End of ‘Blue Box’ days loom

A $500,000 price tag to refurbish the Northwestern Ontario Recycle Association’s processing plant in Dryden is the final blow for the organization, which is about to hand over operations to a Thunder Bay company.
“We’ve asked municipalities to respond by Nov. 9. It’s either that or shut down,” noted NORA chair Dennis Brown, who also is the mayor of Atikokan.
The cost of updating the Dryden plant—which is in its 13th year of a 10-year lifespan—has compounded NORA’s dilemma as it faces an aging fleet of trucks, an inefficient system, a $450,000 debt, and a weakening economy.
“We’ve been facing some challenges and one of the challenges is we had to update the plant in Dryden,” noted Mayor Brown. “The only way to get it would be to go to the municipalities and we didn’t think they would be too excited to give more funding.”
Mayor Brown also noted that no means of recouping the costs were in sight because of the poor price of the raw material collected.
It currently costs NORA at least $299 a ton to collect recyclables while revenue from sales of the material is—at most—$96 a ton.
“It is costing us a lot of money to collect material so we’re losing money, we know that,” said Mayor Brown.
Adding another nail to NORA’s coffin has been news the Waste Diversion Organization—which collects funding from companies selling glass, metal, cardboard, plastic, and paper products to fund recycling programs—will not be dispersing money until next year.
“We’d hoped it would happen in the year 2001 but it doesn’t look like it’ll happen until May, 2002,” Mayor Brown said.
Under the proposal currently being considered, Recool Canada Inc. of Thunder Bay would pick up residents’ recycling in Rainy River and Kenora district communities at a cost of $9 per capita.
Municipalities would continue to pay NORA $10 per capita, with the extra dollar devoted to paying off its debt.
“They asked us to send them a proposal but we actually haven’t heard back from them yet,” Paul Wilson, general manager of Recool, noted yesterday.
Meanwhile, the looming handover would mean a new system without the “Blue Boxes” that now dot curbsides here every week. Residents, instead, will have to purchase clear plastic bags which help preserve the recyclables and allow employees to see what’s in them.
Residents also will be required to divide recyclables into two different bags—plastic and metal in one and fibre (cardboard and paper) in the other.
Pickups would be bi-weekly rather than weekly under the new system But while Recool would continue with residential driveway pickups, commercial owners would have to negotiate their own pickups with the company.
“What we proposed to NORA was exclusively for residential,” noted Wilson. “We’d absolutely be interested in doing [commercial], too.
“We would talk to each customer about their specific needs because what you’re trying to do is make it based on what a guy generates and not a random thing,” he added.
“You have to look at each customer individually and look at their needs and work something out to suit those needs.”
Smaller municipalities with drop-off sites also would have to negotiate with the company to have either driveway pickups or depot collections.
“Some have a depot system and some have pickups, and our proposal was, well, pick one or the other,” said Wilson.
Other limits also would be in place, such as only those plastics numbered one and two would be picked up and glass still will not be collected.
NORA also will dispose of its assets, such as its vehicles and the Dryden processing plant, while maintaining its office to co-ordinate recycling and handle WDO funding.
Fort Frances council approved the recommendation from NORA to proceed with the new contract at Monday night’s regular meeting.
If the proposal is accepted by most municipalities, it will take effect Jan. 1, 2002.
“I wasn’t expecting to hear anything from anybody until the middle of November and that would give us six weeks to prepare to begin in January,” said Wilson.
Recool has been operating in Thunder Bay for 12 years and has been picking up recycling from residents there for seven years. Currently, 50 percent of its business is from the commercial sector, where they pick up recycling from 500-600 businesses.
By law, all Ontario communities of more than 5,000 people are required to have recycling programs in place.