Recycling in the North

🕔Nov 19, 2007

Paper in one corner, cardboard in the other. Batteries over here, paint cans over there, used cans and bottles elsewhere. Vegetable peelings in the compost and grass clippings in the yard trimmings box.
It takes the average household only a few extra minutes a day and likely another hour or two a month to recycle and compost. Yet thousands of northern BC residents are still mixing together all of what they consider waste, and either putting it on their curb for garbage pick-up or chucking it into the local landfill.
The ultimate result is overflowing dumps, inflated waste-management bills for cities and regional districts, and toxic chemicals leeching into the environment.
Things are not all negative, though, according to freelance environmental planner Laurie Gallant, whose Smithers-based company Environmental Footprint Strategies focuses on landfill diversion, air quality protection, and energy profile shifting.
Gallant’s client list covers almost the entire province and includes all levels of government, industry, not-for-profits and community organizations, and she says the recycling revolution is just around the corner.

Who pays?
She puts it down to the provincial government forcing manufacturers to be responsible for their products after consumer use, for the first time in history.
New provincial recycling regulations passed in 2004, under what is called the Extended Product Responsibility (EPR) program, now provide end-users with an option to recycle rather than throw out certain products they no longer need.
For instance, a new recycling program for certain electronics started August 2006. Now, rather than a consumer dumping his or her 1980s relic of a computer into the landfill, he or she will have the choice to drop it off at a recycling depot instead. And all the expenses will be paid by the manufacturer, except for a minimal fee buyers will now be charged when purchasing new computers.
Over time, if local governments decide to ban from the landfill products that have an EPR program in place, the consumer may have no choice but to recycle.
The new regulations will also force manufacturers to design products that are more easily recycled and do not contain toxins, says Gallant.
“Eventually, all products will be covered by industry. That’s the revolution that we are talking about. Things will be radically different.”
The new system will also let lower levels of government, such as municipalities and regional districts, focus on diverting organic materials from landfills. Organics, such as yard, garden and kitchen waste, make up 50 per cent of landfill contents, she adds.

Barriers and opportunities
In April 2006, Gallant facilitated a workshop on solid waste management plans for northern interior communities. Local government staff, elected officials, industry, and Ministry of Environment representatives attended. Participants discussed barriers and opportunities for waste management alternatives, recognized EPR programs and organics management as critical to waste reduction, and drew up a list of goals.
The Regional Districts of Fraser-Fort George in Prince George and Kitimat-Stikine in Terrace volunteered to take the lead in bringing the actions into life and, as a next step, jointly paid for Gallant to conduct a survey on current waste reduction practices by regional districts in BC.
“Cities have garbage collection, but quite often the RD offers the recycling programs and operates the landfills,” Gallant explains.
According to an article Gallant published in Resource Recycling in September 2007, the survey revealed that the following are necessary to improve resource efficiency and solid-waste management functions in regional districts:

• A stronger connection between solid-waste management and other community planning and quality-of-life objectives, such as air quality and economic development;
• A standardized approach for calculating the avoided cost of land-filling as long as decision-makers continue to rely on this value for justifying commitments to waste reduction and resource-recovery efforts;
• A transition strategy to get from the current paradigm of local government responsibility and cost-recovery models to one where end-of-life products are handled by manufacturers, and organic materials are converted to value-added products targeting community needs and regional markets.

Creating new from old
Northern BC communities, especially, must start creating end markets for recycled products, Gallant says.
A perfect example is fertilizer. Across the north, peat and manure are sold at garden supply and feed stores. “Where does all that stuff come from?” Gallant asks. “Not here. But some of what we’re throwing into the garbage could be in those bags.
We need to close the loop in recycling.”
Whether that happens, however, also depends on individuals. “It has a lot to do with personalities of residents who live in the area,” she says.
Roger Tooms of the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine (KSRD) said his organization helped pay for the provincial waste management survey conducted by Gallant so all of BC’s Regional Districts could learn from each other.
“What we are trying to do is contribute in the best way possible to the local area as well as at the provincial level,” he says. “You don’t want to go out there and reinvent the wheel.”
The KSRD has already spearheaded some progressive waste-reduction initiatives, such as hiring Gallant to evaluate the new EPR programs and to create a pamphlet called It’s Not Garbage—a directory of reuse and recycle options for Terrace and area.
The District is also in the midst of planning for a new landfill that will eventually and ideally be the basis of a new, more efficient method of collecting, separating and reducing local waste: extracting the majority of recyclables and dealing with organics appropriately to not only minimize real dollar costs, but social and environmental costs as well.
Gallant, however, does not think the responsibility for waste reduction should solely rest on the shoulders of local governments.
“If we really want to be serious about environmental stewardship, everyone has to step up to the plate,” she says, adding that a simple way to make a difference is to not buy things that you don’t really need.

Filling the gap
In many northern BC communities, where the population (and therefore the tax base) is not large enough to support government recycling programs such as curbside pick-up, not-for-profits and private businesses have made the difference. “They step up to fill the gap, and that’s a good thing.”
Kasey Lewis, of Do Your Part Recycling, a private curbside recycling pick-up service in Terrace, agrees with Gallant.
Lewis started Do Your Part, which serves residents and businesses, with a friend in May 2006. The two women began the venture with big optimism and aspirations, but small resources. They saw recycling as an urgently needed service that was lacking in their community. Initially, they worked from one of their garages and used a family mini-van for pick-ups.
Lewis is now the sole proprietor of Do Your Part while her one-time business partner, Heather Truhn, has stayed on as an employee. But since its humble beginnings the company,, and its list of clients—now close to 400—have grown much faster than the entrepreneurs anticipated.
The company now employs six people and owns a four-ton truck and bailer, which is used to condense the recycling into tight, shippable packages. Do Your Part moved for its second time in November 2007 to satisfy its need for more space. Lewis estimates the service now diverts about 800 bags of garbage a year from the landfill.
“It’s quite a bit, but really it’s still not,” she says. “We need to get everyone on board. Our next step is to try to get businesses to drop off cardboard.”
Although Do Your Part would love to see Terrace commit to recycling, Lewis doesn’t necessarily want the city to offer the service. “If it becomes city-wide, it will have to be tax-based.”
“In order for recycling to go curbside city-wide, we would have to have a depot here or ship it to Prince Rupert,” she continues. Either option would cost the city much money.
For Gallant and others who take waste reduction seriously, the be-all and end-all is to be part of the solution.
“You have a choice,” Gallant says. “Don’t complain. Do something.”