Derman, director from Saanich who supported the committee recommendation to end curbside pickup. “(Glass bottles) are able to be reused more than 10 times and commonly in the area of 14 and 15 times when returned to a depot and handled properly and returned to a supplier.”
In the blue box they get chipped and broken, making them unusable, he said. “A second great concern is glass in the blue box (glass) almost always gets broken, becoming a contaminant for other recyclables making them a lower grade material.”
The board opted to leave the contract for collection in place and add an educational component in conjunction with businesses in the region that reuse glass bottles.
“I am a supporter of recycling, I would in fact add recycling opportunities if we could, new bins to try and collect batteries for example or encourage – in different ways – recycling … I would be in favour of stricter enforcement of blue box material and garbage materials,” director Geoff Young, a Victoria councillor.
Young suggested not all urban dwellers may not have the resources to save up returnables.
“While I am in favour of recycling and improving the quality of recycled materials, even taking quite a hard line on that, we do have a basic responsibility as a government to provide a level of services,” Young said. “It is unreasonable someone should be in the position of buying a jar of jam and not being able to dispose of it without making a long trip … to a recycling depot.”
“It is a service, and I think we’re speculating at a high degree … that our residents throughout the CRD will react positively to this,” Jensen said during the meeting. “We want to save contamination in this stream and we kind of all know the contamination will go in our other stream, in the garbage.”
“We’re kind of pulling the rug from under (Emterra) after good faith negotiations… I don’t think that reflects well on our organization.”
The decision to keep glass curbside wasn’t a unanimous or easy one for the CRD board. One area of contention were different numbers from MMBC during the board meeting than those provided previously by local depot provider.
“I can’t for the life of me understand why this hair-brained idea got this far,” said director Ben Isitt, a Victoria councillor.
Two-thirds of the glass going into the recycling stream could be reused, said said director Ryan Windsor, Central Saanich mayor.
“I think it’s shameful we have so much of it, two-thirds, 1,000 tons is ending up in a blue box being destroyed,” he said. “The outcome of glass recycling isn’t what most people assume it is.”
Director Mike Hicks, Juan de Fuca electorial area, noted that MMBC audit statistics show 80 per cent of glass at the curb in the region is non-deposit and 20 per cent is deposit with a quarter of that refillable material.
Windsor questioned the MMBC statistics, which many said weren’t part of the committee discussion.
Statistics provided by MMBC for the CRD were “drastically different” than the bottle depot numbers presented to the CRD earlier, staff said.
“We have two wildly different sets of facts,” Windsor said. “I have a huge problem with that.”
Metchosin Mayor John Ranns agreed. “We have received a considerable amount of information that is not being presented today.”
“It’s not going to change … people find it convenient to toss it in there. We had letters from a number of breweries imploring us to find a way to get people to reuse these bottles,” Ranns added. “Sticking with the status quo will not get us there.”
There is room for change in 2019 when the existing contract expires, said director David Screech, View Royal mayor.
“It’s a regressive move. we’ve spent years teaching the public to recycle,” he said. “We should be adding to the recycle program not taking away from it.”
“I don’t think you make a decision for a region like this without getting feedback from the public.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps introduced the option of adding the education portion in partnership with industry.
“It would be really worthwhile to have our staff work with industry to how that should take place. They know their business,” Helps said. “We need to do a better job as the CRD to inform our residents that there’s a difference between a pickle jar and a beer bottle.”
Director and Saanich Coun. Colin Plant’s suggestion to refer the matter back to the committee with the new numbers gained little traction.
“I’m not opposed to voting now but when I see my colleagues at any table feel they don’t have the information to make that decision … I’m fine with waiting a month to make that decision,” Plant said.
“Let’s just close the door on,” said Isitt. “All we’re doing is continuing that on and inviting another debate at this table in a month or two months’ time.”
The history of the blue box recycling program is steeped in education in its decades-long history, Jensen said after the meeting. People are accustomed to education being a part of modern day recycling.
“This has been a well-received service in Oak Bay and people have come to depend on it,” said Jensen. “We’re going to reach out to the bottlers of the region who were hoping to get more refillable bottles returned. We’ll reach out to them and look for an education program which will encourage that.”