The City of New Westminster isn’t backing down from its plan to close the recycling depot but acknowledges it didn’t adequately engage with citizens about its plans and needs to consider ways to meet the community’s recycling needs.
With the New Westminster recycling depot set to close next month, council has directed staff to undertake community engagement to determine community waste-reduction and recycling needs while recycling depot drop-off services are transitioned to a new regional facility. The city is launching an engagement process that will include holding two open houses, doing surveys at the recycling depot and conducting online polls to get feedback on barriers and gaps to recycling, suggestions about ways to help address barriers and ideas for waste reduction.
At Monday’s council meeting, 19 residents provided council with their thoughts on the plan to close the local recycling depot.
James Silvester said the facility has been such a success in terms of the items collected that it should not only be retained or relocated to a nearby location, but a second depot should be opened in the West End.
“This is a success story,” he said. “I find it difficult when we use language like ‘climate emergency’ and then at the same time we are making it more difficult for people to access these facilities.”
Tatiana Robinson, who has no car and walks to the depot every two weeks, expressed concern about the impact the depot closure would have on residents who don’t have vehicles.
“According to the rendering that I saw of the new facility, there didn’t appear to be any sidewalk. Correct me if I am wrong, but I didn’t see any pedestrian access whatsoever,” she said. “Does this mean that we are going to have to operate a car in order to recycle in our community? If so, that does seem somewhat ludicrous.”
Daniel Fontaine presented council with the Don’t Let New West City Hall Put Our Recycling Depot in the Trash! online and print petition, which was signed by more than 1,400 people.
But not everyone objects to the city’s plan to close the local depot and partner with the Tri-Cities on a regional facility on United Boulevard.
Jane Armstrong is a local resident who took part in the Zero Waste Challenge in 2010, which aimed to reduce household waste and divert as much waste from the landfill as possible. Ten years later, she said it’s clear New West residents love to recycle and it’s easy to do.
“As I was thinking this through, I thought this very inconvenience is a great opportunity to motivate us to take us to the next level of waste reduction,” said Armstrong, adding the best way to deal with recycling is not to produce it in the first place.
“The recycling stream isn’t ideal in the first place,” she said. “We honestly don’t know where it is going.”
While she’s a regular user of the recycling depot, Cheryl Lewis said she supports the city’s plan because the majority of items collected at depot can be collected curbside, eliminated or taken to other locations. Given the city’s efforts to fight climate change and the costs that will come with those initiatives, she doesn’t think recycling should be a priority compared to other initiatives.
“When recycling started in the ‘70s, it had pretty high-value products. There was newspapers, aluminum cans, cardboard. Over time recycling has shifted. Now we have a lot of plastics in the recycling streams that have, you could argue, no value,” she said. “In fact it is my understanding the city sometimes has to pay for the plastics to be collected because nobody really wants them. It is my understanding municipalities are having to subsidize their recycling programs more now than they did a decade ago.”
The city is planning two open houses to get residents’ input about recycling and waste reduction: Tuesday, Feb. 4 from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Queen’s Park Arena lobby; and Thursday, Feb. 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Queensborough Community Centre. Officials will also be at the recycling depot on Saturday, Feb. 1 and Sunday, Feb. 9 to hear from residents.
Mayor Jonathan Cote said council has acknowledged it didn’t focus on the recycling depot while planning for redevelopment of the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre site.
“We didn’t engage and include the community in that conversation. We fully acknowledge that was a shortcoming,” he said. “No doubt, the priority of that site is making sure we are able to build the best possible aquatic and community centre – that is the focus of that site, the main use of that site. Getting that project right is absolutely crucial.”
While the city “did miss an opportunity and did not bring the community along in that conversation,” Cote said the city now has an opportunity to get input from citizens on the future of recycling in New West and to have a broader conversation about recycling and its links to climate change.
“We heard a lot of passion in the community, a lot of passion for recycling, a lot of passion for the environmental movement. That’s actually a positive for the City of New Westminster,” he said. “Now, how do we take suggestions and further mitigate that beyond what’s been proposed so far? On paper, yeah, a shared facility with the Tri-Cities near the border of New Westminster sounds like an adequate solution, but I think we have heard from the community that they are looking for more convenient options than just that.”