The City of Winnipeg's largest union will get the chance to demonstrate it can compete with private waste-collection companies when future garbage and recycling contracts are awarded.

Council's water and waste committee voted Thursday to approve a two-year pilot project that will see members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 pick up garbage and recycling from one of the city's three multi-family collection areas, starting in 2020.

The intent is to see whether what the city calls "insourcing" — work by city employees — can be cost-competitive with waste collection by private contractors. Right now, the private firms Miller Waste Systems and GFL Environmental collect the vast majority of the city's residential waste.

​"This is courageous and creative," said St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes, commending CUPE 500 and Winnipeg's water and waste department for working together to develop the pilot project.

Mayes said he hopes it could be a prelude to a future when one of Winnipeg's major waste-collection contracts could be handled in-house. The GFL and Miller contracts expire in 2025.

The multi-family pilot project would replace a plan that would have allowed CUPE 500 to collect bulky waste in Winnipeg. The city determined that plan would not have made financial sense for the city.

CUPE 500 president Gord Delbridge called the move "a step in the right direction." He said while he would have preferred a crack at one of the big contracts that were awarded in 2016, the pilot project is better than having the union shut out of waste collection altogether.

City council must still approve the pilot project later this month.

Extra money for recycling

In a separate decision, council's water and waste committee voted to spend an additional $1.5 million on the final two years of its recycling-processing contract with Emterra Environmental.

Emterra needs more money to refine its processes to ensure the quality of its paper recyclables meets new minimum standards demanded by China, the primary consumer of recyclable paper materials.

The city has no other market for these products, water and waste director Moira Geer said.

"This is the best option of a series of bad options," Mayes said.

This decision still requires approval from council's executive policy committee and a council as a whole.