Rupert’s the problem with garbage system, says ISWAC chair

  • Apr. 30, 2008 8:00 p.m.

By Alex Rinfret–The regional district should stop running the islands garbage system from Prince Rupert and instead set up a non-profit society to administer it locally, says the chair of the Islands Solid Waste Advisory Committee (ISWAC). Daryl Collerman, who has been a member of ISWAC for five years and its chair for one, said the garbage system here functions well, even though it has a bare bones budget. Any inefficiencies in the system are probably due to the fact that the regional district administrator and the waste operations supervisor both work out of an office in Prince Rupert, he said, and aren’t in touch with the day-to-day operations here. Mr. Collerman said he wanted to talk to the Observer about the garbage system because it is an important issue for islanders and because he’s alarmed by the regional district’s sudden decision to search for a contractor to take over every aspect of the system, including recycling and the landfill site. Right now, the task of disposing of islanders’ trash is taken care of by a network of contractors and direct employees who pick up garbage bags once a week from every house and take them to the nearest transfer station. They then transport the garbage from the transfer stations to the landfill site near Port, which must be maintained to provincial standards and is regularly checked by an engineer. The regional district has set up recycling bins in most communities; these are also emptied and sorted and the material then shipped to Prince Rupert on the ferry. Moving to a single contractor would mean that several longtime employees would lose their jobs and it’s hard to see how it would be more efficient, Mr. Collerman said. “There’s a lot to lose by this and I don’t think it’s fair,” he said. “I don’t see where the problem is in the garbage system, besides Prince Rupert.” Mr. Collerman, who worked as an engineer in recycling plants before moving home five years ago, said he was eager to get involved with the islands solid waste advisory committee when he arrived here in 2003. The committee was set up by the regional district when it took on running the garbage system in the mid-1990s so that islanders could contribute their ideas about what would work here and what wouldn’t. Mr. Collerman described a committee of dedicated volunteers who for the most part would like to see the system running more efficiently, see the amount of waste going to the landfill reduced, and set up more recycling opportunities. But members are frustrated because for the past several years, the regional district does not appear to have acted on any of the committee’s suggestions.As an example, Mr. Collerman said a major concern about the landfill site is leachate, and one way to reduce leachate is to get batteries out of general garbage. Shortly after joining the committee, he suggested starting a battery recycling program. He did hours of research, designed a pamphlet to inform islanders about the hazardous materials in batteries and how to dispose of them safely – but his plan snagged when the regional district didn’t want to spend money on the proper receptacles which would be required.Another problem, Mr. Collerman said, is that many islanders don’t know what can be recycled and where to bring it, because the information is not easily available. The committee has suggested distributing regular newsletters to inform people, with the goal of reducing the amount of waste going to the landfill, but again the regional district has been reluctant to spend money on anything like this, Mr. Collerman said.”I would have to say that in the whole five years I’ve been involved in this now, the committee has had its hands tied,” he said. “Whatever solutions the committee comes up with – don’t go anywhere.”Regional district directors have been concerned recently about a deficit in the garbage system. Administrator John Holland said that costs outstripped revenues by $260,000 over the past couple of years, and directors have raised the monthly garbage fees to $22 from $17 in response. Tipping fees at the transfer stations and landfill have also been increased.Mr. Collerman said he doesn’t see any expenditures in the system that could be reduced, except for the cost of having administrators located in Prince Rupert and their travel to the islands. He was especially alarmed at the idea – floated recently by Mr. Holland – that the recycling program could be cut back in order to save money.He is now working on a proposal which he plans to submit to the regional district in response to its ad looking for contractors. His proposal would see an islands-wide non-profit society running the system. He believes that the additional revenue generated by the recent fee increases and the money saved by not having the system administered from Rupert will add up to extra dollars which the society could then spend on recycling programs.He’s got lots of ideas about how money could be saved, such as using the barge instead of the ferry to bring the recyclables to the mainland, and diverting more high-value newsprint to the recycling program instead of the dump.”I hope this can happen,” he said. “I hope some day we can control our own waste system instead of being dictated to by Prince Rupert.”Many of Mr. Collerman’s observations and opinions are shared by Thor Collison, who probably has more experience with the local garbage system than any other islander. Mr. Collison is a certified landfill operator who has worked for the regional district at the landfill site for 10 years, and has been charge hand for the past four years.Mr. Collison said the system works well for the most part, but is hampered by the fact that large spending decisions are made in Rupert. This has resulted, he said, in decisions to buy used equipment that then require expensive repairs.Meanwhile, “we’re running basically a skeleton crew. we’re fixing up 15-year-old rusted out garbage containers.our excavator right now is basically dead and they’re renting one while they decide what to do.”Mr. Collison believes the garbage system could be run from the islands more efficiently and with better results for islanders.”It’s a viable operation,” he said. “If we could run it ourselves, it’s a viable business.”

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