Big City clean up in Montreal, Quebec

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by Nikki Mantell on August 19, 2009

Take heart Gatineau Hillers, it is not just we poor pathetic country folk who cannot get our garbage act together. Quebec’s biggest city has just announced that finally, a full 11 years after the province issued a Quebec-wide call-to-arms to reduce waste sent to landfill by 65 per cent, Montreal has a tangible plan to meet that goal.

Back in 1998, Quebec City told every municipality it had ten years design and fully implement its own plan to radically change how much garbage we throw in giant holes in the ground. Very few, including Montreal, did anything serious to meet that 65 per cent goal. (Chelsea, to its credit, got on the bandwagon and in a few short years implemented a compost education program, introduced biweekly recycling pickup which in turn brought a then much-hated biweekly garbage pickup. How well that worked, The Low Down doesn’t know, as we’ve asked on many occasions over the years only to be stonewalled.)

But just last weekend, The Montreal Gazette reported that eleven years after the fact, that city is getting serious about the Three Rs. Next week, councillors will vote on a hugely expensive and ambitious plan that will see $240 million invested to divert a whopping 80 per cent of recyclable materials, organic waste, household hazardous waste and textiles from landfills by 2019.

This will be a huge jump for a city whose island-dwellers currently produce 541 kilograms of garbage each per year and whose collective rate of landfill diversion is a meager 31 per cent.  If achieved, it will put Montreal among North America’s leading cities: San Francisco ranks Number One with an impressive diversion rate currently at 72 per cent, Vancouver’s is 55, Seattle’s 48.4 and Toronto is at 44 per cent.

To hit this target (which starts with a 60 per cent goal by 2014) 49 steps have been laid out, the most important being what other cities like Toronto and Guelph have been doing for a while: collecting and treating compost. Another predictable move is reducing the twice weekly garbage pickup (those spoiled city brats!) to once a week, distributing those larger recycling bins that caused such an uproar in Toronto (and to a minor extent here in the Gatineau Hills), and banning residents from putting grass clippings, hazardous waste and construction materials in the trash bin.

One area where Montreal may be breaking ground is the creation of two new on-island “eco centres”. The first ones were built in 1997 and appear to be key in the whole diversion game. “Eco centres” are depots where residents can bring everything from computers to construction waste to furniture to be recycled or reused. Montreal already has six, and eventually wants to see a total of 14. The centres have been studied by other cities as a model for waste management.

If voted through, Montreal’s plan will cost the city an extra $78 million above what it usually spends on waste over the next ten years.

Of course those garbage gurus in Quebec City who first lay down the 65 per cent edict will be kicking in to help out? Not necessarily. Eleven years after Quebec laid down the law it still has no plans for financial aid to Montreal or any other municipality. Yes, $500 million was earmarked in the last budget for composting programs, but Montreal has yet to hear if it will see any of that money.

If that’s the way the province’s biggest city, the one set to lead the way, is treated, heaven help the rest of us in tiny country municipalities.

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