Should curbside recycling be mandatory?

Put it in the books folks, Monday, May 17th, 2010 will be the start date for the curbside recycling program for St. John’s.

And only a dozen or so years behind the rest of Canada.

For the first phase there will be bi-weekly pickup of recyclable containers (plastic, aluminum, tin), and paper. In 2011, they’ll be carting away your compostables.

But when the start date for the new program was announced in a council meeting earlier this month, it was not all applause and cheers. Who could possibly be raining on this eco-parade?

Ward 5 councillor Wally Collins said that he’s not sure about the whole [recycling] thing. The cost of shipping our recyclables off the island will prove costly, he says, and he also questioned any potential environmental benefits gained by shipping recyclables away—some going as far as Boston.

Deputy-mayor Shannie Duff admitted the CO2-cutting benefits are debatable if the recyclables are shipped off the island, but “there is great benefit in making people aware of their waste,” she says.

Duff is right about this. The recycling program is arguably as much about preventing, and diverting waste from the landfills and getting people to think about garbage as it is about actual recycling.

So, now that we finally have this fantastic recycling program all of St. John’s will be recycling, right? Probably not. There is no provision in the waste diversion plan to enforce the new recycling program. This means that in theory, on May 17th, we could send out a whole slew of recycling trucks, and they could come back empty.

The issue came up at the January 26th meeting of the Public Works standing committee. Ward 1 councillor Danny Breen said no changes were proposed because the committee felt it would be too difficult to enforce any necessary by-laws.

“We can’t enforce the ones we have on the books now,” he says.

Breen is hopeful though that with the huge public education campaign that will be launched—to the tune of $750,000 no less—we should see a big uptake on the new program. He thinks we will see 50-60 per cent participation right off the bat, with more coming as a result of good communication from the city and from continued public education.

There is no denying that the city should be proud of its recent massive improvements to waste management in the last several years, but although these improvements are decades overdue, they are huge steps in the right direction.

As far as enforcement, I think we should do the whole thing like a band-aid, off in one go, and before you know it, the pain is gone.

That way we could have spent our $750,000 to let people know they are going to have to recycle May 17th, instead of telling people they can recycle May 17th. If they want. Maybe. Kinda.

Catch Andrew live-blogging city council meetings every Monday on Twitter @thescopeNL


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21 September 2012

  1. Jill H · September 21, 2012

    Obviously, yes. I mean what kind of world do we want for our kids… really…

  2. Jordan · September 21, 2012

    I don’t really understand the whole mandatory thing, if it was mandatory does that mean I cannot take my own recyclables to Ever Green to get money?

    Maybe you can explain exactly what mandatory would be Andrew because I haven’t been able to understand how it would actually work or be enforced.

  3. Voice of Reason · September 21, 2012


    Steep fines for those caught littering should be mandatory as well. George, Duckworth and Water Streets are an absolute mess on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

    St. John’s is a very dirty city. If the residents spent as much effort picking up litter as they do debating whether or not a 12 or 15 storey building should be permitted in the downtown core, the city would be spotless.

  4. Andrew Harvey · September 21, 2012

    Hey Jordan,
    My understanding of it is that the difference would be that to make it truly “mandatory”, they would enact some sort of bylaw which would say that the recyclables that are to be collected are not to be put in the regular garbage. This doesn’t necessarily mean there would have to be fines attached to this, but the offending garbage bags containing recyclables would not be collected.
    They would never stop you from being able to bring your own recyclables anywhere, so stockpiling them of you wanted. The only thing they could say would be that you could no longer put them in the garbage.
    Obviously, as Danny Breen pointed out, this is a very difficult bylaw to enforce.
    I personally feel that this would be the ideal route. Simply tell people that they are no longer allowed to throw out recyclables and paper that the city has gone to great lengths to arrange alternative arrangements for. After all, this recycling program is a huge cost to the city, and I would rather see the maximum benefit come from it. Accepting that no system is perfect, and that some people would still throw away recyclables, I think we would get much higher percentages of people participating in the program. For those who continued to throw out recyclables, some of the time they would get caught, and they would be stuck with the offending garbage bags for an extra week. Having to keep an extra bag of rotten garbage around the house for an extra week will probably make them think twice about not sorting next time.

