By Saidia Green
Last week city council voted in favour of establishing a full curbside recycling program for our city within the next three years. Strangely, many Calgarians are in an uproar over the decision, mostly over the price tag attached to the program: $30 million to start it up, and once it’s running it’ll be $15 a month per household, or $180 a year. The $15 is actually only a $9 increase from the $6 we already pay for garbage collection. But what is more shocking than the money is the fact that the lynch mob picked up their torches and pitchforks before they bothered to look at the reasoning behind the program.
First of all, this is not a radical step being taken by the city; in fact, we are one of the only major Canadian cities not to have curbside recycling. Cities like Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver have had curbside recycling for years so it seems shocking people wouldn’t have seen this coming. Other cities’ systems aren’t that much cheaper than ours will be. Actually, Edmontonians pay the same $180 a year for the same curbside services Calgary will be getting, and yet some Calgarians think they’re being ripped off.
While some are whining about the price tag, others are complaining about how they already recycle, either at city depots or through private companies and think they’re being punished by having to pay more for the same or inferior services. While these people are busy patting themselves on the back for jumping on the bandwagon voluntarily, what they may not know is that only 15 per cent of Calgary’s residential waste is diverted through current recycling services, which is one of the lowest rates in the country. Edmonton, for example has the highest diversion rate in the country at 60 per cent, while Toronto is aiming for 100 per cent diversion in the next five years. That probably has something to do with the fact that they have zero years of life left in their landfills. With curbside recycling, our measly 15 per cent should increase to 38 per cent and the figure can only be expected to grow as more people catch on.
Besides the warm fuzzies you may get from knowing there’s less garbage in the world, there’s economic benefits to recycling as well. What do you think happens to the recycling materials after they go into the bin? It gets sold to manufacturers who use those materials to make new products. For instance, paper goes for $45 a tonne while newsprint fetches $85 a tonne. In fact, the city makes around $3 million a year just from recycling paper–and remember that’s just from the measly 15 per cent collected right now. Many cities use the money they make in recycling markets to offset the costs of their programs.
With all of this in mind, may I finally suggest that–gasp and shock!–there may be environmental benefits to curbside recycling? Recycling old materials means we don’t have to go back to nature as often to harvest resources like trees, metals and petroleum. Curbside recycling will not only save all of that waste from going to landfills it will also save 114, 500 tonnes yearly in greenhouse gas emissions. Wait–I thought we were talking about garbage–what does recycling have to do with greenhouse gases? The new curbside system will include pickup of organic waste, which makes up 41 per cent of garbage thrown away from residences and includes things like leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds and vegetable and fruit scraps. When that organic waste goes to the landfill it is buried and there is no oxygen available to the microorganisms that break down garbage. When the little guys can’t get oxygen, they need to use processes that make methane as a waste product, which is 21 times more powerful than everyone’s favourite greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. Proper composting with oxygen stops this problem and then the city can sell the end product.
If you can stand to part with a whole $9 more a month you’ll be avoiding over-harvesting of natural resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving overall quality of life by not throwing away everything that passes through our hands. With a city of nearly one million people, we can’t expect to keep using up and tossing away tonnes of resources without taking some responsibility for it. It’s disappointing to see people placing more value on a few dollars than on all of the environmental benefits that curbside recycling can offer, especially when they likely haven’t been bothered to take a look at it.