Even as it marked Earth Day with free transit service, the City of Prince Albert has made caring for the environment a year-round concern.
© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
A line of recycling bins stand outside a building in downtown Prince Albert.
Public works director Colin Innes noted that since the city began offering free Earth Day transit service a few years ago, every consecutive year has seen increased ridership -- though he hesitated to draw a direct connection.
“We’ve found in the past that’s been pretty successful with the people riding (for free), and of course the idea is if we can get them on to see it on Earth Day that we get some of that ridership to continue,” Innes said.
City officials, however, had plenty of ongoing initiatives to discuss on Tuesday that illustrated the increased focus in Prince Albert on ecological harmony and sustainability.
Perhaps the most prominent was the expansion of local recycling services that the city began offering last July, though the full rollout only began in the fall.
Coun. Martin Ring played a lead role in pushing for the recycling expansion, which allowed residents to recycle additional materials while maintaining a single-stream approach.
“It was certainly something that was high on my list to see it come to fruition, in particular the single-stream so that we weren’t including an additional bin at people’s houses,” Ring said. “It was to still have just that single-bin pickup for all of the paper and plastics.”
Materials that may now be recycled in Prince Albert include paper and cardboard, metal food cans and foil, beverage containers, plastic jugs, bottles and food containers.
Non-recyclable items include plastics that are not containers, houseware items, building materials, hazardous materials, electronics, food or yard waste, mixed packaging, contaminated materials and anything made of glass.
“Glass is the one thing that we have not been able to find a way to collect it without causing issues within our recycling stream because glass will obviously break,” Ring said.
“That’s one of the biggest concerns with it, and also the aftermarket for glass, it’s very limited.”
Ring cited cost savings for the local landfill and removing less biodegradable materials from it as key factors in his support for the expanded recycling program,
“The less product we’ve got going out to our landfill, the longer the lifespan for that landfill … We’re processing tonnes and tonnes, hundreds of tonnes of material that are being diverted from our landfill, and that’s a huge piece of it,” Ring said.
The councillor pointed to statistics indicating a strong reaction to the expanded program.
In 2013, Prince Albert and its partner communities collected 1,319 tonnes of material. When commercial collection is included, the area processed a total of 3,596 tonnes.
In the first three months of 2014, Ring noted, there has been a 35 per cent increase in recycling tonnes being delivered.
“We've had a tremendous response to it,” he said. “Our numbers have been up across the board … We’ve got member municipalities as well that are part of our joint municipal recycle facility that’s located up on 42nd Street East, and so between our member municipalities and our city blue bins that we pick up curbside, the response has been overwhelming.”
People complain about our weather. I do believe it’s something that we’re doing to our atmosphere. Mayor Greg Dionne
Recycling is not the only focus of municipal green initiatives, with Mayor Greg Dionne spearheading an effort to reduce energy consumption in municipal buildings and vehicles.
The mandated reduction has led to lower usage of both gasoline (which for the city does not fluctuate in price) and electricity.
“We almost buy a million dollars in gasoline, so we passed a resolution in council ordering a 15 per cent cut, so you can’t -- if you don’t mind the pun -- idle your vehicles no more,” Dionne said.
Aside from mandated cuts, the city has adopted another approach to conserve fuel with its new vehicles.
“As we move into the newer vehicles with our tenders, one of the things that we have done is have them so they could use a flex fuel,” Innes said.
“Unfortunately we haven’t seen a provider of that fuel source yet. But I imagine that as more people have vehicles that are able to burn flex fuels in them, that that’s something that hopefully we’ll be able to take advantage of.”
Meanwhile, the effects of electricity reductions are evident to any visitor at City Hall.
“If you come over to my office right now, I’m sitting here working with my lights off because I have windows in my office and I don’t need my lights on,” the mayor said.
“We … ordered a 15 per cent cut in electricity, and it’s working. You walk around City Hall and there’s more lights off than on now.”
One element helping to reduce electricity usage has been the installation of new LED lighting in municipal buildings that include motion sensors, which allow lights to switch off automatically when no one is in the room.
“We’ve also got the same thing with our computers … If you accidentally were to leave it on when you left, then it’ll automatically go into the shutdown mode to save the electricity as well,” Innes said.
Dionne noted that the city’s reduction in energy use initially arose out of fiscal concerns.
“During the budget process, one of the things you want to do is before you tell the people that you’re getting a tax increase, I think it’s prudent on us to look at our budgets to see where we can save money -- and when I see you’re almost buying a million dollars’ worth of gas, well, that’s crazy,” he said. “Shut your vehicles off.”
Such efforts are likely to continue in the future, with the mayor planning to look at better ways to heat buildings as he looks through the budget. He added that any new building constructed in the city must be energy-efficient.
Explaining the reasons for his ecological concerns, Dionne pointed to the local effects of climate change caused by human activity.
“People complain about our weather,” he noted. “I do believe it’s something that we’re doing to our atmosphere, because our weather is so wacky now and unpredictable … I agree with that.”