Edmonton’s multi-unit residences are one step closer to having a three-stream waste collection system like single-family homes.
The city’s utility committee considered a report prepared by the administration and Waste Services that presented options on how garbage, organic waste, and recycling could be picked up from condominiums, townhouses, affordable housing, apartments, and other multi-unit residential settings.
Administration recommended councillors approve the transition to three-stream waste pickup at communal sites without completely privatizing the program.
On Friday, the committee approved the recommendations unanimously, sending them to city council for final approval in April.
The report noted that if services were to be fully privatized, the city would not have control over service levels including how often waste was picked up or volume limits, rates charged, program requirements like where containers would be located, and how waste streams were disposed of.
The committee heard from several stakeholders, including Liam Peuramaki, Coalition of Edmonton Civic Unions representative for Local 30, who spoke in favour of the recommendation on behalf of city waste services employees.
“This strategy will help keep waste utility costs affordable for all residents while enabling the city to strive towards and achieve its waste diversion goals,” he said.
“The private model that was proposed serves only to introduce more uncertainty, more risk, less accountability to residents, and frankly, will lead only to further delays to the city reaching its waste management goals,” Peuramaki added.
Bethany Fredeen, Deveraux Apartment Communities manager, called the costs for waste services “unreasonably high” for landlords and property managers, meaning charges are passed on to residents through rent or condo fees.
“The City of Edmonton business case suggests that risks of privatizing multi-family waste services include instability of pricing, the decline of service quality, and inability to reach environmental goals,” Fredeen said. “I strongly disagree with each of these assumptions.
“The costs may be stabilized, but they are stabilized at extremely high rates. Sure, this allows for predictability, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are paying a lot more for a public system,” she said.
Fredeen added that the city’s quality of service can be substandard, citing examples of illegal dumping where someone places a mattress in front of a communal garbage bin leading to bins not being picked up and garbage piling up.
“At our Edmonton community, we have experienced many cases where the City of Edmonton has refused to pick up at the slightest inconvenience,” Fredeen said. “If we were given any onsite notification we would gladly move items around and accommodate pickup.
“But, when we speak with an inspector with the City of Edmonton we are told that not only will they not visit our office to speak to us but they cannot call us because they are no longer provided cellphones.”
Michael Janz, ward papastew councillor, questioned if services were privatized, would the city have any mechanism to ensure cost-savings for property management companies or landlords be passed on to tenants or unit owners in the form of lower fees or rent?
City officials noted that there would be no guarantees that would happen, whereas, in the current municipal model, rates are standardized and can be changed by council.
Denis Jubinville, Waste Services branch manager, said privatization would lead to the city losing all control over service quality.
“Right now, we actually provide the service, and so we have complete oversight,” he said, adding that if contractors working for the city do not fulfil obligations, contract clauses can be used to ensure compliance.
A former Waste Services employee, Myles Curry, spoke in favour of the city retaining control of communal waste services as it would ensure lasting reductions in the amount of waste Edmontonians send to landfills.
“The opportunity that Edmonton has is very unique to pursue a very aggressive multi-unit (waste) diversion program underneath this public model and changing it now would be ignoring all of the failures that have happened all across North America,” he said.
If city council approves the three-stream communal garbage plan, preparation work would begin to enable actual collection in late 2023 or early 2024.
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