May 23, 2018 4:41 pm
Updated: May 24, 2018 8:26 am

Ottawa councillor’s motion provokes criticism of city’s approach to waste

Ottawa city councillors debated a motion about reducing single-use plastics, like bags, straws and takeout containers, during council's meeting on Wednesday morning.

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An Ottawa city councillor’s motion about reducing single-use plastics caused a bit of a stir during Wednesday’s council meeting, prompting one councillor to allege that council is losing focus when it comes to the city’s garbage, recycling and composting programs.

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Up for discussion was a motion put forward by Coun. David Chernushenko, which called on city staff to contribute to a consultation on plastic waste recently launched by the federal government. The motion also tasked staff with studying best practices which other municipalities have already adopted to reduce the use of single-use plastics, like straws, cutlery and takeout containers.

READ MORE: City councillor wants to see Montreal ban single-use plastic water bottles in city buildings

That prompted councillors to raise a number of issues with how the city collects and diverts waste, ranging from what to do with coffee pods — which can’t be recycled in Ottawa — to banning certain items.

But Coun. Jan Harder argued that Chernushenko’s motion predominantly addresses waste produced by the industrial and commercial sectors -— which is regulated by the province — and not household and multi-residential waste, which is the focus of the city’s curbside collection programs. Harder said the city is still struggling with its current green bin composting program and suggested council prioritize improving their existing waste programs before tackling other recycling issues.

“We get carried away and quite absolutely foolish. … And we lose sight of reality,” the Barrhaven councillor said. “We have a lot of people not using [the green bin] or not using it well. The fact is that garbage is something that really matters to people and we’re not doing it well.”

Since its launch in early 2010, Ottawa’s green-bin program has been dogged by slow uptake and scathing findings that its implementation resulted in unnecessary spending of public money. The program, along with bi-weekly garbage pickup, became a major municipal election issue in 2014.

READ MORE: City to launch ‘modified’ recycling pilot at Ottawa parks for summer 2018

In late March this year, city council voted in favour of enhancing the green-bin program, starting in 2019, to allow residents to throw plastic bags and dog feces in with their organic waste. The city believes this change will help increase the diversion rate of organic waste to 63 per cent — up from 40 per cent — by 2023.

Harder argued it would make more sense for the city to first get more control over industrial, commercial and institutional garbage before getting city staff to conduct other waste-reduction studies, as suggested by Chernushenko’s motion.

“We would be well-served to petition the province to have control over the IC&I waste and then maybe then we could talk about some of this stuff. With the change in government, I think it’s the perfect time to do that,” she said, referring to the June provincial election.

READ MORE: Councillors to pursue rule forcing Ottawa festivals, events to have recycling plan

Harder added that she feels the city hasn’t moved the needle significantly on waste collection and diversion in three years and suggested councillors make control over industrial and commercial waste an election issue.

Chernushenko, who chairs the city’s environment and climate-protection committee, said after the meeting, he wouldn’t be surprised if waste issues did become a focal point during the 2018 municipal election campaign because they are “becoming a huge issue globally.”

City staff reviewing Ottawa’s waste strategies

City staff are currently reviewing Ottawa’s waste-management program and have said they will present a “refresh” of the strategy in a report due sometime in 2019, with consultations taking place at the beginning of the year.

General manager Kevin Wylie confirmed earlier during council that his department has no plans to broaden Ottawa’s waste-management plan to include commercial waste. Wylie said that question is not part of the city’s ongoing waste-management review and he hasn’t had any discussions with the Ontario government on the matter.

READ MORE: City of Vancouver votes to ban single-use plastic straws and styrofoam cups

Other cities in Canada, including Montreal and Vancouver, have already moved to ban some types of single-use plastics, like straws and plastic bags — which is why Chernushenko said he wants Ottawa to find out “what’s working in other cities.”

“We’re getting daily emails from people asking why we’re not doing like Montreal, why we’re not doing like Vancouver, why we haven’t banned plastics, why we haven’t banned straws, why we haven’t banned bottles,” Chernushenko told reporters following council. “We’re constantly being lobbied to do that by constituents.”

He said his motion was simply about asking city staff to “include a good, hard look at single-use plastics” in their 2019 report and offer their two cents on the topic in the federal government’s consultation.

The motion passed, with Harder and Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley dissenting.

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