David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Blue Bag System Abruptly Abandoned

Brandon Sun, May 31, 2008 - David McConkey

Brandon is on the verge of a new recycling program. But why was not one word said about the existing blue bag program – which the City had claimed would save money, reduce pollution, and lower greenhouse gases?

At this point, I would like to share my personal perspective on recycling in the city.

The first recycling depots in Brandon were in 1989 and held outdoors. They were organized by a small group of avid recyclers. Crucial financial and volunteer help came from the Kiwanis Club of Brandon.

This grass roots effort became a non-profit charitable organization, the Westman Recycling Council.

By the early 1990s, a permanent depot had been established at the Massey building at Sixth and Pacific. I was employed as manager. We processed recyclables that were dropped off by the public at our facility and at depots around town.

The City of Brandon was a key partner right from the beginning. The City provided direct funding, logistical support, and leverage to secure federal and provincial grants.

As well, the City participated with us in programs like “Making Welfare Work.” This initiative helped individuals on social assistance enter the workforce through a job at the recycling depot.

Over the years, hundreds of people had the opportunity for volunteer work, community service, job skill development, and paid employment.

In 2001, the City of Brandon presented a bold new recycling plan to us. The City proposed collecting recyclables in blue bags which would be mixed with Brandon’s residential garbage. This would make Brandon recycling unique in Canada, although there were programs like it in the United States.

The City of Brandon asked Westman Recycling to continue its community educational programming, and to operate a new recycling facility to be built at the landfill.

During the preliminary discussions, we suggested to the City that the public instead could use separate containers for garbage and recyclables. Materials would be then picked up by different trucks.
Separate containers would eliminate the need for residents to buy blue bags as well as the need to sort recyclables from the garbage. The separate container idea, however, was rejected by the City as inefficient and too expensive.
The blue bag program and the new recycling facility were launched in 2003.

I remember top City of Brandon officials proudly showing visitors through the recycling facility and lauding the blue bag program. Because the same trucks collected garbage and recyclables together, fewer trucks were required. The City saved money, reduced pollution, and lowered the emissions of greenhouse gases.

A number of problems, however, emerged for Westman Recycling. The final straw was the closure of an important mill in Ontario that purchased valuable recyclable cardboard.

When Westman Recycling faced a cash flow crisis, the City of Brandon chose another company to operate the recycling facility. In early 2006, all the staff at Westman Recycling – more than 20 people – were laid off.

How has recycling been going since then?

Well, community recycling reports are published for the public on the Internet by the Manitoba Product Stewardship Corporation (MPSC).

In 2005, Westman Recycling’s last full year, MPSC reported that 4,648 tonnes of material were recycled in Brandon. In 2007, the total was 2,470 tonnes. (2008: down again to 2,303 tonnes.) MPSC has lowered the City of Brandon’s recycling grade from an “A+” to an “A.” (The reports are no longer avaialbe online as MPSC has folded.)

What about the new recycling program that will start this fall?

The new program will have separate garbage and recycling containers for Brandon residents. That would be the separate container idea that was dismissed by the City in 2001 as being much too expensive.

I watched as the new recycling program was approved at a Brandon City Council meeting last November. The discussion lasted for most of an hour.

Surprisingly, City Council and administration did not once refer to the City of Brandon’s current blue bag recycling program. A program in which the City has invested so much over the years.
There was not one word about the blue bag program being adopted to save the City of Brandon money by using fewer garbage trucks.

Not one word about the millions of tax dollars spent on the recycling facility at the landfill. A facility specially designed to sort recyclables from garbage – a function that won’t be required with the new program.

Finally, not one word about any lessons that might be learned from the whole experience.

Of course, the City of Brandon can decide to switch from one multi-million dollar program to another one.

But it is most strange for City Council not to even acknowledge the program it is now abandoning.

What about the future?

I think that the new recycling program could be successful – if enthusiastically supported and promoted by the City of Brandon.

In fact, I challenge the City of Brandon to reinvigorate public education and engagement in recycling.

As a citizen, I participate fully in whatever municipal recycling program is offered. I also encourage everyone to take part and recycle.

* * * *
See also:  

Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba

Brand-New It's Shiny, But That Waste Isn't Tiny

The “Dark Side” of Recycling?

Welcome to the World of Sustainability

Citizen Active



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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