Calgarians like to think of themselves as progressive, innovative problem-solvers, but when it comes to health and environmental issues, Calgary often lags behind the rest of the country.
Calgary was one of the last cities in Canada to make all bars and restaurants smoke-free this year, while bar patrons and employees have been breathing easy in Manitoba and New Brunswick since 2004; Calgary transit lags far behind other major centres as commuters hold fast to their gas-guzzling SUVs and most recently, Calgary's recycling program--or lack thereof-- has created a media buzz.
On April 16, City Council will vote on a proposed city-wide curbside recycling program at a cost of $8 per month to pick up newspapers, glass and plastics. The proposed program is a scaled-back version of the original program, which was pegged at $21 per month for a combination of garbage, blue-box recyclables and green-box organic waste pickup.
Now that the cost has been bumped down to $8 for blue-box recycling only, taxpayers and aldermen should be getting behind the campaign, which is to be phased in by 2009, but some Aldermen are still unsure of how to vote on the issue.
City Council's lukewarm attitude towards waste reduction and recycling is far from indicative of the "progressive, innovative" rhetoric punctuating many of Mayor Dave Bronconnier's speeches. Calgary is actually shamefully regressive on green issues when compared to many other city centres. By comparison, Vancouver piloted its first blue-box recycling program in 1989. Toronto has had green bins for organic waste since 2004. Even our neighbours to the north in Edmonton have had blue-bag curbside recycling in place since 1999.
Some environmentally-savvy Calgarians already recycle by paying for curbside pickup services from private companies or driving their recycling to one of the green-bin stations located in parking lots around the city. But Calgary's limited recycling resources simply do not suffice, especially when compared to other Canadian cities. Not everyone can afford to pay for private recycling services, and driving recyclables to green bins is a hassle, making weekly, city-wide curbside pickup the only way to go if City Council wants to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills. Besides, the current free green-box system requires users to own a car to drive the recyclables to the drop bins, leaving those who make the environmental or economic decision not to drive out of luck.
The main difference between Calgary and greener cities like Vancouver or Toronto is that waste management doesn't pose the problem for Calgary it does in other cities. Calgary lacks natural growth restrictions like the ocean and mountains surrounding Vancouver, or man-made ones like the high urban density limiting Toronto's growth. As a result, Calgary continues to grow quickly and recklessly outward into the sprawling prairie surrounding the city, with the ability to create new landfills whenever and wherever they are needed.
Environmentally, it's not all bad news for Calgary. A recent survey by Mercer Human Resources Consulting rated Calgary the cleanest city in the world in which to live based on factors like pollution levels, availability of health care, waste removal and sewage systems. Though the methodology behind the survey is somewhat questionable, it's true that Calgary doesn't have to deal with major environmental issues present in other city centres. But if Calgary wants to maintain a high quality of life and a high environmental standard, it's time to act.
Given Calgary's rapid, unprecedented growth, it's high time the city got green by voting in the blue-box recycling plan and fast-tracking affordable ways to implement green-box organic waste recycling soon after. Hopefully, Aldermen will take the future of the city, the country and the world into account and vote in favour of the curbside-recycling plan on April 16.