A majority of the material going to the region’s dump site is recyclable or compostable, show reports from the Capital Regional District (CRD) which owns and operates the Hartland Landfill.
In a waste composition study released in 2016, it was revealed that 32.2 per cent of trash coming from single-family homes is recyclable material including paper, cardboard, glass and plastic. An additional 2.7 per cent of this is comprised of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and 28.2 per cent is comprised of organics which could be composted. This means that more than 60 per cent of items from single family homes could be processed for re-use.
|Data from a 2016 waste composition study shows what trash is being collected from single-family households. (File contributed/CRD)
For multi-family homes, numbers sit at 34.5 per cent recyclable, three per cent metals, and 31.1 per cent organics. For industrial, commercial and institutional locations this number rose to 42 per cent recyclables, 2.7 per cent metals and 23.3 per cent organics.
Collectively, the dump is seeing an equivalent of 92 Olympic-sized swimming pools thrown into the landfill every year.
These numbers have prompted the CRD to reassess its solid waste management plan, something which hasn’t been updated since 1995. The CRD is conducting public engagement sessions to better understand people’s needs, and comprise a plan to reduce solid waste going into the landfill by one third by 2030.
“A good part of our upcoming solid waste planning conversation with the community is to try to understand what else can be done to help the community to continue to increase its waste diversion activities,” said Russ Smith, senior manager of environmental resource management.
This is a welcomed idea, said Jutta Gutberlet, professor of geography at the University off Victoria, who is especially looking forward to the CRD’s promise of an education campaign.
“On the public level it is a lack of education. There’s not enough awareness or information about what is recyclable and how to to separate it, or where to bring it,” Gutberlet said, adding that every year she takes her students to the Hartland Landfill. “I’ve seen it first hand, the problem of too many resources still going to the landfill.”
This education would need to be two-part: understanding what can be recycled and learning how to reduce consumption.
Gutberlet believes there’s no such thing as waste, and that everything is a resource if it can be returned to the economy. Today’s national and international standards, however, make this more difficult to make a reality.
“The problem is our materials, particularly the plastic-based materials, have become so complex,” she said. “It’s such a mix of chemical compositions that it makes it almost impossible to recycle it.”
Plastics with additional colours or compounds added for heat resistance, flexibility and other features make it impossible for current plants to process. That’s why more public advocacy is needed from consumers to producers, Gutberlet said.
Regardless off these issues, the Hartland landfill does still take a large portion of recyclables at its recycle depot, where residents can drop off recycling materials for free, while businesses pay $25. The sampled numbers from the waste composition study did not include these materials.
According to a 2018 report, the recycling depot saw more than 547 tonnes of paper and cardboard, and more than nine tonnes of plastic collected. These components are then forwarded to one of the BC stewardship agencies which make up BC Recycles.
Composting, however, is another issue. In 2015, the CRD implemented a ban on kitchen scraps to save space and reduce greenhouse gases. Presently, compostable materials collected within the region are collected by Fosher Road Recycling, which processes the material either at its Cobble Hill facility or by a sub-contractor in Cache Creek.
Gutberlet believes organic components are the largest contributor to waste, as well as the easiest to resolve.
“There’s composting businesses, or home composting,” she said. “I’ve seen families in high-rises in Brazil with a composting bin. You can do it almost anywhere.”
In its new waste reduction strategy, the CRD has proposed to address 15 key points to help minimize solid waste, including considering opening a local organics processing infrastructure, establishing a community-based reduction program and advocating for the elimination of single-use items.
Between Nov. 5 and 21 the CRD will be hosting open houses to share more information on the plan. An online survey, along with more information on these open houses is also available at crd.bc.ca/rethinkwaste