For most of us living in Saskatoon, after we throw something away that’s the last we think about it—out of sight and out of mind. The City of Saskatoon has invested heavily in making how we deal with waste simple so it isn’t necessary for most people to be thinking about on a daily basis. However, City Council and the administration have been thinking about this a lot recently and are wanting to make sure that our investments are realizing their full potential and properly serving the citizens of our city. This work falls under City Council’s strategic priority area of Environment Sustainability, led by Councillors Mairin Loewen and Sarina Gersher.
What is the problem?
Our landfill is filling up faster than anticipated. Not only is our population growing, but our waste diversion is lower than we have targeted. ‘Waste diversion’ refers to the amount of waste that goes somewhere other than the landfill—through compost or recycling, for example. By not diverting as much as we could be, we’re simply throwing away valuable resources.
Additionally, there are substantial costs associated with low diversion numbers: not only are garbage trucks having to make more trips, but the space in our landfill is in limited supply. We’re making investments to extend the life of the landfill, but ultimately we have to be sending much less waste there in the first place. The cost of building a new landfill and decommissioning our current one are estimated to be $126 million plus increased travel costs, but this is something that we can completely avoid if we take action now.
How can we solve it?
City Council has set the goal of diverting 70% of our waste from the landfill by 2023, and in 2016 we were only at 21.8%. Environmental sustainability has been identified as a strategic priority area of City Council, and work is well underway to address this.
The work to increase our diversion rates can happen in a lot of different ways: education, expanding existing programs and implementing an appropriate price on waste management. Saskatoon can learn from the successes of other municipalities that have much higher diversion rates.
What is a waste utility?
Treating waste as a utility would take the costs of waste management off property taxes—causing an estimated 4% reduction—and onto a utility bill, such as how water or electricity is dealt with. The underlying principle is that those who produce more waste and put greater strains on our landfill should have to pay more, and those who produce very little waste should pay less. By pricing the cost of waste in this way, recycling, composting and reducing waste can be incentivized to decrease the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill.
Saskatoon is not the only municipality to look at treating waste as a utility, and many municipalities across Canada and the world have already made this successful transition. It has been shown to be a successful tool to help decrease the amount of waste that people are sending to the landfill.
What is currently happening with this file?
The design of a waste utility is currently being studied by the City’s administration. Starting in 2018, there will be a series of public engagement sessions to look at the specific design of a waste utility program. There will be conversations to gather really in-depth and detailed information and concerns from a large cross-section of Saskatoon—such as seniors, people living in different areas, people of various incomes, people in different types of housing and people with differing abilities. Additionally, there will be considerations given to creating a system that works for people with accessibility concerns and for those whose ability to pay for such a utility might be an issue. City Council will hear back from these engagement projects later in 2018 to really start to see the details of what a program such as this would look like.
Although there is still much to be determined, the City’s administration has ruled out the possibility of charging by weight, due to the huge costs associated with creating such a system and the increased potential of using a neighbour’s bin.
What is the end goal?
At the end of all of this community engagement, Mayor Clark wants to have a waste management system that is easy to use, that works for people regardless of where they live and that diverts more waste from the landfill. It is important to get this right so that we don’t pass on these costs to future generations and so that we aren’t needlessly sending valuable resources into the landfill.