Raven’s New Operational Plans for 2024
To help ensure a more comprehensive collection service in Whitehorse, in concert with the new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations, Raven Recycling Society (Raven) will be changing its operations. The Territory’s primary recycling processor will no longer receive materials through its 24/7 public drop-off (the bins that receive plastics, paper, cardboard, etc.) after December 31, 2023. All other services currently offered at Raven, such as the bottle depot, metals, textiles and e-waste recycling, will continue.
With EPR on the horizon, Raven Recycling leadership has chosen what it believes to be the most responsible path: without a city-wide collection system, the ability of Whitehorse citizens to divert material from the landfill has stalled. Raven has done as much as it can to provide access to recycling. Raven Recycling Society is now stepping aside, thereby enabling government to take the lead on collection services. EPR has been implemented in most Canadian provinces: Yukon will be the first territory to enact this important environmental legislation.
“The success of Raven’s public drop-off system has delayed the development of a more effective, government-run city-wide collection program, accessible to all Whitehorse residents”, states Jacqueline Bedard, president, Raven Recycling Society
Raven currently receives material for processing through a number of uncoordinated collection systems including a private curbside collection company, the commercial sector through various waste haulers, the City’s landfill, all Yukon community depots and through the 24/7 public drop-off in Whitehorse. Whitehorse is one of the last Canadian cities without a city-wide blue box program.
“We are hopeful that there will not be a gap in collection in the Whitehorse area, as we continue to work with the City of Whitehorse and Yukon Government to ensure the best possible transition to EPR”, says Heather Ashthorn, executive director, Raven Recycling Society.
Raven will continue to process all material that comes to the facility from communities and from curbside collection, to the best of its abilities, until a more effective, purpose-built processing facility is available. This is dependent upon government continuing to pay the appropriate diversion credit rate, past the expiration of the current contract, ending June 30th.
Raven will also continue to advocate for zero waste and develop plans that allow it to build on the anticipated success of EPR and increased waste diversion. The work of Raven Recycling Society is expected to continue, for as long as we remain a consumer culture!
Raven Recycling is a 30-year-old not for profit society, run by a volunteer board.
For more information about EPR please visit yukon.ca/en/engagements.
If you have questions about our new plans, here is a Q&A we put together.
Q – Why now?
A – Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulation will be complete by the end of 2025. Stepping out of the way now gives the City two years to develop and test a curbside program so that when the PRO is developing a stewardship plan, they can account for the cost as tested and reported by the City. We cannot determine whether the City will take this approach, but we are leaving enough time for what we think is the most responsible and practical approach to be taken.
Q – 9 months is not very much time – how do you expect our governments to develop a collection service in this amount of time?
A – We have given our governments well over a year’s notice in order to allow for a coordinated and timely transition to a new system. We have provided clear and transparent data and recommendations both to Mayor and Council and through the EPR Advisory Council. We have engaged with Mayor & Council regularly over the past 2 years in preparation, providing deliberate recommendations to improve the current system and to prepare for changes that will come with EPR. One of our recommendations has been to dust off the curbside collection feasibility study that we helped the City with back in 2016. The work has been done and we do not believe it should take long to update the feasibility study and add recycling to the current collection streams.
We hope that the City will be ready to roll out curbside pickup early in 2024, which will give them two years to test and make improvements to the system in preparation for EPR.
Q – How do you know that curbside collection will increase diversion?
A – The most current waste audit (2017) estimates almost 2000 tonnes each of paper and plastic are still going to landfill each year, much of this coming from multi-family residential dwellings. Many people living in multi-family dwellings do not have transportation or the space to store waste. Even more recyclable material is flowing from the business sector to the landfill and including businesses in recycling collection, as the City currently does with its organics program, would likely help increase diversion. The City will have to consider including all of these sources to get to a higher rate of diversion. Regardless of current diversion rates, one trip to the landfill or a peek inside most black bins left at the curb tells the story of PPP heading to the landfill. We recommend that YG set an accessibility target equivalent to current garbage and compost services in their EPR regulation.
Q – What do you mean when you say that recycling needs to be more accessible?
A – Raven’s drop off has made recycling accessible to many Yukoners, however, customers still need to have access to a vehicle to get here. There is no bus stop outside Raven (we have asked the City to provide one), the bike lanes are not maintained in winter and are very dangerous in the dark and we are not on the path to many other services.
Q – What will curbside collection cost and who will pay?
A – This is for government to determine. Our suggestion is that the City invests in the program during the transition to EPR and then negotiates for full cost recovery from the producers under EPR regulation.
