A senior provincial environmental strategist -- who used to oversee Winnipeg's garbage collection -- has panned the city's plan to replace trash cans with automated carts.
Dan McInnis, a former City of Winnipeg solid waste manager who's now Manitoba's assistant deputy minister in charge of energy, climate change and green strategy, fears that replacing garbage cans with rolling 240-litre carts could increase costs and greenhouse-gas emissions and may do nothing to reduce the volume of waste generated by city households.
In a letter obtained by the Free Press, McInnis said he's concerned automated carts may do more environmental harm than good and could cost more than manual garbage collection.
"I don't share the opinion that this system is more effective and (will) aid in waste diversion. I think it costs more and has inherent collection difficulties," McInnis writes in an email sent to Mayor Sam Katz, most city councillors and senior city officials Wednesday. "Esthetics is the only reason why I could see the city making this change."
Based on his reading of a water and waste report still awaiting council approval, McInnis said he believes automated cart collection could cost the city an extra $800,000 to $1.6 million per year by the time the program is extended to the entire city.
Winnipeg plans to completely replace garbage cans with automated carts by 2013.
McInnis also writes that cart collection could increase the greenhouse gases generated by garbage trucks by 500 carbon dioxide-equivalent tonnes per year, claiming smaller-capacity new trucks must make more trips down Winnipeg streets than manual trucks.
He also writes 240-litre garbage cans may be too large for smaller Winnipeg households and won't encourage anyone to generate less waste, while larger households or people with big yards may find the carts too small.
"It is not that I don't think cart-based collection has merits," he writes. "My thoughts are more related to the possible backlash that will happen when this program will be rolled out to residents."
The city hopes to replace garbage cans with automated carts at 42,500 households north of the Assiniboine River and west of the Red River by Feb. 1, 2010. The plan was supposed to be debated by council on Wednesday, but failed to make it onto the agenda after opposition councillors used procedure to force a one-week delay.
Council's unofficial opposition has complained of being left in the dark about the garbage plan, which was made fully public on Sept. 23. Couns. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge) and Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) are upset a single waste-management company, BFI Canada, will be responsible for residential garbage collection, while Couns. John Orlikow (River Heights) and Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) complained about a lack of public consultation.
A total of six councillors refused to suspend council's rules and allow the garbage plan to be heard on short notice.
"We're tired of being walked on by these walk-on reports," Gerbasi quipped.
Katz dismissed the move as "gamesmanship" practised by left-leaning councillors beholden to city unions. But the missive from McInnis caught the mayor by surprise.
"Mr. McInnis has made a major error in judgment and if he looks around North America, he will see more and more cities moving in this direction," Katz said. "What is Dan doing analyzing any of this stuff? He doesn't get it, obviously."
The mayor also said he would prefer to see the province focus its energy on hallway medicine and crumbling infrastructure rather than wade into city environmental issues.
The city garbage plan is now headed for a special meeting of city council on Oct. 7.
Major decisions made by city council on Wednesday:
Automated garbage carts:
A council debate over a new BFI Canada garbage-collection contract that would have seen automated rolling carts replace trash cans in the city's northwest quadrant did not happen. Eleven out of 16 council members would have had to agree to suspend the rules to hear the last-minute plan, but the vote was 10-6. Couns. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge), John Orlikow (River Heights), Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre), Lillian Thomas (Elmwood), Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) and Russ Wyatt (Transcona) blocked the debate.
Disraeli Freeway financing
Council voted 12-4 in favour of borrowing $75 million to pay for the Disraeli Freeway reconstruction instead of financing the entire project through a public-private partnership. Governments can borrow more cheaply than private companies during a recession, the city's chief financial officer explained in a report. Some councillors remain upset the city and provincial governments have not divulged details of a deal to replace the existing $140-million Disraeli reconstruction job with a $200-million project that will involve some form of new span over the Red River. Couns. Gerbasi, Smith, Thomas and Wyatt voted against the financing change.
Council voted unanimously to approve a plan to reduce the city's corporate greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 per cent over the next decade and introduce a community-wide climate change plan. A Gerbasi motion to create a hard target for the community plan was rejected, as Mayor Sam Katz and others felt consultation was required to set a realistic timeline.
Sir William Stephenson honour:
Council voted unanimously to change the name of downtown's Water Avenue to William Stephenson Way, in honour of the Second World War intelligence boss credited with helping to end the conflict early and saving millions of lives.
Council also approved a $60 water-bill rebate for low-flow toilets purchased after Oct. 16 and installed by Dec. 31.
-- Bartley Kives