It’s good to have a Plan B in case a project fails; it’s also important to have a plan for when a project succeeds. That’s the dilemma facing the Capital Regional District with the operation of the Hartland Landfill. The CRD has strongly encouraged residents to recycle, which has succeeded in diverting waste from the landfill, but the diminished flow of waste has reduced revenues from tipping fees.
The fees charged for trucks to deposit garbage in the landfill have, in the past, paid for recycling programs, with enough left over to accumulate a reserve fund. Since 2012, though, those fees haven’t been enough to cover expenses, and the CRD expects the reserve fund to run out by 2017, with an anticipated annual deficit of $5.3 million if changes aren’t made by 2020.
That leaves the CRD pondering possible remedies — find ways to cut costs by 21 per cent, add $65 to the current fee of $107 a tonne or bring in a new tax or utility fee to cover the shortfall.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find cost savings amounting to 21 per cent.
And the remedies that cost more bring their own problems. People who have been diligent about recycling and reducing the amount of waste they produce will resent being punished by having to pay more for garbage disposal. More couches might end up being dumped along rural roads.
Charging higher tipping fees could steer some garbage toward less-costly landfills elsewhere, starting a B.C. Ferries-like spiral — higher fees equals fewer customers, meaning less revenue, necessitating even higher fees.
The CRD is determined to extend the life of the landfill, a laudable environmental goal. For too long, we have thought burying our garbage was the right thing to do — out of sight, out of mind.
Now we know better.
Dumping garbage in a pit and covering it up is only postponing the problem, leaving our children and grandchildren to deal with the consequences. Landfill technology has improved over the years, but no matter how thoroughly the garbage is sealed off now, at some point, it will become a problem again.
Extending the life of the landfill is not only a good choice, it’s the only choice — finding a site for a new landfill will be extremely difficult.
The CRD’s dilemma is not the result of doing things wrong, but of doing things right. Recycling and composting efforts have diverted considerable material away from the landfill. Materials are being reused instead of being thrown away. But it all comes at a cost.
Because tipping fees have subsidized recycling, people have come to think that recycling is free. It’s not. As consumers and taxpayers, we need to become more aware that we have to pay the costs for dealing with our excesses.
We look to politicians and administrators to solve the problem, but the best solution is not to produce the waste in the first place. As that shopping cart fills up, ponder how much of what you are hauling home will have to be hauled away later. Remind yourself that you pay twice for anything you waste — when you buy it and when you dispose of it.
The CRD staff has recommended a workshop in the next couple of months so directors can look at long-term solutions. That’s a good plan, but no workshop will result in any cheap and easy solutions. We used those up a long time ago.