Winnipeg waste collection debated as contracts to expire soon

Councillors on the City of Winnipeg's water and waste committee are grappling with two major garbage collection contracts that are about to expire.

Agreements with Emterra and Progressive Waste Services end in 2017

The companies that provide Winnipeg's trash and recycling services have faced numerous complaints over the years, and now the city is considering what to do as their contracts expire in 2017. (CBC)

Councillors on the City of Winnipeg's water and waste committee are grappling with two major garbage collection contracts that are about to expire.

The deals with waste management companies Emterra and Progressive Waste Services end in 2017. Those contracts were the first ones issued by the city after it revamped its residential trash and recycling collection with roll-out bins in 2012.

The years have been littered with complaints about thousands of homes being missed, equipment breakdowns that led to delays in service, bins being damaged, trash spilling onto streets and crews seen mixing trash and recycling in the same trucks.

Past problems are noted in a motion from council that asks city staff to look at negotiating new contracts.

"Whereas the first year of the new garbage and recycle cart system was an awful transition with subsequent years demonstrating flaws in the collection system … " the preamble to the motion states.

The purpose of the council motion is to try to find a more competitive environment for garbage service by creating three separate zones with staggered start times under three new contracts. But city bureaucrats said it isn't a good idea.

A staff report to the water and waste committee recommends not dividing the city into three garbage pickup zones, but two.

Currently there are four garbage collection zones in Winnipeg — three serviced by Emterra and one by Progressive Waste Services — negotiated under two separate contracts. 

Moving to a three-zone system would require a contract extension with Emterra until new deals could be reached and "the city would not realize the most economical bids, as economies of scale with multiple contractors would be reduced," city staff wrote.

Request for proposals

The city will also issue requests for proposals on the new collection contracts instead of a straight tender for the work.

Water and waste committee chair Brian Mayes told reporters the change will allow companies who bid to be creative and show how they might be more effective at collecting the garbage and recycling.

"The tender being the main weight goes to, almost exclusively, to the low price. An RFP is trying to be more innovative, certainly saying price is a major component, but there are other items to be considered, " Mayes said.

The new garbage collection contracts would not include organic waste pickup, which is the subject of a yet-to-be-launched public information campaign.

Nor would the new contracts address calls for changing the pickup system to include smaller carts for residents who generate less garbage or allow for a choice to have pickup at two-week intervals as opposed to the current once-a-week system.

Moira Geer, the acting director of the water and waste department, told reporters it was a "fair assumption" the new contracts would not substantially change collection services for the foreseeable future.

Pilot projects before changes

Geer said changes to cart size, the fees associated with collection and a possible organic waste pickup all must go through extensive public consultation before being instituted. That would be followed by pilot projects for some of the changes before they are introduced as services.

The report to water and waste warns that having more than two contracts could increase the need for city staff to monitor the extra service providers and might cause confusion among residents.

Mayes expressed concerns about possible labour issues if there are just two pickup zones with two waste companies doing the work. A failure by either contractor to pick up garbage in one zone could prompt the city to ask the other company to step in and do that work.

Mayes wants to know if there will be provisions in the new contracts that would override labour agreements and allow one company to do pickups in another zone, if required. He said he won't vote for any contracts that don't address the labour issue.

Any new contracts for garbage collection would be subject to a vote.

Water and waste staff hope to have request-for-proposal documents complete next month.