Everyone wins when it's easy to recycle

The following letter was written by Yukon NDP Community Services Critic and Mount Lorne–Southern Lakes MLA Kevin Barr:

Everyone, individuals and businesses alike, should recycle as part of a robust, government-backed waste diversion program.

As it stands today, Whitehorse residents can either take their recycling to two drop-off points or buy curbside pick-up from a private provider. A lack of systematic community recycling services in communities also means that lots of recyclable materials continue to filter into the City of Whitehorse-run waste management facility from rural transfer stations.

The Whitehorse landfill is quickly filling up. As Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis said this week, a new landfill will cost at least $26 million – or about $1,000 for each of Whitehorse’s 26,000 residents.

Meanwhile, Whitehorse City Council is set to decide whether to adopt a public curbside pick-up program that has a start-up cost of $500,000 and $17 per household per month to run.

The City of Whitehorse has been a leader in promoting waste diversion and cleaner living habits. They deserve a lot of credit for partnering in a pan-northern Zero Waste conference earlier this year and working with existing recycling providers to find solutions to continuous funding woes.

Recycling is a collective effort. We cannot expect Yukoners to do their part when they cannot afford to get their recycling to a central processing station like Raven – for example, recycling is difficult if you can’t afford a car or a private pickup service. Kudos to the city for exploring a public curbside recycling program that would remove barriers to recycling.

Nor can we expect our processors to continue operating without guaranteed long-term revenue streams that fund the cost of bundling and shipping non-refundable materials like paper products and plastics outside of Yukon. Mayor Curtis understands this, and we appreciate his broad perspective on the issue.

Unfortunately, we can’t say the same thing about the Yukon government, which seems to be the only stakeholder missing from this important work.

The Yukon Party set a 50% territory-wide waste diversion target in their 2011 election platform. When they didn’t meet it, they refused to explain why. A lack of cooperation with the City of Whitehorse led to the unprecedented step of its council calling for the Yukon Party government’s then-community services minister’s resignation. Meanwhile, a lack of stable funding led to the closure of Raven Recycling’s public drop-off for several months, which helped many people understand the importance of recycling as a public service.

On Monday, Whitehorse City Council will have to decide whether the capital will get curbside recycling pick-up. It does come with a price tag – waste management, whether it’s garbage, compost or recycling, is not free.

For a city that is already doing good work promoting and investing in access to recycling, this is a tough decision.

The Yukon NDP caucus believes that the Yukon government should do more to support municipal waste management, and when it comes to recycling in Whitehorse that means sharing the financial cost with the city and its residents.

It also means doing more to promote and support waste diversion projects outside of Whitehorse in cooperation with Yukon’s First Nation governments and municipalities, and working with stakeholders to increase diversion in the commercial sector that generates a sizeable share of Whitehorse’s waste.

When we do our part to recycle, reuse what we can and reduce our footprint, everyone wins – and we save money to boot. I applaud the City of Whitehorse for researching a positive way to make recycling easier. Know this: the Yukon NDP caucus has, and will continue to support you in your hard work to make our capital greener and more sustainable.


Photo: homard / flickr.