  5. lesley · September 21, 2012

    definitely. where i live they alternate weeks for garbage and recycling pick up. this is a great motivator to recycle – unless you want heaps of garbage hanging around…Given the proper tools (different colour bins for different recycling matter and instructions!) change can happen. It becomes common place very quickly.

  6. kevin · September 21, 2012

    When the covering your garbage by-law was first started, City Hall had no problem getting all butch about enforcement. So, what’s the difference? It’s still garbage surveillance. We’ve also gotten a notice for too heavy of bags when a BillyBoot of got sogged and took on water. That notice wasn’t even sent in the mail but was delivered to our mailbox. The City will find resources if it wants them.

    This argument is a non starter.

  7. Mara · September 21, 2012

    In Australia, we are limited to one council provided garbage bin and one council provided recycling bin that are emptied weekly. If a household produces more than the weekly allowance of garbage/recycles, they are forced to hold onto it and dispose of it the following week. Also- the garbage and recylcling bins are identical size.

    These restrictions really make you conscious of your waste.

    I have always felt that the current system is far too lienient and encourages a wasteful exsistance by not limiting our trash.

    As for the excuse of not being able to monitor a household’s recycling (or lack of) – it is simply that- an excuse.

    In order to help our struggling planet, we must stop making excuses.

  8. Debra · September 21, 2012

    It should be mandatory and heavily fined if not respected, it is duty of every citizen to respect the location in which they live and preserve it for future generations.

  9. Wow · September 21, 2012

    To Andrew Harvey:

    I’m not sure if your comment is necessarily correct, I don’t know if you can still bring recyclables to Everygreen. In Ontario you either pay no bottle deposit or a very small one (I forget which of the two), so you don’t get any money back.

  10. Fred Winsor · September 21, 2012

    Setting up a voluntary curbside recycling program with essentially no limit on the number of bags of garbage that can be placed at the curb is a recipe for failure. Yes there will be high initial participation rates (often 40-60%) but experience in other jurisdictions has shown that within a few months that rate falls to 20-25% or lower. What has worked very well elsewhere is a two bag limit for garbage each week in conjunction with a recycling program. If residents wish to put out more than two bags each week then they have to purchase special tags or labels usually at a cost of $2-$3.oo each. Enforcement of the two bag limit by the town or city is often considered “education.” Oh yes, participation rates under this program ranges between 85-95%.

  11. Jordan · September 21, 2012

    I believe there will be a limit on the number of bags you can place on the curb. I also think you will only be allowed to use one black bag and the rest will have to be clear.

  12. Andrew Harvey · September 21, 2012

    Hey everyone,
    The best thing to do if you have specific questions regarding the new recycling program would be to call the city at 3-1-1. Council said, rightfully, that for this program to be effective, getting proper information out to the public will be key.
    There is also a massive public information campaign planned before the start of the program, but calling 3-1-1 is getting the information straight from the horses mouth also.

  13. toddbaseball · September 21, 2012

    I’m still shocked they won’t be taking glass. What happens if I want to recycle my collection of unicorn figurines? Or maybe an empty peanut butter jar?

  14. Elling Lien · September 21, 2012

    I just called 311 and right now there’s a limit of 10 bags a week, but the person I spoke to said that will go down once curbside recycling starts. They said it may go as low as two bags, but they weren’t sure.

  15. Delight · September 21, 2012


    Mandatory means that they will check your garbage and if you are not separating your garbage from your waste they will likely charge you for your excess garbage, likely by weight or per bag. This is just and educated guess mind you. You would still be able to recycle your own stuff and take it where you want. But with curbside recycling you can recycle your tin cans, plastic containers, likely milk cartons, and paper products. You won’t get any money for them, but you will be helping to divert them from a landfill. It is definitely worth our while to recycle anything we can. Just make sure you clean your tin cans & milk cartons before you recycle them.

  16. Gordon Gekko · September 21, 2012

    Curbside recycling is already mandatory in that it’s mandatory for all of us to pay for it regardless of what we choose to do with our own recyclables. I certainly hope that our councilors wouldn’t even think about going as far as you’re suggesting. The idea of municipal enforcement officers going door to door and searching through our garbage is wrong on many different levels, I shouldn’t need to explain this one.

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