The City of Nanaimo is preparing to explore all options when it comes to recycling services, not just a partnership with the Nanaimo Recycling Exchange. (NEWS BULLETIN file)

Nanaimo Recycling Exchange faces uncertainty as city explores options for recycling

Nanaimo staff to explore range of recycling service options, including partnership with NRE

Nanaimo Recycling Exchange is experiencing uncertainty as the City of Nanaimo prepares to explore all options when it comes to recycling services, not just a partnership with the not-for-profit.

Council members called for staff to build multiple business cases for recycling services during its finance and audit committee meeting Thursday, including a full partnership with Nanaimo Recycling Exchange, no partnership and status quo funding of a recycling program that would be open to bidders. The program had been contracted to the NRE.

Jan Hastings, executive director of the non-profit depot, appealed to the City of Nanaimo and regional district for help earlier this year, with a lease that expires in March and a construction budget for a new facility NRE can’t manage.

She’s now asking the city to buy NRE’s Kenworth Road property and pay to construct a city-owned facility that her organization would lease. Without a partnership, she said the exchange cannot continue.

But not everyone is OK with the city and NRE joining forces.

The Vancouver Island Recycling and Waste Industry Coalition, an organization of for-profit waste management businesses has expressed concern about a municipality funding an organization that competes with the private sector, a city report shows. It proposes a network of private depots that would provide service to citizens across the region, rather than one location, a per-tonne incentive to recycling companies for verified organic waste, furniture or bulky items and a new mandate for NRE, which would stop its operational role and focus on recycling education and promotion.

Nanaimo councillors decided against exploring only a partnership with NRE, defeating the motion in a tie vote, which would have seen the city consider the case for providing land and building a facility that would be leased to NRE, which would operate as usual. Instead, council will look at a range of options on recycling, such as putting depot services for zero waste items to bidders and partnering with NRE but reducing what it accepts at the depot.

“Let’s cut the crap and get to the point, are we here to save the NRE or not? That’s what I’d want to discuss,” said Coun. Jerry Hong. “Studies and business cases are great, but we don’t have time to do that according to the NRE.”

Hong said he supports status quo until the city figures out what it’s doing. He also pointed out the motion, on exploring a partnership, didn’t say the city was going to study a business case open to requests for proposals and qualifications, which he has a problem with, adding it wouldn’t be a “fullsome thing” about zero waste and the NRE “might not be it, it could be others.”

Coun. Armstrong said it looks like the city is building a business case just for the NRE.

“I would prefer to see a business case where it shows non-profits versus profits so that we can make a proper assessment,” said Armstrong, who also wants to know costs.

But Coun. Ian Thorpe said the intent of the motion is further research and feasibility, which would include numbers.

“This is about NRE. It’s about, for me, whether or not this city in principle supports doing something to help NRE and for me the other options are saying no, we do not,” he said. “Personally I do and so I am willing to support this motion because I want to see what would that support involve, what would it involve in costs, commitment, manpower and so on and options related to that.”

Mayor Bill McKay said anything other than the partnership option being considered would kill the NRE.

“It’s time we stepped up to the plate and we support our mandates with our wallets with respect to recycling in this community,” he said.

It’s expected to take the city up to two months to look at multiple business cases and cost $10,000 once the decision is formally approved at a council meeting. For Hastings, the decision means uncertainty and adds time to her group’s process, which she said is not good news for the NRE. Two of the options would mean their facility closes.

“It’s a difficult process to go through knowing that every job at the NRE hangs on the decision,” Hastings said.