Whether the recyclable material goes into landfills or whether it actually gets recycled is a question that keeps coming up in conversations within small northern communities. Black Press Media decided to explore this issue and find out what happens to our recyclable waste.
Two members of the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN), Mark Fisher, the director for Area A (Smithers rural) and Alex Eriksen, the director of Environmental Services, spoke with Black Press Media to shed some light on the issue of recycling and the steps RDBN is taking to address it.
“There is a weird mistrust with that,” said Eriksen. “Why should I recycle, it is going to the dump anyway and it is a weird and yet a very common misconception. It could be founded in mistrust in the government and also with the fact that people sometimes don’t understand the reasons behind certain material being land-filled,”
Where does the recycling go?
In the province, the residential recycling is handled by Recycle BC, as part of the provincial EPR program. Recycle BC is the overarching organization, and all of their material is shipped to a recycling/sorting centre in Surrey and from there they put it out on the open market to produce whatever commodities possible from the waste stream.
Material is collected from homes and depots, delivered to the receiving or sorting facility, sorted first manually and then mechanically. The sorted materials, such as plastic jugs, aluminum cans, steel cans, newspaper, cardboard, etc. are then baled together with like materials and shipped to end markets. Some of the primary end markets for plastic and glass are in the province, while paper goes to pacific northwest and metal to North America.
“It is really important that people don’t think we are just throwing it all out after they have taken the efforts to sort it,” said Eriksen. “And while we don’t have anything to do with it after it leaves our depot, we do know that it goes to a sorting centre in Surrey.”
He also said people should be aware that, when they throw their bag of recycling into the transfer station, it gets land-filled but when they bring it to the recycling depots, it gets handled, sorted and recycled by a provincial organization that oversees it.
Recycle BC also has videos on its website as well as a search tool that can help people look up what exactly they can and cannot recycle.
Recycling hurdles in the regional district
Recycle BC doesn’t support curbside collection for populations under 5,000 people and that’s just a matter of scale and the amount of money it costs to administer those programs, according to Fisher.
Both, Smithers and Telkwa had curbside pick up until the bailing facility burned down in 2019.
“Before, Smithers had one of the best participation in the province in recycling and now that there are problems with the bailing facility, the participation rate has fallen,” said Fisher. “We have self-haul in which people take their stuff to the depot which generally results in a little less participation as well.”
Fisher also said that while several individuals have wanted to collect waste directly from people’s houses, doing that would categorize them as a business and that recycling would become ineligible to be dropped off at the depot, as it is no longer residential; it is business recycling.
“There is some policy work that needs to be done and the regional district is continuing to work on that,” he said. “But the various chambers of commerce, individuals, they all need to just say, this is ridiculous, it is coming from houses, we want to create a business and let us do it. I would just encourage the public to get active, put the pressure on us but also put it on the province because these things need to change in order to make the system work in our area.”
What is the RDBN doing in the recycle-matters?
Last year, the regional district hired Joseph Chubb as the environmental coordinator and created a position of diversion supervisor which is being overseen by Janette Derksen.
“We need people to know that their efforts aren’t going into nothing and we know that something that has lacked in the past is communication and public education, because there just hasn’t been room in the department for it, but the hiring of an environmental coordinator, freed up time for outreach programs and educational programs for recycling,” said Eriksen. “That’s what Derksen will be working on because we want this information to be out there, we want people to recycle as good as they possibly can.”
The regional district will also be doing a full waste audit by the end of the year, which will include all waste streams, point to how much waste is being generated and will help the regional district know the actual percentage of materials being recycled in the region.
“We are currently also tweaking the solid waste committee and looking into how to be more effective, who we can include in the discussions, how to partner with different groups like the business community more; but the bottom line is we are making this committee a bit more effective and work more with community,” said Fisher.
The regional district is also exploring the option of levying tipping fees.
“The details are yet to be hammered out and the staff will be working on this throughout the year, but we are looking at ways to include a ‘polluter pays’ principle,” said Fisher. “Basically, the more garbage you create, the more cost you incur and therefore, people need to start getting in the habit of recycling.”
The overall goal of these tipping fees would be to divert more and encourage diversion.
“The goal is not to generate revenue, but to encourage diversion,” concluded Eriksen.