Students at Haida Gwaii’s Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay school load a machine that turns plastics to diesel. (Dan Schulbeck - contributed)

Haida students turn plastics to power

Dan Schulbeck, a teacher at Haida Gwaii’s Masset Island high school, spearheads the project.

by Hayley Day

On Haida Gwaii, the answer to local waste prevention is in the trash.

Island students are working to wipe out some of their schools’ single-use plastics, as well as prevent further plastics from ending up in landfills, forests or oceans.

Dan Schulbeck, a teacher at Haida Gwaii’s Masset Island high school, spearheads the project.

“Garbage is our karma,” said Schulbeck. “We have to handle our own karma. If the project is a success, we will be … taking a lead in controlling our own responsibility.”

READ MORE: Help the Kelp: Where are they now?

Last March, the archipelago’s school district and the nonprofit Gwaii Trust Society funded a roughly desktop-sized machine to turn some of the schools’ discarded lunchroom plastics into diesel.

The machine liquifies leftover materials like milk jugs and yogurt containers at 420 C. Then, the evaporated vapor runs through water until it condenses, leaving petroleum to float on top.

The machine heats plastics with a two, four or five stamp to 420 C to create diesel. (Dan Schulbeck – contributed)

The overall plan is to stop polluting the islands with plastics. In addition to eliminating those plastics with a two, four or five stamped on the bottom, the machine’s diesel will be used to create a business that helps prevent further plastics use.

Eventually, said Schulbeck, students will run a diesel-fueled stove to evaporate the archipelago’s coastal waters and infuse the leftover sea salt with herbs, like thyme or rosemary grown in a school greenhouse.

Revenue from selling the salt will fund projects that stop islanders’ reliance on plastics — whether that’s purchasing materials to sew cloth bags for a local grocery or buying biodegradable takeout containers for a nearby restaurant.

(Dan Schulbeck – contributed)

All plastics cannot be melted and blended to form new products, and those that are recyclable, don’t always make it to recycling centers. As a result, less than about 11 percent of plastics is estimated to be recycled in the nation, as reported by Environment and Climate Change Canada. In 2010 alone, according to the government department, the country released almost 8,000 tonnes of plastic waste into waterways.

That, said Schulbeck, puts communities like his at risk.

“On Haida Gwaii, a lot of our food comes from the ocean and rivers; it’s our blood, it’s our lifeline,” he said. “We can’t underestimate the importance of the environment to our health and wellbeing.”

READ MORE: Archaeological breakthrough on Haida Gwaii

One drawback to both burning diesel and burning plastics to create fuel is that it releases carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. However, Schulbeck said the small amount produced by the machine is the equivalent of the natural occurrences of just a few people breathing or digesting.

(Dan Schulbeck – contributed)

Carla Lutner, of the Gwaii Trust Society, explained that the organization’s youth board chose to award this project because it “presented a creative solution to the problems of plastic waste with the added benefit of creating a fuel to support [a] school’s gardening program.”

Schulbeck also says the sea salt will be a “negative-waste product,” because there will be less garbage after the salt is formed than before it was made. The project, he explained, is part of the remote archipelago’s small steps to solve the global problem of waste management.

“Students are excited about doing something,” said Schulbeck, “not just complaining or having angst, but doing something that affects the world.”

Like the Haida Gwaii Observer on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Slow down for students: School zone speeds now in effect

RCMP will be making sure drivers keep it at 30 km/h or less, with heavy fines for breaking the law

Queen Charlotte fire hall is a go

Start of construction marked with groundbreaking ceremony

NCRD Board turns attention to Haida Gwaii

Fishing concerns, recreation commission, and Sandspit festival all receive focus

IV cancer treatment returning to Haida Gwaii

Arrival of a new pharmacy technician means the service can resume

Logging moves forward as court rules against Haida Gwaii protesters

Injunction won against activists seeking to protect culturally and archaeologically significant site

VIDEO: B.C. man’s yard comes alive with grizzlies at night

Malakwa man has captured images of 12 different grizzlies on video

First case of ‘probable’ vaping-related illness found in B.C.

Health officials warn this could be the first of many

Fire response at Trans Mountain Burnaby tank farm could take six hours: audit

Site doesn’t have mutual aid response agreement with Burnaby fire department

A year after pot legalization in Canada, it’s a slow roll

It’s one year into Canada’s experiment in legal marijuana, and hundreds of legal pot shops have opened

ELECTION 2019: Climate strikes push environment to top of mind for federal leaders

Black Press Media presents a three-part series on three big election issues

ICBC willing to loosen grip on driver claim data, David Eby says

Private insurers say claims record monopoly keeps them out

B.C. principal suspended for failing to help student who reported inappropriate touching

Principal didn’t remove student from the teacher’s class nor call the parents within a reasonable time

Port Moody mayor goes back on unpaid leave during sex assault investigation

Rob Vagramov said he intends to return as mayor in three or four weeks

UBC issues statement after instructor tells students to vote for Liberal Party

University says partisan messaging was not intentional

Most Read