FILE - The entrance to the recycling depot in Daajing Giids. On Friday, July 17, 2020, the North Coast Regional District board passed a resolution to update its Solid Waste Management Plan and began engaging Haida Gwaii municipalities in discussions about proposed changes. (Karissa Gall/Haida Gwaii Observer file)

Regional district proposes closure of unmonitored recycling bins, new depot for Masset

Proposed updates to Solid Waste Management Plan aim to reduce waste on Haida Gwaii, save money

The North Coast Regional District (NCRD) is looking to establish a new recycling depot in Masset as part of efforts to reduce the amount of waste produced on Haida Gwaii.

According to Daniel Fish, chief administrative officer for the NCRD, the per-person municipal solid waste disposal rate on the islands last year was almost 50 kilograms — about the weight of an adult North Pacific Giant Octopus — more than the provincial targets for 2020/21.

In presentations to the Queen Charlotte and Port Clements village councils on July 20 and Aug. 4, respectively, Fish said non-compliance with Recycle BC stewardship program requirements is a big part of the issue.

“Where we’re using infrastructure like remote recycle bins, those are non-compliant with the current program,” he said. “They must be staffed.”

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While monitored bins in Tlell and Sandspit remain open, the unmonitored bins in Skidegate, Port Clements, Masset and Old Massett were closed in March due to COVID-19, and Fish said the plan is to keep them that way.

“This pandemic has really exposed some of the cracks in the systems we have established and I would say that this system is no different,” he said, adding that the novel coronavirus has “pushed us in that direction to … close down these transfer stations.”

“While they are great for the community and they provide for great access, we do recognize … they’re ultimately costing the taxpayer money because they’re not compliant with the current product stewardship programs that we participate in.”

For example, Fish said the NCRD was not able to sell any of the printed paper and packaging being collected in unmonitored bins back to Recycle BC, meaning the system was “operating at a loss.”

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With the unmonitored bins remaining closed, Fish said residents on the north end of the island would be expected to use the proposed depot in Masset, residents on the south end would continue to use the depot in Queen Charlotte, and central island residents would recycle at the Islands Solid Waste landfill.

Then if the NCRD begins a review with Recycle BC and is found to be compliant, he said the system can “accept the full gamut of products again” and “ultimately reduce those municipal disposal rates.”

According to preliminary estimates done by the NCRD, reaching compliance would also mean realizing “roughly $45,000 in savings annually” through the increased sale of materials to Recycle BC and savings on transportation, which the not-for-profit would start to cover.

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Following Fish’s presentation to the Village of Queen Charlotte, councillor Jesse Embree said he hoped any changes to the system will help “bring down that amount of total waste per person.”

“In the last few years we’ve seen a loss in terms of stuff that’s accepted,” Embree said. “There’s a real challenge there for people who are trying to do what’s right with their recycling and they can’t put cans or glass or Styrofoam, and we hear it from constituents.”

He also said community buy-in may be an issue for island residents who would have to travel further to recycle and asked about innovative solutions to the issue, such as having a pop-up recycling site that is monitored for a day and then transferred over to a depot.

“It’s certainly an innovative idea,” Fish said. “I think these sort of service delivery options are what we want to start to contemplate. If there are ways to balance that accessibility piece with the financial sustainability piece, certainly we’d like to meet halfway there.”

Fish said service delivery options and more will be discussed by a public and technical advisory committee that will be formed in the near future. Following the NCRD board passing a resolution at its July 17 meeting to update its Solid Waste Management Plan for the entire regional district, a larger planning process intended to “set the vision for waste management service over the coming couple of decades,” he said municipal councils will be receiving correspondence in the coming weeks, asking them to appoint committee representatives who will provide input and assist in decision-making.

Councillor Lisa Pineault agreed that any move to include glass, tin cans and Styrofoam as accepted materials “would be a positive step.”

Pineault also noted reusing materials is “fundamental to the way that we live here on-island” and asked if appliances at the dump could be crushed less frequently, perhaps on a quarterly basis.

“People will go in there and get parts off of them … which would mean less going into the landfill,” she said, adding that she has sourced dishwasher racks from the dump herself.

While Fish agreed that reusing materials is better for the environment than recycling, he said “things get crushed for a reason and largely it is a space requirement.”

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During the Port Clements council meeting, Mayor Doug Daugert asked if hiring someone to monitor a bin closer to the village would be feasible, so residents would not have to travel to either end of the island.

Fish said it was possible, but they would have to “work out the nuts and bolts.”

Fish is expected to present to the Village of Masset council on Aug. 10.

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