FORT ST. JOHN, B.C – The City of Fort St. John is taking action to reduce contamination levels as recycling bins continue to contain large amounts of garbage.

Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Victor Shopland, presented several options to council to help mitigate contamination, such as hiring additional staff to conduct bin audits and stricter penalties for offenders.

During Monday’s meeting, council approved the process modifications, staffing increases and changes to the Solid Waste Management Bylaw to include stiffer enforcement.

Shopland’s report states contamination levels reached a level “that exceed industry standards” since the collection program was implemented in 2015.

“When we contaminate the recycling, it jeopardizes the whole program. We are offering it to people because it’s a program that is very much needed. Citizens need to understand that if you jeopardize the program in that way, we can’t afford it anymore,” says Mayor Lori Ackerman during Monday’s meeting.

Ackerman says finding a location for a new landfill would cost the city a pretty penny.

“When we got a new operator at the North Peace Landfill, the way they were managing things and the programs we put in place to divert from the landfill saved the life of that landfill, significantly. It gives us time for a breather. Screw it up and it’s gone,” says Ackerman.

After a separate report was presented to council Monday, city staff were directed to request inclusion in Recycle BC’s Incentive Program, which funds community recycling programs. The report states the current contamination rate exceeds 20 per cent compared to the provincial average of six per cent.

The city will hire four seasonal staff to continue with bin audits. This would cost the city between $50,000 to $70,000 for around four months of labour.

“This method is the most effective method of identifying contaminated bins and stopping this material from getting to the depot. Bylaw staff will be dedicating as much time as possible doing bin audits until additional staff can be hired and oriented for the job,” says Shopland in the May 10th report.

The city will also change its solid waste bylaw to remove bins from repeat offenders.

“First, the bin inspection will occur, then an educational letter is mailed out, the second time a fine is issued, the third time, the bin will be removed. Once removed, the fine will have to be paid before the cart is returned. If there is another occurrence, there would be another fine, and the cart removed immediately,” says the report.

Shopland also mentioned camera and artificial intelligence software could pinpoint contaminants and log the address of the offenders. The technology will be trialed soon and, if successful, would cost $2,500 per month.

“This has some good long term benefits, although the contaminants will already be in the truck when the program identifies the problem. This will work throughout the year, as currently conducting bin audits in winter is very difficult.”

Another option Shopland presented would have the city develop an app to simplify bin audit reporting.

The city has tried to educate the public with social media posts, activities, events, surveys and partnerships with other organizations to help reduce the contamination levels over the last three years.

“These reports lead to hundreds of warning letters and fines being given out. The volume of these letters has already resulted in the addition of administration staff to help relieve Bylaw staff,” continues Shopland.

Council also approved returning to weekly garbage collection last year in an attempt to halt garbage-filled recycling bins.

“All of these efforts have apparently had limited success. The contamination levels have recently reached a level where the health and safety of the workers at the depot is a potential issue.”