Abbotsford compost program continues to divert waste from landfills

But new provincial recycling program could impact the city's current system

The new provincial producer-pay plan run through Multi-Material B.C. (MMBC) could have an impact on Abbotsford’s current recycling and compost system.

The new provincial producer-pay plan run through Multi-Material B.C. (MMBC) could have an impact on Abbotsford’s current recycling and compost system.

The amount of waste diverted from landfills in Abbotsford has continued to increase in the six months since the implementation of curbside compost pick-up.

The city began the new program of collecting organic waste on Jan. 1, 2013. At that time, garbage collection was reduced to bi-weekly, while recycling pick-up remained weekly.

According to the city’s most recent garbage audit, completed in July, the percentage of diverted waste has increased each month since the program began.

In January, 58 per cent of waste was diverted from landfills, and by May and June, 72 per cent was diverted in each month. The first six months of 2013 had an average diversion rate of 67 per cent, as compared to 46 per cent in the first six months of 2012 – equaling about 2,700 more tons of garbage diverted in this year than in the same period last year.

The city predicted in April that the program would save about $316,000 compared to last year. That estimate has been lowered to $87,780 in savings. A report from city staff states that the lowered savings projection is due to higher than expected amounts of waste, compost and recycling, which results in additional collection and disposal costs – including the new free yard waste drop-off program run by the city.

The audit is conducted by Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) and city staff. After randomly selecting 277 homes in July, staff assessed the contents of materials collected and categorized it as garbage, recyclables or compostables in order to assess the program’s effectiveness.

There continues to be disparity between the composting habits of rural and urban homes – 41 per cent of rural homes and 78 per cent of urban homes placing compost out for collection. Staff may consider reducing the frequency of compost collection in west Abbotsford after consulting with residents.

But the new provincial producer-pay plan run through Multi-Material B.C. (MMBC) – an industry stewardship group made up of major retailers and producers which is set to take responsibility for collecting and recycling packaging by next May – could have an impact on Abbotsford’s system.

Mayor Bruce Banman said that while Abbotsford is making steps towards high diversion rates, the new program “could technically take us backwards.”

MMBC has offered cities three options for the new program, the first being for cities to continue providing their current service with financial compensation from MMBC. However, it is currently unclear whether the compensation would be adequate to cover program costs. The recycling would also have to meet MMBC’s standards – ending curbside collection of recyclables like glass, film plastic and beverage containers, a service Abbotsford currently offers.

The city could allow MMBC to contract out recycling pick-up as it sees fit, but mayors across B.C. fear that may reduce service levels, which cities would have no control over.

The third option would allow Abbotsford to opt out of the MMBC program entirely, but consumers would effectively pay for recycling packaging and printed materials twice – first, in the cost of the product, which wouldn’t be transparent to the consumer, and again for the city’s recycling program.

“Many of the cities and municipalities are not enthralled with this new program at all,” said Banman.

Banman said Abbotsford is “ahead of the curve” on its compost and recycling program, as many communities do not yet provide curbside pick-up for compost. He said Abbotsford also uses blue bag recycling instead of blue boxes, which saves paper products from getting soggy and allows the city to get a higher price for recyclables.

The issue was raised by many communities at last week’s meeting of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) at which Banman was present. He said mayors from across B.C. raised concerns about MMBC’s plan, and delegates unanimously passed a resolution demanding an extra 90 days to negotiate acceptable terms.