The Nanaimo Recycling Exchange will be closing, either temporarily or permanently, as it faces an expiring lease. (NEWS BULLETIN file)

NRE says some form of shutdown now unavoidable

City of Nanaimo staff has been asked to look into options to support $6-million recycling depot

The Nanaimo Recycling Exchange will be closing, either temporarily or permanently.

Ben Geselbracht, vice-chairman of the non-profit NRE, said although a timeline hasn’t been finalized, “there’s no available options to avoid a discontinuation of service.”

Representatives from the recycling exchange went before the City of Nanaimo’s committee of the whole on Monday to ask for $6.05 million to build a facility at a lot on Kenworth Road, but city councillors said they couldn’t make that decision without a business plan from the NRE and asked staff to look into funding options.

Faced with an expiring lease and an obligation to demolish the structures at the current Kenworth Road location, the NRE needs to move toward site closure, said Jan Hastings, executive director, at Monday’s meeting.

Geselbracht said the NRE has “no alternative available at the moment for a quick solution” and is progressing with plans for closure.

“Once those gates shut, there’s going to be a hue and cry … everybody that I know goes to the NRE to recycle and it’s going to be a shock when that place is closed,” Geselbracht said, adding that he hopes the shutdown will be temporary.

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He was asked whether the NRE should have brought a business plan when it approached the city, and replied that it was hoped that councillors would have been informed by a recent Regional District of Nanaimo process studying a facility plan.

“On our end, we’re kind of like, well, we’ve been doing this for 25 years. We’ve got 800-1,500 cars a day coming through and we’ve been processing all this material for the last long while. We’re solid,” he said.

Geselbracht added that the NRE has basically been operating as best it can with the resources it’s had.

“I think on the whole, there’s been an under-valuing of the service being provided and so there’s always been a scarcity and a shortfall…” he said. “The NRE has been enabling the city and the district to not deal with this issue and put money towards it, because we’ve been tackling it up to this point. I think everybody just needs to realize that it costs money, and other districts that are taking leadership and moving forward on dealing with non-curbside recyclables are fully publicly funding one-stop-drop zero-waste recycling centres.”

The RDN recently announced preliminary support for $300,000 annual funding to the NRE for five years. A city staff report from September 2017 shows that the city provides $77,400 per year to the NRE – reported to cover eight per cent of the non-profit’s operating costs. The city also provides a permissive tax exemption to the NRE valued at $16,000. According to a city report, the NRE’s contract with the RDN to haul yard waste to Nanaimo Organic Waste brings a surplus of $45,000 for the NRE to offset other recycling operations.

Geselbracht said it’s inevitable that the City of Nanaimo will need some sort of recycling facility to work toward zero waste, and wondered what it would cost for the city to start a project like that from scratch, compared to working with a willing partner now in the NRE.

He agreed that there need to be discussions about operations and costs, and that those discussions should happen before the city agrees to provide $6.05 million.

“There seems to be support from council to get to the bottom of this and solve it,” Geselbracht said. “So we’re hoping that everybody can collaborate and really figure out what is the full cost of setting this up and especially, what’s the full cost of not doing this now?”

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