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Waste plan falls short


Red Deer residents got their first whiff of the city’s 2013 Waste Management Master Plan this week.

The plan’s goal is to cut the amount of waste sent to the landfill to 500 kg per capita from 812 kg per capita by 2023.

To achieve that 40 per cent reduction in waste, the city has several residential initiatives coming down the pipe: enhancing curbside recycling programs, promoting backyard composting, developing a grasscycling awareness campaign, expanding food waste and soiled paper collection, shifting to bi-weekly garbage collection and reducing how much trash residents can dump at the curb. Other initiatives are proposed to target industrial, commercial and institutional waste.

Sonnevera International Corp., the company hired to overhaul the city’s waste management system, says the 2013 Waste Management Master Plan is visionary because it tackles residential and commercial waste, which account for 30 and 63 per cent of Red Deer’s waste, respectively.

The city acknowledges that more work needs to be done on the commercial end, because it does not know how much waste material is being diverted from the sector through recycling.

Red Deer residents and business will have many opportunities to decide for themselves whether the city’s latest plan is as visionary as its boosters claim, hopelessly shortsighted or a bit of both, before the city administration brings it back to council for adoption later this year.

From a residential perspective, the 2013 plan smells all too familiar: blue bins brimming with musty old newspapers, brown bags near bursting with pungent yard waste, fresh grass clippings scattered on summer lawns.

Most of the initiatives mentioned in the plan are already in place. Is it really going to take the city 10 years to give them a tweak? Why not five?

Backyard composting and food waste collection are interesting additions, yet both depend heavily on Red Deerians’ willingness to change their behaviour, and there is no guarantee of that happening. The furor over the bike lanes pilot project suggests the city may have a tough slog ahead.

All in all, 2013 Waste Management Master Plan comes off as more of the same old same old. That’s a little disappointing considering the city launched its first Solid Waste Master Plan in 1992 with the aim to make Red Deer a recognized leader in sustainable waste management.

How are we doing 20 years later? Rather average, according to the statistics. In 2011, for example, nearly 75,000 tonnes of waste from Red Deer was disposed at the Red Deer Waste Management Facility, which equates to 812 kg per capita.

That’s below the Canadian average of 777 kg per capita but better than the provincial average of 1,122 kg per capital. Those numbers are hardly worth crowing about.

It begs the question whether reaching 500 kg per capita by 2023 will make Red Deer the leader of the pack or a merely average follower.

To the city’s credit, it has been trying to be a leader and deliver on the public expectations for progressive environmental programs and services.

For more than five years, the city entertained Plasco Energy Group’s plans to build a waste-to-energy plant in Central Alberta. The state-of-the-art plant would have used plasma technology to convert garbage into a syngas, which could be used to generate electricity.

Ultimately, the nine municipalities on the Central Waste Management Commission, including the City of Red Deer, pulled the plug on the project because they could not guarantee enough garbage to feed the massive plant. There were also too many lingering questions about the project’s viability.

The 2013 Waste Management Master Plan is no miracle plant but it is a good starting point that will challenge Red Deerians to reduce, reuse and recycle like never before.

Janet Whitesell, the city’s waste management superintendent, says the plan is aggressive. However, she acknowledges that it will only succeed if the public buys into it. And that is a big if, especially with a program like composting, which requires a fair amount of commitment.

That said, the city should not give up on finding alternatives to landfills. After all, even if the 2013 Waste Management Master Plan achieves all its goal, there will still be 500 kg of waste per capita entering the landfill.

And that still stinks no matter how the city tries to dress up the numbers.

Cameron Kennedy is an Advocate editor.

 
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