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Some residents see red over changes coming to blue box program

Published on

Cathy Dobson

Vicki Reeve is concerned Sarnia’s large senior population was ignored when city council approved a new recycling contract last week.

“If our goal is to keep seniors in their homes, why would we have one day for garbage collection and a different day for recycling?” asked the retired home-care worker.

“I’ve talked to seniors who say they can’t use blue boxes. They want to continue to use clear plastic bags for recycling or they won’t do it. It’s just too hard,” Reeve said.

Sarnia’s new $7.73-million recycling contract will provide blue box collection, sorting and marketing for four years starting on July 1, 2019.

It costs about 30% more than the current contract and will bring changes that include the elimination of plastic bags for recyclables and two different days of the week for curbside garage and blue box collection.

Reeve said blue boxes are too small and their contents get wet and wind-blown into the street. They are easily buried in snow and are too awkward for many older adults to carry to and from the curb, she said.

“We need something user friendly. Plastic bags seem so much better.”

City staff are bracing for complaints about the elimination of clear plastic bags for bottles and cans, said operations manager Bryan Prouse. But it’s non-negotiable.

“No recycler takes bags anymore,” Prouse said. “They can’t be recycled and they are often too dirty and get caught in the sorting equipment.”

Likewise, small plastic grocery bags won’t be accepted for recycling when the new contract kicks in next year.

Staff is researching options for council to consider including larger carts with covers and wheels, Prouse said.

“We have to see if they are acceptable to the recycler. Blue boxes can be tiny and the frequency of collection isn’t going to change.”

Sarnia’s recyclables are currently collected by Emterra (Halton Recycling) and processed by Waste Management. Emterra was the only company that submitted a bid for all aspects of the new contract.

That troubles Reeve, and she’s not alone. When she posted a complaint on social media dozens chimed in with concerns.

“I’m not savvy about political things but I have to wonder why there was only one submission,” she said. “Can’t we send it out for bid again?”

No, council has approved Emterra’s bid, said Prouse.

“We were surprised there weren’t more bids but there’s not much we could do about it,” he said.

Staff reached out to other companies that might have bid and was told Ontario’s recycling industry is too uncertain right now, in part because China has set new rules that ban or seriously restrict foreign waste shipments.

“I really wish we had a Canadian market using recyclable plastics, because plastics are going to China right now and they have to be clean,” said Prouse.

Recycling facilities in Ontario are also running at capacity and trucking costs to Sarnia make recycling uneconomical.

Another move bound to upset residents is a change in collection routes that will mean different pick-up days for garbage and blue boxes.

“I know seniors who have their kids that come once a week now to take out the garbage,” said Reeve. “I’m afraid they just won’t bother to recycle if it will mean getting someone over on two days.”

Emterra has said pickup days could be harmonized if the city pays an extra $65,000 a year. That might be up for discussion, said Prouse.

“We’re doing our best to avoid separate collection days. It will be a bit of a nightmare if we have to educate people on that. It’s definitely not the best.”

One option already in place for Sarnians with physical challenges is Special Collection Consideration. If a resident registers at City Hall with a doctor’s note he or she can place recyclables in clear plastic bags and have them collected on the doorstep.

About 20 people currently have Special Collection Consideration, Prouse said.

For all its shortcomings, the contract does have some benefits, he added.

Shredded paper can be put out for recycling in clear plastic bags, and disposable coffee cups and coffee pods will be accepted for the first time.

A public education campaign will occur before the new contract kicks in, Prouse said.

“It’s going to take some time for people to adapt. Change takes time.”


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