Saint John council puts weight behind new recycling system

The majority of Saint John city councillors appear to be in favour of a pilot project that could change how the city deals with its trash. 

The project will introduces curbside recycling to 1,000 households and provide 48-gallon bins for their trash, so bags are not sitting on the sidewalk.

If residents have more bags than the bin will hold, they'll have to pay $2 per extra bag for special tags. Otherwise extras won't be picked up. 

Coun. Ray Strowbridge was the only one present who voted not to accept a report by city staff Monday night at the regular council meeting.

Council will have to approve the next step in the process in order for the pilot project to move ahead. If it is approved, the project could start early next year.

Coun. Gary Sullivan said he's concerned about people not understanding how the program works, but he's in favour of it.

"This change is going to be hard for a lot of people," said Coun. Gary Sullivan. "But it is so critical for us to do this right … We need to make sure that our communication plan and our education plan and our support plan, as this rolls out, is at the forefront."

'Big savings'

Strowbridge said he's not going to support what he sees as a tax on trash.

"We pay our property taxes, there are certain things that are included," he said. "Everybody produces garbage. It's not like we're going into an arena where you're just paying to use it if you want to." 

City staff member Jeff Hussey, who presented the report, said that on average Saint John residents produce 2.64 bags of trash a week. The bins, according to his research, would fit two bags. So he expects the average household would be paying an extra $2 a month on tags, if people don't reduce their landfill waste by recycling more.

Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC

"If everybody puts their effort into diversion then we save on those tipping fees," Hussey, the deputy commissioner of transportation and environment services, said in an interview. "So that's a big savings to the budget.

"If people decide not to partake in these programs, then the alternative is the bag tax, and then we'll make the revenue that way to help support the service."

Illegal dumping

Some councillors said they're concerned the new program will encourage more illegal dumping of trash. But Hussey said that's not a reason to stray from a new system.

"We've got to put our faith in our citizens," he said. "I firmly believe that people that are illegal dumping today will still continue to illegal dump, so it's still an issue already. I think people that are not illegal dumping today won't start taking up illegal dumping."

Hussey said the exact neighbourhoods for the pilot project, which will run for two or three months, haven't been identified. He expects the pilot program to take place in suburban and rural areas.

Coun. John MacKenzie said the city has no option but to implement the plan to increase the rate of recycling. 

Between 15 and 20 per cent of Saint John residents currently recycle, but the city doesn't offer curbside pickup. Residents who recycle are required to drop off plastic, cardboard and other material at various blue-bin depots around the city.

"The climate change that we're seeing right now, we have to take every opportunity we can to make things better," MacKenzie said. "I know an awful lot of people that go to the blue bins, but I know a lot of people that just can't get there."

The city pays $1.3 million in tipping fees every year.

Hussey told council he expects the pilot project to cost $192,750. Full implementation for the 23,163 households in the city would cost around $2.2 million. That includes the cost of buying bins and recycling totes for everyone, he said.

However, he told council he expects the city to get $556,000 a year in revenue from bag-tag sales.

That revenue, plus savings in tipping fees, would save the city around $750,000.