The COVID-19 pandemic has not only prompted changes on how Comox-Strathcona Waste Management conducts business. It’s also had an effect on how much business it’s had.
At the latest meeting of the board, comprised of local and regional government representatives from the Comox and Strathcona regional districts, staff presented some information about the extent to which the pandemic has affected tipping fees.
“We just wanted to update the directors on how the virus has impacted our revenue stream, through tipping fees specifically,” said CSWM solid waste analyst Sarah Willie.
Staff compared numbers from January through the end of May in 2020 with the last five years. The absence of many businesses being able to operate and generate waste has had an impact, though specific businesses such as grocery stores have seen an increase in waste generated. A lot more people were cooking at home, as part of a general change in the way people consumed goods starting in the spring.
Staff compared data from the Regional District of Nanaimo and from Metro, the region which oversees the Greater Vancouver area.
“We generally are in line,” Willie said.
As far as who was showing up with loads for the landfill, there was an increase of small loads in the early spring, as many people were taking advantage of the weather and extra time to conduct spring cleaning. However, overall, there was a reduction in the tonnage in the amount of material brought to the site. The two large waste management sites – for the Comox Valley and Campbell River – saw roughly a nine per cent drop by tonnage.
“That varied by material type,” Willie said. “We did see an increase in yard and organic waste, for example, in Comox, with all the gardening work that everyone was doing and a reduction in construction waste in Campbell River.”
She said the rate of reduction fell within “normal ups and downs, ” adding that staff expects numbers to return to a baseline as more businesses re-open in different phases. In general, CSWM expects a small reduction in revenues overall.
Brenda Leigh, one of the SRD directors on the CSWM board, pointed out CSWM did have a surplus from the previous year budget of $1.2 million, which should help make up for less revenue from tipping fees.
“We have an added benefit of not filling up the landfill as quickly, which is worth money,” she said. “I think we’re OK with this.”
Michele Babchuk, a Campbell River director for the SRD and co-chair of CSWM, also pointed out in light of another report at the same meeting that CSWM may be able to find other efficiencies resulting from changes related to the pandemic. Staff is producing a report on this for the board at the September meeting.
Tipping fees for non-profits
At the same meeting, CSWM also considered establishing a reduced tipping fee waiver policy for non-profit groups. The policy had included funding for non-profit reuse stores up until 2018.
The board was considering a request for a stand-alone policy from Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army.
“The policy provides sliding-scale funding to any non-profit, reuse store in the service area that meets the requirements,” CSWM services coordinator Stephanie Valdal told the board.
Funding would be calculated based on the volume of material diverted to resource recovery programs. An example would be a scrap metal recycling program.
“This policy is based on the same triple bottom line benefit as the CSWM tipping fee waiver policy by providing environmental, economic and social benefit,” she said.
The board passed a motion to approve the policy to help eligible non-profits organizations and increase the tipping fee waiver budget by $9,000 for an annual allocation of $25,000 to cover community clean-ups, environmental and emergency tipping fee waivers.
The non-profits will have to apply with CSWM and register with a stewardship group to accept the material or establish their own diversion program for commonly donated materials like textiles or metal. This could include broken or unwanted material. Other provisions cover public education, a need to advertise and submit a summary report of their activities.
Valdal said they tested these requirements with the two organizations in 2019.
“All of these things they’re currently doing,” she said. “It’s nothing new to the organizations, and they’re actually quite happy to provide it to us.”
CSWM co-chair Arzeena Hamir had questions about other non-profits applying that might not be familiar with the process and need help with making calculations for reporting.
Valdal responded that CSWM would work with any organizations needing assistance.
“We’re pretty flexible with regards to how the reporting can be done,” she said.
Daniel Arbour, a CSWM director from the Comox Valley, said he was pleased to see the report, adding the reuse and restore components of waste diversion could be highlighted more in CSWM’s work.
“It is a way to reduce pressure on our waste systems and waste streams,” he said. “I think there could be bigger conversations in the future.”