Winnipeg recycling firm forces city to delay marketing contract for Ontario-based company

The company that currently sorts and markets recycled materials in Winnipeg wants the city to tidy up its bidding process after it was denied a new contract.

Vote to award 10-year contract to Ontario-based Canada Fibers delayed as Emterra raises concerns

Winnipeg's water and waste committee will take a second look at a recommendation by city staff to award Canada Fibers with a $9-million annual contract to process and market the city's recycling. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The company that currently sorts and markets recycled materials in Winnipeg wants the city to tidy up its bidding process after it was passed over for a contract extension. 

On Thursday, the city's water and waste committee was scheduled to vote on whether to award a $9-million-per-year, 10-year-long municipal recycling contract to Ontario-based Canada Fibers. The contract would last from October 2019 to July 31, 2029, with the possibility of a five-year extension.

The vote didn't happen though, because Emterra — which has handled sorting and shipping of recyclables for more than 15 years — tabled a list of complaints regarding changes the city made during the bidding process, and concerns over Canada Fibers' ability to process and market recycled materials to China.

In January Emterra told the city it would need an additional $1.5 million over the next two years to continue shipping materials to China, which recently banned 24 types of solid waste from the country.

"That concern was raised by Emterra and then there was a lot of back and forth with how that issue had been dealt with in the competition," said St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes, chair of the city water and waste committee.

The city first issued a request for proposals last November and received bids from five companies, including Ricova International, Cascades Recovery, Emterra, Miller Waste Systems and Canada Fibers. It changed the criteria on Jan. 17, 2018 and the competition closed Jan. 25, 2018.

The issue here is not we feel Emterra hasn't done a good job on the sorting stuff, we're not saying that.- Brian Mayes

Canada Fibers put forward the lowest bid to take over sorting, marketing and shipping of recycled materials for the city in January, edging out Emterra, whose own contract with the city expires September 2019.

Mayes said staff recommended Canada Fibers not only based on its low bid, but also because of its experience in the field, its proposed location of a local processing plant, and the company's openness to renegotiate contract details should priorities change at the city.

If, for instance, the city wanted to start recycling cellophane or plastic bags, Mayes says Canad Fibers has the capacity to process those materials and has expressed a willingness to accommodate such a change.

"The issue here is not we feel Emterra hasn't done a good job on the sorting stuff, we're not saying that," Mayes said.

Mayes said construction projects at the city often move slower than expected and Coun. Janice Lukes asked the question of whether Canada Fibers would be able to build a new processing facility by October 2019. But Mayes said Canada Fibers provided contingency plans that would account for such a scenario.

A representative with CUPE Local 500, the union that represents Emterra workers, also raised concerns at the meeting about Canada Fibers' past violation of fair wage policy in Toronto that mandated the company pay employees a minimum amount. Mayes said that complaint involved some temp agencies in Toronto.

Mayes said CUPE's concern was over the fact that its unionized Emterra workers have had their wages raised, and that Canada Fibers could bring back minimum wage again should it take over. It is not a condition of the contract that Canada Fibers hire Emterra's workforce should it take over, Mayes said.

Winnipeg doesn't have a fair wage policy on the books, and Mayes said he wants committee members to look into what that would entail in the coming days.

The water and waste committee is expected to reconvene April 16 to possibly hold a vote. If passed, the contract would still be required to gain approval from city council and Mayor Brian Bowman's inner circle.

CBC News' calls to Emterra and CUPE Local 500 for comment were not returned.