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Ottawa city council talks trash, agrees to look at technological options

Ottawa city councillors spent about an hour Wednesday debating the future of the city's waste management policy and settled on a plan directing staff to explore technological options like incineration.

Trash talk has been increasing at city hall because of a proposed tag-a-bag policy that would see residents pay a fee for exceeding a set number of tagged garbage bags per year. While the bag tag policy has yet to rise to committee, let alone council, a motion by Coun. Allan Hubley, seconded by Coun. David Brown, requested staff study other waste diversion technology and report to council in the fall as part of the draft solid waste master plan.

That motion kicked off a debate that included discussion around long-term and short-term waste policies.

"What we are asking for is for staff to provide more information about all the options," Hubley said. "There's other choices out there for us. We're asking for staff to give us all the choices so that council can make an informed decision."

The motion does not approve or guarantee any particular option. It does ask staff to "give preference to potential solutions that could provide heat and or electricity for improving housing affordability for our residents" and it also directs staff to prepare a feasibility study and business case for council's preferred option by the end of the term.

Currently, Ottawa residents throw out approximate 317,000 tonnes of garbage a year. The city of Ottawa's current landfill on Trail Road is expected to reach capacity in the next 13 to 15 years, and staff have said siting and developing a new landfill could cost up to $450 million and take up to 15 years to become operational.

Staff said Wednesday that even if a technological option like incineration or waste-to-energy is approved, reducing the amount of trash residents produce would still be required.

"Regardless the technology selected at the end, whether it's a disposal site, whether it's an incinerator or whether it's a waste-to-energy facility, there will still be a requirement to increase our diversion," said public works general manager Alain Gonthier.

Speaking to reporters, Gonthier said the discussion around the bag tag proposal and the discussion around diversion technologies are not mutually exclusive.

"The two issues are really complementary. The one that is coming in June is focused on resident behaviour related to diversion. The motion that was presented was more around the end product," he said.

Gonthier told council Hubley's motion reinforces that technological options will be included in the draft solid waste master plan.

"When the plan comes forward, it won't be a surprise to council to see the suite of options that is going to be presented to them at the time," he said.

Some councillors spoke against the idea of incineration because of concerns around pollutants that would be created by the process, but Hubley stressed that a waste incinerator was just one option that could be considered.

"We didn’t zero in on incineration. Just outside our municipal boundary in the Arnprior area, they're using steam instead of incineration," he said.

The motion was ultimately approved unanimously after roughly an hour of discussion. Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said he would continue to listen to residents and councillors about ideas for how to manage solid waste.

"I think we're all keeping an open mind about this. We need to divert more from landfill, we're facing some very expensive decisions about future solutions, and I'm looking forward to hearing more about what our options are on that," he said.

However, he did not definitely say whether he supports a "pay as you throw" model.

"I'm supportive of doing what we need to do to divert more waste from landfill, but I think there are still a few options in terms of what we can do to achieve that," he said.

The Environmental and Climate Change Committee is set to debate the bag tag policy on June 5, with council giving the final vote on June 14 if it's approved at committee. 

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Leah Larocque and Josh Pringle. Top Stories

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