Q – What if the public doesn’t want to pay the trickle-down costs of EPR? Can we vote to not enact it?
A – EPR is a commitment made by Yukon Government in Our Clean Future, and supported by the City of Whitehorse in their Solid Waste Action Plan. The public consultation period for EPR is now closed and YG is working on a draft regulation.
Yukoners are already paying the costs of EPR programs in other jurisdictions on many recyclable materials. We are just not receiving the services that those programs offer because there is no regulation yet. For paper and packaging, we believe that any costs that are passed down to the consumer will be minimal, likely not even noticeable. We are recommending that YG’s regulation makes sure the producers have to incorporate those costs into their produce prices as opposed to tacking on an extra fee at the point of sale.
For more information about EPR, please visit yukon.ca/en/engagements
Q – The public drop-off looks like it’s running well. What are the problems?
A – Thank you! We put a lot of effort into keeping the public drop off in good shape and we have an excellent and dedicated work force at Raven. Please tip your hat when you see them next. We have done a lot with very little for a long time, however, Raven’s yard is below river level, which means there is no way to drain water that collects in the bunkers aside from using a septic service, which is expensive and not available on demand. The alternate is to pump it down the street, which is not a responsible approach: Yukon River is down the street. Pooled water becomes contaminated with material, food residue, runoff from the road and yard that is contaminated with hazardous waste. It also contributes to deterioration of the bunker walls. The space is difficult to maneuver in. Materials become cross-contaminated, which devalues them. Paper products soak up water, which means we can get less on a truck during the busiest season. The drop off is open to the weather and impossible to close when we have a backlog of material. All the lifting the skid steers and forklifts have to do to move bins in and out of the bunkers is very hard on the machinery. They are not built for this kind of activity.Our public drop off was always meant to be a temporary stop-gap until governments developed a more accessible system. Infrastructure upgrades to deal with some of these problems are expensive and taking on these changes would only delay a city-wide service being developed and lessen our investment in zero waste initiatives.
Q – Isn’t Raven’s core funding enough to cover upgrades?
A – Raven does not receive any core funding. Funds that we receive from governments come from diversion credits, which cover the cost of recycling paper and from contracts that we are awarded through an RFP process. We do not profit from diversion credits.
Q – Raven receives diversion credits from YG and the City. Isn’t this money supposed to cover the cost of infrastructure upgrades?
A – Diversion credits are paid at a rate per tonne that covers the operational and administrative costs of processing and getting paper and packaging to recycling industries. The infrastructure upgrades that are needed to improve the public drop-off are very expensive and beyond the reach of the diversion credits we are currently receiving. More importantly, there are no infrastructure upgrades that we can make which will provide access to more people.
Major infrastructure upgrades for all Raven programs require either spending from our operational reserve, which compromises our ability to repair and replace equipment, or requires that we spend a great deal of administrative time applying for and reporting on funding from other sources.
Q – Why doesn’t Raven just use its operational reserve to build a better public drop-off?
A – Raven is a large organization that owns the majority of Yukon’s processing infrastructure. For example, our main baler, which cost close to half a million dollars several years ago. It is a hard working machine which needs frequent, and often very expensive repairs to keep recycling going for the Territory. If it breaks and we do not have cash on hand to repair or replace it, we have to apply for funding, which sometimes takes months to obtain and which we may or may not get. If we don’t have a baler, recycling is interrupted. An operational reserve also ensures that we can pay our hard-working employees and keep the lights on in months when expenses exceed revenues.
There is currently no other organization with the capacity to receive and process material for the entire Territory. Raven’s operational reserve is one of the key ingredients of a stable recycling system. We believe that maintaining the reserve should provide governments the assurance they need that they are entering into contracts with an organization that manages its finances responsibly.
That said, there are no infrastructure upgrades that we can make which will increase the public’s access to our public drop-off. We are making this decision to ultimately increase access to and participation in recycling.
Q – How has Raven covered the cost of infrastructure upgrades in the past?
A – In a variety of ways, including remortgaging our property, through the Community Development Fund, through grants from the Government of Canada and with revenue from our bottle depot. Grants from other sources are not always available and use a great deal of staff resources to obtain, project manage and report on.
That said, our decision is about improving access to recycling, and there are no infrastructure upgrades that we can make at Raven that will do that. We have stabilized the recycling system and provided access to recycling to the best of our abilities.
Q – Why did Raven build such a problematic public drop-off?
