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Rethinking recycling rules

As St. Albert continues to grapple with changes to its recycling standards, what part does the commercial sector have to play in the future of waste minimization?

The city currently offers recycling and garbage services strictly to residents, while businesses pay private contractors to haul away their waste. But last week, St. Albert's Darlene Shelemey formally let the cat out of the bag: some businesses, as many may have suspected, have unofficially been hauling their recycling to the Mike Mitchell Recycling Depot.

Shelemey told the Gazette last week she was upset to discover she could no longer take recyclables from the financial company she works for to the recycling depot. She had been doing so once a week for years.

Currently, St. Albert's recycling services are paid for by residents, hence why it is technically limited to residents. But over the years there has been no way for the city to ensure residents are the only ones using the depot; in a May 27 backgrounder, city staff noted that "there are anecdotally a number of non-ratepayers using the site, such as St. Albert residents living in apartments, businesses and residents from surrounding municipalities."

The question is not whether there is a commercial demand for municipal recycling services – clearly, there is. The question that needs to be answered is, does it matter? If a business owner has taken the time to sort the recycling to ensure it is not contaminated, and goes through the effort of delivering the recyclables to the city’s depot, rather than relying on curbside pickup, isn’t the city further ahead? Furthermore, what’s to stop a St. Albert business owner from taking their recyclables home and then put them out for curbside pickup?

This isn’t a case of residents subsidizing business when it comes to recycling. In fact, the business property tax rate is nearly 40 per cent more than residential.

City staff are in the midst of studying what kind of recycling comes in to the depot and who brings it in – whether that be businesses, residents or people from other communities. While it is too early to say whether that study will lead to a greater discussion about commercial recycling services, it may make sense for the city to eventually offer these services as Edmonton and Calgary do.

Historically, St. Albert has aimed to promote residential waste diversion and recycling – a focus that has paid off with high diversion rates. In 2018, for instance, the city diverted about 60 per cent of residential waste. But looking provincially, it appears the city may have fallen behind other municipalities. Lethbridge's waste and recycling centre not only accepts commercial materials but the city also has a business waste diversion strategy in place that aims to reduce commercial and industrial waste by 45 per cent by 2030. Medicine Hat also offers commercial waste and cardboard collection.

The city's efforts to gather information on who is using the recycling depot affords it the opportunity to tackle commercial recycling. Whatever the results of that survey tell us, charging a fee to business and residents who don’t pay for curbside collection and take their recyclables to the deport should not be on the table.