Sask. RMs criticize provincial waste strategy

Gov’t says plan will help reduce waste in landfills, but rural communities say funding and education are also needed

Saskatchewan rural municipalities and small and remote communities need more from the province than just a solid waste management strategy, say representatives from those areas.

Funding and education are critical to waste reduction, especially where services such as recycling and reusing are sparse.

“We think the government isn’t really listening to us,” said Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities president Ray Orb.

The province released its strategy in late January. Environment Minister Dustin Duncan said it will help communities, industry and families reduce the amount of waste in landfills.

Saskatchewan residents produce the second-highest amount of waste per person in the country. According to 2014 statistics, each person generates 842 kilograms, or about 60 regular household bags of garbage, annually.

“Discarding waste in a landfill should always be your last resort,” the strategy says. “Waste that is not diverted from a landfill potentially leads to greater risk of water pollution, soil contamination, greenhouse gas emissions and human health impacts.”

But, it acknowledges that there has to be infrastructure to handle waste that can’t be reused or recycled.

The strategy says regional collaboration, education and modern regulations, including a certification course for landfill operators, are part of the plan. Work to fill out the strategy’s aims will take place over the next couple of years.

Mike Strachan, vice-president of villages, resort villages and northern municipalities for the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association, said the strategy’s goals are worthy but success is another thing.

“The one thing we need to see is a co-ordinated plan on how to do it,” he said. “When environment rolls out plans, they like to roll out regulations and ways of doing things but they don’t seem to send any money for small communities.”

Orb said rural municipalities and smaller centres need money to decommission older landfills and help them move to other services, such as household garbage bins along driveways or centralized pick-up locations.

Consistent enforcement of landfill standards is also a concern, he said.

“We’re up against it because some of them are not compliant,” he said.

Saskatchewan had 500 operating landfills in 2015 but is now down to 186 municipal landfills and 17 private or industrial sites.

Regional landfills are becoming more common, as are transfer stations. There are now 207 transfer sites where material is temporarily stored for further transport to either a recycling centre or landfill.

“We know that for communities, large and small, dealing with the cost of landfills, and maintaining their landfills and in some cases closing their landfills can be pretty significant,” Duncan told reporters.

The province has done a good job in some areas of waste reduction and diversion, such as the establishment of recycling programs for grain bags and electronics, he noted.

“We do need to make improvements,” Duncan said.

He expects to partner with SARM, SUMA and the federal government to access money to implement projects and innovative solutions.

For example, organic material should be diverted from landfills, but the material that is decomposing in landfills produces methane that could be captured to produce energy.

“One of our challenges will be is that you need a certain amount of volume to do that,” the minister said.

He also pointed to the potential of an incinerator pilot project set up at Fox Valley, Sask., which may offer a way to handle waste. That project is still in the testing phase.

Duncan said there are trade-offs. Putting waste or recyclables on trucks and driving them great distances burns fuel and creates greenhouse gas emissions. Each community has to identify what is best, he said.

For Orb and Strachan, the key factor is cost.

“In small communities, it’s just not feasible to have some of those options,” said Strachan, who is mayor of Torquay. “Even for recycling it’s a tough sell in my community because it costs so much.”

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan plans to host the country’s environment ministers later this year and Duncan said waste reduction and recycling will be on the meeting agenda.

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