CBRM Council: Solid Waste

Tuesday morning’s special session of council was dedicated to environmental issues of all descriptions and included a presentation by CBRM Solid Waste Manager Francis Campbell.

Campbell’s presentation touched on three issues: Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging and Printed Paper (EPR for PPP), the Trashformers program and illegal dumping. Let’s take it from the top.

 

EPR for PPP

EPR is a form of product stewardship that, in the case of PPP, will put the onus on producers to oversee the final disposition of much of the material found in the CBRM’s paper and fiber blue bags.

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) began encouraging Canadian provinces to adopt EPR for PPP in 2008, and some Canadian provinces — according to Campbell, all those west of Quebec with the exception of Alberta — have. Together, he said, they account for about 82% of the Canadian population. This figure is important, as Campbell pointed out, because consumers in Nova Scotia are already paying the costs of EPR for PPP, which produces have incorporated into their prices to account for EPR in other provinces.

That’s a point illustrated in this chart from a report on EPR by the Nova Scotia solid waste-resource management regional chairs committee:

Over two years ago, in June 2019, the regional chairs committee presented a proposal for EPR for PPP to then-Environment Minister Gordon Wilson. The Liberal government to which Wilson belonged sat on the proposal, but as Campbell explained to council yesterday, EPR legislation was introduced in the legislature this session by a private member. Campbell didn’t name him, but it’s Keith Irving, another former Liberal Environment Minister, and MLA for Kings South. Bill 25 had its first reading on October 19 and Campbell said they have their “fingers crossed” that it will “make it through the House.”

That’s because the costs associated with disposing of PPP now fall squarely on the municipality — and they’ve been growing, from $5 million a year a decade ago to $15 million today. Campbell said markets for recyclables go up and down but have mostly gone down, to the point where “historically, over the past 10 years,” CBRM has been paying for, rather than making money on, recycling.

At the end of Tuesday’s presentation and discussion, District 4 Councilor Steve Gillespie moved that council write to the provincial government in support of Irving’s private member bill on EPR and the motion passed unanimously.

If you’d care to learn more about EPR for PPP, you’re in luck, because I have written about it at length both here and here.

 

2016 Trashformer Team CBRM

2016 Transformer Team, CBRM

Trashformers

Trashformers is a program, co-funded by the municipality and ACAP, that sees young people picking up trash around the CBRM. Campbell says it began 11 years ago and runs from late May to August each year.

In addition to cleaning up the community, Campbell says the Trashformers serve an important educational purpose — people tend to notice them in their day-glo vests and approach to ask them what they’re doing, giving them the chance to, literally, talk trash.

Campbell said that in addition to the Trashformers program, his department helps community groups undertaking their own clean-ups, providing bags and gloves and picking up whatever has been collected when they’re done.

 

Illegal Dumping

Since 2018, CBRM has had a police constable working out of its Solid Waste Department with the power to issue summary offense tickets to people caught dumping trash illegally.

The associated fine, at $697, is not “cheap” and is, in fact, the highest fine of its type in the province.

Campbell sounded honestly exasperated explaining why they’d had to resort to fines to try to curb illegal dumping, which continues to be a big problem in CBRM, where they receive 200 complaints a year:

We’ve done so much education…other than beating people over the head with it…Come on — why illegal dump? It’s low cost at the landfill. What else can we tell them?

He said 45 charges have been laid since 2018. One case was thrown out of court because of “time delays” but the other charges seem to have stuck. In answer to a question from a councilor, Campbell said none of the 45 tickets represented a repeat offender.

Campbell said people who don’t pay their fines are unable to renew their driver’s license or vehicle registration at Access Nova Scotia.

Woodsy OwlDeputy Mayor Earlene MacMullin brought up the question of littering, which Campbell said was an issue “everywhere,” not just in CBRM and a difficult one to deal with. He said businesses are responsible for the making sure their areas — lawns and parking lots — are clean, and his department will go in and ensure they’re doing so, but dealing with individual litterers is “a hard one.”

He also said there’s a provincial study underway “to find out what sort of material we’re finding when we do cleanups.” (I am conducting a similar study, on a much smaller scale, and based on what turns up on my front lawn I’d say fast food wrappers and beer cans.)

There was talk of fining and shaming litterers which got me to thinking about why I don’t litter, and I really think it comes down to the anti-littering campaigns of my youth. This sent me searching for information about such campaigns, which led me to this Mother Jones article by Bradford Plumer which recounted the (new to me) history of such campaigns:

In 1953, the packaging industry—led by American Can Company and Owens-Illinois Glass Company, inventors of the one-way can and bottle, respectively—joined up with other industry leaders, including Coca-Cola and the Dixie Cup Company to form Keep America Beautiful (KAB), which still exists today. KAB was well-funded and started a massive media campaign to rail against bad environmental habits on the part of individuals rather than businesses. And that meant cracking down on litter. Within the first few years, KAB had statewide antilitter campaigns planned or running in thirty-two states.

In essence, Keep America Beautiful managed to shift the entire debate about America’s garbage problem. No longer was the focus on regulating production—for instance, requring can and bottle makers to use refillable containers, which are vastly less profitable. Instead, the “litterbug” became the real villain, and KAB supported fines and jail time for people who carelessly tossed out their trash, despite the fact that, clearly, “littering” is a relatively tiny part of the garbage problem in this country (not to mention the resource damage and pollution that comes with manufacturing ever more junk in the first place). Environmental groups that worked with KAB early on didn’t realize what was happening until years later.

Which is fascinating in the context of yesterday’s meeting because EPR for PPP might actually have the effect of encouraging manufacturers — who will be responsible for dealing with “the final disposition” of their products — to produce less wasteful products.

Refillable bottles, anyone?