Alberta municipalities are upset they are facing larger bills for the disposal of hazardous waste like bleach, paint and antifreeze after the province ended subsidies and made changes to a program that helped mitigate the cost.
The changes came into effect on June 1 when the provincially-owned Swan Hills Treatment Centre stopped taking hazardous household waste.
Swan Hills stopped accepting the material after the province contracted plant operations to private waste management company SUEZ.
"The Swan Hills Treatment Centre … is designed to treat high concentration polychlorinated biphenyls (HCPCBs), and is inefficient and expensive to operate when treating other materials like hazardous household waste," said Paul Hamnett, press secretary to Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon.
"The cost to the province to operate the centre has continually increased to approximately $30 million per year."
Municipalities always covered some of the cost of collecting hazardous household waste. But much of the cost was off-set by the provincial government.
Alberta Infrastructure subsidized the program by waiving disposal costs at Swan Hills. The government estimates these fees were $3.7 million over two years.
Environment and Parks helped with collection, transportation and disposal.. The Alberta Recycling Management Association (ARMA) was given $1.4 million each year to assist with the collection and transportation of waste from municipalities.. Alberta Environment and Parks gave Swan Hills another $480,000 to help with disposal. .
Participating municipalities say they are now stuck with extra costs, estimated at $2 million a year, until the new extended producer responsibility (EPR) program comes into effect two to three years from now.
The Alberta Recycling Management Authority (ARMA) is working with municipalities to find new places to send their hazardous waste.
Christina Seidel, executive director of the Alberta Recycling Council, said municipalities were caught off guard by changes to the program. They now have to choose between making room in their budgets to keep collecting hazardous waste or to discontinue it, which could see hazardous materials in people's household trash.
"If it just ends up going into regular landfill, how does that affect things like groundwater?" Seidel asked. "How does that impact the actual waste management system? Because that material does not belong in a regular landfill."
The province expects to enact new regulations for EPR in the spring of 2022 with a full roll-out within 18 to 24 months.
Tammy Burke, mayor of Rocky Mountain House, said her municipality will continue with collections but is frustrated by the decision.
"It's just another download on our municipality," she said. "We don't want household hazardous waste to end up in our landfill."
Seidel and Burke, who is a director of the Recycling Council of Alberta, are calling on the government to continue funding the extra costs until producers are made to take responsibility for their products.
"We're not talking a huge amount of money," Seidel said. "We would love to see some sort of interim funding that actually helps municipalities through this period before EPR comes in. That, I think, is the ideal solution."
Ed Gugenheimer, the CEO of ARMA, said the closure of the Swan Hills site meant his organization had to scramble to find new accredited facilities that would take hazardous waste and dispose of it properly, he said.
ARMA is in talks with Alberta Environment about accessing the funding it used to provide to Swan Hills. He said municipalities will take on a bigger portion of the shared costs in the interim.
"With Swan Hills being shut down or not accepting that material anymore, that portion of whatever those costs are going to be borne probably by many municipalities at this time," he said.
Gugenheimer said officials with Alberta Environment have been forthcoming in working with him on the issue.