Archive for October 23rd, 2009

Texada’s solid waste conundrum

By Tom Read

Texada’s forests, streams and lakes are notably pollution-free, and I hope we keep ‘em that way by dealing responsibly with our solid waste. Here's a 2007 photo I took of Case Lake, which feeds Rumbottle Creek, which in turn empties into the sea at Raven Bay.

Texada’s forests, streams and lakes are notably pollution-free, and I hope we keep ‘em that way by dealing responsibly with our solid waste. Here's a 2007 photo I took of Case Lake, which feeds Rumbottle Creek, which in turn empties into the sea at Raven Bay.

On Monday evening, Linda and I and about 20 other Texadans attended a presentation in Gillies Bay about the future of solid waste in our region. Officially it’s called the draft Powell River Regional District Solid Waste Management Plan and its duration is 2009 to 2019. Now, I know that’s not a sexy topic for many readers, but it has serious implications for Texada Island and the Powell River region. So I hope you’ll bear with me for at least a few paragraphs.

The plan’s goal is “working toward zero waste,” a realistic recognition that eliminating waste is desirable but not easy to achieve. Just so you know what we’re talking about here, the term “solid waste” refers to lots of things, including household garbage and trash, construction debris, all sorts of recyclable materials, and organic matter, especially food waste. In fact, food waste alone accounts for about 30% of our region’s total solid waste, and it is fairly shocking to realize that this is the single largest category of waste that we produce.

The presentation didn’t break out food waste for Texada, but I doubt that the 30% regional figure applies to us. My sense, based on being an active member of the community here for nearly 10 years, is that Texadans do a lot of composting and feeding of kitchen scraps to domestic animals. So I believe that the amount of food waste is less here than in “urban” Powell River. Since the plan’s overall goal is to eliminate waste, and since food waste is the single biggest category of waste in the region, it should come as no surprise that the plan recommends more backyard composting if it can be done without attracting bears (not a Texada problem, since we don’t have bears here), along with possible construction of a centralized $2.6 million composting facility.

Texadans will be expected to help pay for the feasibility study for this regional facility, since it’s claimed that Texada could benefit. How? Well, the consultant on Monday evening proposed that Texada, since it has no bears, might be a good location for the region’s centralized composting facility, “transportation notwithstanding.”

Ah, yes, transportation. Leaving aside the question of whether Texada makes sense as a possible location for a regional composting centre, there’s no denying that our island is quite dependent on ferry transportation for nearly everything, including moving our waste off the island. And that’s where the plan worries me. During the next 10 years, the plan calls for greatly reducing export of waste from the region as a whole, but it assumes that Texada will continue to export its solid waste to Powell River. Given what we’ve heard from Texada’s Ferry Advisory Committee members about potential increases in ferry fares during the next few years, let alone by 2019, we islanders could see a significant increase in our waste disposal costs.  More illegal dumping could be the result.

Ferry fares, and transportation costs in general, tend to parallel the price of oil. It’s way beyond my expertise to forecast the next oil price spike, but I think we’ll need an on-island solution for processing our solid waste sometime in the next 10 years.  Why? Because oil can increase in price much faster than new, strictly regulated solid waste management solutions can be implemented. This poses a conundrum for Texada and likely the region, too.

Fortunately, Texadans have a long history of creative problem-solving. I can envision a cooperative effort whereby Texadans consolidate our transport of solid waste to Powell River, perhaps starting informally among immediate neighbours. Just to be clear, I’m fully aware that Sunshine Disposal runs a reliable and affordable household waste collection service for Texadans who happen to live along its route. But the waste volume any one household can put in the tagged bags is limited, and there are times when a special trip to the Powell River transfer station (aka “the dump”) becomes necessary.

Some of us live off the beaten path altogether, so our only legal choices are to burn our waste or take it to Powell River. I tried burning household waste years ago and found it a smelly, polluting and time-consuming experience, so now we make the dump run to Powell River a couple times a year. There’s no reason islanders couldn’t cut transport costs by coordinating trips with friends and neighbours, which is now easier than before thanks to this website recently created by a Texada community volunteer, Tom Scott. Cooperation builds community and avoids raising our taxes to pay for consultant-driven solutions.

We might also learn something from our neighbour, Lasqueti Island.

Lasqueti already has a landfill exclusively for its local residents. Unfortunately, that landfill wasn’t built to present BC standards, and it might be prohibitively costly for upgrades to conform with provincial regulations. I’m told by our Regional District staff, however, that a new solid waste management plan for Lasqueti is pending but not yet ready for public release. Texada is considerably larger than Lasqueti in population, transportation services and physical size, but we might benefit by observing how our neigbours resolve their waste disposal problem.

The transportation issue remains my overall reservation about the plan, even though as noted above there are potential ways we could cope with it. I’ve also got a few quibbles regarding the plan’s treatment of illegal dumping and its view of glass as mere trash. But on the whole, the proposed plan looks quite positive. I like its emphasis on reducing waste in the first place, especially from over-packaging. In our household we’re already starting to do that by removing excess packaging in the store in Powell River, taking home only the product. Another positive approach is to reuse containers, such as re-filling our pharmaceutical prescriptions in the same bottle (adding a new label each time).  One of the reasons we support Pharmasave in Powell River is because its owner, Wanda, encourages such re-use and recycling wherever possible.

Solid waste is a constant fact of modern life. Thus, the plan’s provision for an ongoing volunteer monitoring committee staffed by a part-time “waste coordinator” will keep this un-sexy but vital topic continuously visible in our region and allow new solutions to be developed more quickly. Maybe it’ll even help solve the Texada solid waste conundrum.

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