A – Raven has been around and leading recycling for over 30 years. During that time, we have added services, improved infrastructure and made do with very little while proving that Yukoners want to recycle. Our intent all along has been to encourage and support governments to take the lead on waste diversion through recycling, rather than to position ourselves as a collection service.
Our current public drop-off is a vast improvement on the previous configuration, however, our facility is not purpose-built and Raven has always made do with what we’ve got while advocating and waiting for governments to develop a better system. Without a purpose-built facility, all efforts are a bit of trial and error.
Q – Can’t Raven just apply to CDF to build a better drop-off?
A – We have been grateful for support from the CDF and other funds for many projects and, although we are still eligible to apply, Raven has built a healthy operational reserve, which is a barrier to accessing government funds. A reserve is essential for the responsible management of a recycling facility, We can, therefore, either exist in poverty, continue in a constant state of risk and contribute to the perception that government is bailing us out when we need something, or we can ensure that we are able to fix and replace equipment and pay staff in months that are thin on revenue and leave it to government to develop better infrastructure. We believe the latter is the more responsible approach.
That said, no matter how much we improve the public drop off infrastructure, we cannot increase accessibility to our facility. We are counting on the City to meet the needs of Whitehorse in this way. Raven can help, but we can’t do it all on our own. The City has become too large and the amount of material that comes through our public drop-off too plentiful for us to continue to manage.
Q – What will happen to all the Whitehorse Blue Bin material?
A – In the short term, we will still accept, sort, bale and ship this material to the best of our abilities. Our ability to provide processing services depends on government commitment to paying the full cost of recycling.
We continue to have the ability to process material that comes through our facility. Once there is a city-wide blue-in service, if the City goes that route, we are willing to process all material that comes from curbside collection, at least until a purpose-built facility is built by government.
Q – Will communities still be able to bring material to Raven?
A – Yes, as long as YG works with us to address this need. We will still accept, sort, bale and ship this material to the best of our abilities. Our ability to provide processing services depends on government commitment to paying the appropriate diversion credits.
Q – I own or work for a Whitehorse-based business and use the public drop off. How will I access recycling after Raven makes these changes?
A – YG has committed to implementing EPR by the end of 2025. The regulation will identify which businesses have to pay into the recycling system and how, and from whom, material will be collected. Recycling has never been free and we are all currently paying through our taxes, regardless of whether we use recycling services or not, and regardless of how much we consume.
We encourage all Yukon businesses to build the cost of recycling into their cost of doing business. Recycling has never been free and with the introduction of Extended Producer Responsibility, which is meant to be implemented by the end of 2025, businesses are going to have to contribute to the costs. One way to phase these costs in is to sign up for collection services with Whitehorse Blue Bin Recycling.
Q – I live in country-residential in the Whitehorse area. How will I recycle after 2023?
A – We cannot say how or whether the City of Whitehorse will implement a curbside collection service but we do recommend you contact Mayor & Council to let them know if
you think recycling services should be offered to country-residential as well as to residences inside the urban containment boundary.
We highly encourage all people living in country residential to contact Whitehorse Blue Bin Recycling to see if you are in their catchment area. You can also still take your recyclable material to your closest waste transfer station. If you are still in a pinch, please call us and we will see how else we might be able to help you.
Q – I live in Whitehorse. How will I recycle after 2023?
A – We would also like an answer to this question and hope our governments ensure there is not a gap in service.
If you live within the urban containment boundary, please do not take your recycling to any of the country-residential or rural transfer stations. These facilities do not have the capacity to deal with Whitehorse-generated waste. They will quickly become overwhelmed and we would hate to see them have to close all recycling services as a result.
Q – How can you say you are all about recycling and then close the public’s access to paper and packaging recycling services?
A – We understand that this decision will cause some discomfort and it may appear that we are going backward. However, this decision is all about increasing access. Our public drop-off has reached its full potential to divert material from the landfill and is capturing well under half of the paper and packaging that is generated in Whitehorse. We are taking a risk because there is currently no commitment from government to fill the gap. However, we believe that this is the most responsible decision we can make because as long as we provide a drop off, there is little to no incentive for governments to improve the system.
Q – Will Raven be adding other services in the near future?
A – A recent increase in diversion credits from YG will allow us to use money we make in our bottle depot for zero waste initiatives instead of for non-refundable recycling. We are very excited about this! However, our current diversion credit agreement is only in effect until June 30th, 2023. We are hopeful that YG and the City will come together to share the costs of processing paper and packaging until EPR brings an obligated funder, allowing us to continue on our zero waste mission!