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Less trash indicates a slow economy, says waste management board

The Eastern Regional Services Board says there is less trash coming to the Robin Hood Bay landfill and tipping fees are set to increase as a result, trends it says are reflective of a slow economy in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Harold Mullowney, chair of the Eastern Regional Services Board, says tipping fees are paid by businesses and municipalities that bring material to the landfill, with those funds going toward the operations of the landfill.

“The money coming in for all those functionalities is not where it should be,” he said. 

“That being said, it’s completely related to our economy. If there’s less activity in the economy, there’s less tonnage coming in, there’s less funds to run the facility.” 

It’s the first time the fees have changed since 2013, Mullowney said, because a stronger economy has resulted in a surplus of garbage being brought to Robin Hood Bay in recent years.

The St. John’s landfill has been seeing less and less trash over the past few years. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Numbers from the City of St. John’s show the landfill received 24,037 tonnes of garbage in 2018, down from 25,899 tonnes in 2014.

“When you had a lot of construction on the way, there was a lot of materials from there. Not only that, when the economy does slow down, people don’t spend as much money themselves in their own individual households,” he said.

“Even though it seems like you’re not producing any different amount of garbage, you are in a sense, because people are not buying all those consumer products and throwing out the old materials as they were in the past.”

Mullowney said recycling also has a role to play in the money the landfill makes from tipping fees.

The city’s numbers show the total tonnage of recycling on the decline, dropping from 3,155 tonnes in 2014 to 2,606 in 2018.

“If more people would recycle, that would be a tremendous benefit for the environment as a whole,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, there’s less being processed through the site, so there’s less money available to run the site and finish capping the site at the end of its life.”

Mullowney said the household fee charged to residents won’t increase this year, but changes could be made in the years to come if trends continue.

And while less waste seems like a good thing, he said, there are fixed costs associated with running the Robin Hood Bay landfill that must be covered, no matter the amount of garbage or the state of the economy. 

“If the amount [of garbage] going in is less, the costs of operation are not less.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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