Big changes are coming to how Abbotsford residents dispose of their garbage and recycling. And the return of glass recycling and the introduction of big-item curbside pickup is only the start of changes to how the city will manage the disposal of waste for 150,000 residents.
Council gave the thumbs up last week to a wide-ranging new plan for waste collection and disposal, despite reservations from several councillors about the potential for cost overruns.
It will see the introduction of new waste containers for each household. They will enable fully automated collection by waste-truck operators, instead of forcing workers to lift bags and cans by hand. The city expects that to save money and reduce worker injuries. Recycling will be picked up every second week, not every week as is currently the case.
The city will also stick with the current mixed private-public model, wherein a private contractor picks up waste in the east of Abbotsford while city workers do the same in the west. Sticking with that model will see the city buy six new compressed natural- gas-fueled collection trucks, and retrofit its vehicle maintenance facility. It’s those costs that prompted several councillors to express concerns about the risk of increasing costs of the proposal.
The city will also seek interest from other potential managers of the Abbotsford Mission Recycling Depot (AMRD), which has been run for more than two decades by Archway Community Services (formerly known as Abbotsford Community Services). The city’s costs towards the AMRD’s operation have nearly tripled over the last seven years due to a variety of causes. But in evaluating bids, the city will still consider the social benefits from a non-profit operator like Archway, which employs people at the site who might have trouble finding a job elsewhere.
The new plan will also allow every Abbotsford household to have one big item picked up curbside each year. And curbside glass collection will also be resurrected – although plastic film recycling is not coming back.
A consultant found that moving from the present system to every-second-week recycling collection and the use of automated containers would save the city around $300,000. Some of the savings come from an expected reduction in worker injuries.
Every household will get three city-owned containers: one each for trash, recycling, and compostables. The compostable containers, staff said last Monday, would fit multiple yard-waste bags, although the exact size isn’t yet known. And although recycling would transition from once per week to every second week, the consultant said the large blue carts would “easily accommodate” 14 days of recyclables.
CNG-fueled vehicles will be outfitted with hydraulic lifting equipment. The worker won’t have to leave the truck. Instead, he or she will use a joystick to maneuver lifting arms to lift and tip the special containers. Each vehicle will require only one employee. A consultant’s study suggests that the cost savings will come, in part, by cutting three jobs. However, the city already spends about $300,000 a year on replacement contractors to fill in for employees absent due to injuries or other costs.
The use of fully automated container collection is discouraged by Recycle BC, which accepts recycled material from Abbotsford and other municipalities around the province. Such systems have a higher potential for contamination, the consultant’s report notes.
But it says strategies can be developed to manage that contamination, and automated systems are in place in several other B.C. communities.
The city is keeping its private/public service model, even though a consultant’s report found contracting out all services would be cheaper, less financially risky, and simpler. But retaining the current system – which splits the city roughly in half, with city workers collecting garbage from half of homes – is better for workers, the consultants found.
The six new CNG-fueled trucks will be purchased by the city for an estimated cost of around $375,000, after a rebate is factored in. Retrofitting a maintenance facility to accommodate the trucks is estimated to cost $1 million.
The contractor will use the same types of automated, CNG-fueled trucks.
The suggestion that the city should remain in the trash collection business prompted some concern from several councillors, and the first vote in opposition to a master plan since the city began its Plan200k process several years ago.
“I have agonized over this,” Coun. Ross Siemens said last Monday. “I have a fundamental challenge with government being in competition with the private sector, and I know the private sector can do this.”
Siemens said he is also worried about the city encountering unexpected costs. He told The News that he has specific concerns about the cost to buy the CNG trucks and build the fueling infrastructure for them.
Siemens was the only councillor to cast a dissenting vote, and he clarified that he supports the rest of the master plan. (Coun. Les Barkman recused himself from the discussion because of family ties to an employee that could be affected by changes.)
Couns. Brenda Falk and Sandy Blue, who are also both members of the Abbotsford First slate alongside Siemens, also each expressed reservations, but voted for the master plan.
“I will reluctantly support this,” Falk said.
Coun. Dave Loewen disagreed with the notion that there was something bad about competition between the city and private businesses.
“As pointed out in the report, it provides for healthy competition between the city and the contract collector and this competition … I think it is in the best interest of the city in the long term. It’s worked well so far.”
Mayor Henry Braun said he understood the concerns but would support the plan.
“I am also of the view that the hybrid model, for where we are right now, is the best way to go,” he said. “There are some unintended consequences that could arise. I don’t know what they’d be. That’s why they’re unintended, because we don’t know them yet.”
He added: “I’m also hopeful that all the numbers will line up … I’m confident in staff.”
The new plan leaves open the future of Archway’s involvement in the future of the Abbotsford Mission Recycling Depot.
The depot was built in 1989, and is co-owned by Abbotsford and Mission. Archway has been involved in its operation from its inception, and has operated a recycling program dating back to the early 1970s. That program began as a way to employ people who had traditionally found it hard to get a job.
But over the last seven months, the city’s bills to operate the facility have risen from $465,000 to $1.35 million.
Those costs depend, in part, on global markets for recycled material. Across North America, recycling programs have run into trouble recently with finding places to send their material. In some places, the economics have forced the closure of some recycling programs.
A consultant evaluated whether the AMRD should continue as a “pre-conditioning” recycling facility, or be turned into a simple transfer station or dropoff site. In the end, though, the new master plan left the future of the site open.
The city will issue a “request for expression of interest” to evaluate what options exist for the future of the facility. Archway will be able to submit its own proposal.
When it comes to evaluate potential operators, the city and council will be able to factor in both the cost and the social benefits from the proposal, staff told council.
In a statement sent to The News, Archway executive director Rod Santiago said:
“We will continue working with the City of Abbotsford and the District of Mission on the best way forward. We have been proud to provide recycling services to the residents of Abbotsford and Mission for the past 25 years. We are committed to diverting usable materials from landfills while also creating meaningful work opportunities for our staff, a number of whom have barriers to traditional employment.”
Glass and big items
The city stopped picking up glass when it entered the Recycle BC program in 2017. That program kicks in $1 million to the city, but residents have protested about the burden of having to drop glass off at a designated depot.
The consultant’s report estimates that hiring a contractor to pick up glass once a month would cost the city $317,000. That cost could be financed out of the existing user fee, if other changes to waste programs save money as predicted.
The consultants found that it would cost a similar amount to pick up and dispose of large items like furniture and appliances from residents – provided they do so rarely.
The report suggested a model whereby every household in the curbside program would be able to have a single large item picked up during the year. The resident would have to call ahead to schedule a pick-up.
The city will issue a request for proposals for both services, and final approval of each will likely depend on the costs and impact to user fees.
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