Solving Calgary’s landfill problem

The Shepard Landfill has seen some significant service changes over the last year. The latest changes would see Shepard Landfill close to all traffic except for industrial waste customers and the Green Cart fleet on a four day a week schedule.

I’ll start this commentary off by stating that I am not supportive of these changes, although I understand why they are being made. Waste and Recycling is a self-funded business unit. That means that the operating budget is paid for through the rates and fees associated with collection and dumping. Over the last number of years, we have seen some significant revenue issues within Waste and Recycling that have forced Administration to look at a number of cost savings measures.

Why are we having revenue issues? One of the biggest culprits is our waste diversion programs. Residential composting and recycling programs are a great thing for our city. Waste diversion is part of building a more sustainable city and it also saves costs in the long run by extending the life cycle of our landfills. But it ultimately isn’t good for the garbage business.

We have also seen increases to our tipping fees over the last number of years. Higher tipping fees were intended to address some budgetary issues, but also to provide a greater incentive to make use of our waste diversion programs. There would be less cost to customers who had sorted out their garbage for recyclables or compostable materials. While I understand the strategy, it has ultimately made us less competitive in the garbage market. Customers are going to landfills outside of Calgary’s borders that have cheaper fees and unfortunately less stringent waste diversion programs.

So where do we go from here? We shouldn’t be walking away from our waste diversion programs, but we still need to find a way to maintain an appropriate level of service. Last week I joined Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge to discuss in more detail –

Calgary has three public landfills that are owned and operated by The City. That makes Calgary an outlier when you consider other jurisdictions. Take Saskatoon as an example. Saskatoon has one city owned and operated landfill as well as one privately owned and operated landfill. Edmonton also has one city owned and operated landfill as well as numerous privately owned and operated facilities.

Is it time that Calgary considers divesting itself of an asset? It is becoming clear that it is hard to make a business case for us to continue running three public landfills. Why not explore selling off an asset to the private sector? Service levels may actually increase while cost to The City decrease. We need to be prepared to ask ourselves – is this a market where The City should be competing with the private sector?

Another idea I’m keen on exploring is waste transfer stations. These are a common fixture in rural areas, but why couldn’t we look at something similar in Calgary? We could set up a number of small scale facilities for residential customers to drop off garbage. The transfer station could have a set fee for dumping. I suspect these stations could maintain a level of service at a fairly low cost.

We need to solve this issue. We are still seeing tremendous amounts of construction in Ward 12 with a lot of materials that need to get into the landfill. I fear that further restrictions on our service levels will result in higher levels of illegal dumping in our neighbourhoods. We need to factor in those costs to our business decisions. I will be continuing this conversation here at City Hall, and I welcome your feedback on how we can find ways to reduce costs and increase service levels for Calgarians.