City asks for more info on $1.6-million organic compost pickup program

Herald file photo.

Plans to introduce a $1.6-million organic compost pickup program received a modest boost from city council after a pair of close votes on Monday.

Council approved two motions, both by 5-4 margins, that will have administration provide a thorough financial breakdown of the program, while also looking at other ways to extend the landfill’s remaining lifespan.

The goal of the program is to divert excessive food waste, which makes up roughly 35 per cent of all waste sent to the landfill. However, city administrators say that even if 100 per cent of food waste gets diverted, the landfill will still need to be expanded by 2022. The two remaining open cells are already 80 per cent full, and filling at around 10 per cent a year.

Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha was the program’s most enthusiastic supporter. He said that if the program can divert even half of the organic waste into a compost pile, then it’s worth taking a closer look.

“I think it’s something that we need to explore to see what those options look like, because ultimately, whatever garbage goes to the landfill … that garbage stays at the landfill,” Botha said during Monday’s meeting. “It doesn’t disintegrate as quickly as we’re led to believe. It just sits there, and we’re going to have to spend more money on landfills in the future.”

Engineering operations manager Mohammad Kraishan brought the program proposal forward following meetings with representatives from nine Prince Albert grocery stores, two members of the Prince Albert Food Coalition and two more representatives of Loop Resource.

Kraishan said most retail grocers already have a plan to divert unused food that’s still edible, usually by giving it away to the Prince Albert Food Bank. Only one Prince Albert grocery store is involved in the Loop Resource Food Reclamation Program, which takes food waste and diverts it to local farms for compost. However, the program drew plenty of interest from the other eight stores.

Kraishan acknowledged that the $1.6-million capital costs and $570,000 in annual operating expenses represented a substantial investment. The capital costs would cover a compost turner at the landfill, containers, collection trucks and other necessities. He also said a new report could provide a more detailed and accurate budget assessment.

Incineration could be another solution to the city’s organic waste problem. Public Works Director Wes Hicks said cities cut down on burning waste because of air pollution concerns. However, he said technological advances have made the practice safer, pointing to Halifax and Burnaby as cities that had recently adopted the practice.

“The costs might be lower for operations, but we have to be able to get past the capital costs, which might be very large,” Hicks told council.

Council split on next step at landfill

“Agree in principle” was the most common phrase used during Monday’s nearly 40-minute debate on the subject.

While few councillors were as keen on the idea as Botha, many agreed that something needed to be done to free up space. They argued that the compost pickup program deserved a closer look.

“At least let’s investigate,” Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick said. “Let’s look at it, and if we can afford it, as with anything in this city, let’s do it. If we can’t afford it and there isn’t a will to go forward, then say, ‘no, we can’t,’ but I don’t think we should just kill the idea right now. I think we need to research it and figure out if we can do it.”

“In principle, it has some merit,” Ward 7 Coun. Dennis Nowoselsky added. “I’d like to see some more information from some of the other cities that got it working, one being Calgary.”

However, the four councillors to vote against the proposal weren’t convinced organic waste is the problem.

Mayor Greg Dionne was the most vocal critic. He argued that the City of Prince Albert should raise dumping fees for items coming from cabins and resort communities if it wanted to preserve space.

“We were supposed to be a regional (landfill) and that never came to fruition, yet we’re still taking all that stuff,” he said during the meeting. “Granted, we charge two to three times the rate, but we should be charging 10 times the rate. If they can afford to haul all that stuff from Christopher, Candle or Emma Lake, they can afford (increased fees).”

The $1.6-million price tag was also a non-starter. Dionne said Prince Albert residents couldn’t afford to have another pickup fee added to their utility bill, regardless of whether it was now or two years down the road.

“I certainly won’t be supporting it now (and) I’m not going to support it in 2020,” he said. “I’m not going to increase costs and have another dump.”