A single paper recycling bin, placed behind the Co-op in Vanderhoof six years ago, has evolved into a major recycling program. It now takes in several sites around town and has meant a major reduction in what goes into landfills, says Vince Terstappen, the Sustainability Coordinator for the Nechako Waste Reduction Initiative (NWRI).
“The program has kept evolving over the last six years,” he says. The paper bin has had to be moved due to a number of arson incidents a few years ago, but its place has been taken by a cardboard recycling bin, which will continue to be available to residents. This is especially important in light of the recent Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako decision to ban the disposal of cardboard at all landfills and transfer stations beginning on July 1, 2016. “A lot of cardboard still goes to the transfer station,” says Terstappen. “Residents will still be able to use the bin in town, but we’re trying to figure out what this means for businesses and other affected groups, figure out what our role is, and support that transition.”
Terstappen admits that one of the biggest concerns he hears from residents is about the travel involved in properly disposing of recyclables. The bottle depot is a private business, he points out, and the profit goes to Nechako Valley Secondary School for student-led initiatives such as new sports equipment. The cardboard bin is well placed, as it means the Co-op’s baler can be used on the cardboard to get it ready for transport.
“Our vision for recycling in Vanderhoof is to have a one stop shop, but where that is is something we need to figure out.” He also points out that NWRI works with the Nechako Valley Community Services Society’s Community Living Program to provide employment opportunities for clients who face barriers to employment. Two clients are paid to come to the bin twice a week and empty it, then bale the cardboard. “It’s a great community partnership.”
Asked if there was a drop-off in paper recycling after the bin was moved, Terstappen says there might have been, but it has long since been offset by the increased awareness of the need to recycle. “There’s been a huge increase in recycling locally,” he says. In 2013 some 5.1 tonnes of paper were recycled here each month, an amount that’s risen to 7.3 tonnes per month in 2015. “We used to empty the paper bin every two weeks; now we have to do it once a week, because it’s full,” he says. It’s the same story with plastic: the bin used to have to be emptied every three weeks, and now it too needs emptying every week.
Terstappen attributes this to an increased desire to recycle and reduce waste, and an increased awareness that recycling options exist. He agrees that one of the keys to a successful recycling program is getting younger people on board. “Last year we did sessions with the YMCA at summer camps, as well as Earth Day workshops with specific classes in some of the schools. If you can get kids to think about waste, they’ll bring that message to their parents.”
The need to recycle is brought home by a 2009 study, in which one week’s garbage at the Vanderhoof transfer station was gathered, audited, and sorted. The end result was the finding that close to 75% of the material being taken to the station each week was recyclable. One-third of that was organic material that could be composted, while close to 25% of the material was paper. It amounted to some 10kg of waste per resident per week, and Terstappen says he believes that recycling has reduced this figure. To drive it home, however, he’ll take a backpack weighing 10kg with him when he talks to kids about recycling, and challenge them to make it lighter.
Another initiative that has got kids involved is the community cleanup event in April, which is a great way to get lots of young people coming out with their families. Schools, teachers, and parent groups are also very supportive, with recycling initiatives carried out in many schools as a teacher- and parent-driven endeavour.
“We need to think about the three Rs—reduce, re-use, recycle—and add a fourth one,” says Verstappen. “Re-think. We’ve come a long way in a short time, but it’s going to keep evolving.”