Whitehorse was talking trash this week – how to reduce, reuse and recycle more of it.
“It’s a very difficult choice for municipalities because there is a cost to recycling,” said Christina Seidel, the executive director of the Recycling Council of Alberta. “It’s a challenge for politicians.”
Even if garbage is not recycled, there’s still a price to be paid for the trash we produce.
Traditionally that cost is paid through municipal taxes, not by consumers or manufactures, said Seidel.
“We don’t factor in these environmental costs,” she said. “It’s a serious flaw in our economic system.”
The goal should be zero waste, said Seidel, who was brought to the Yukon by the city and territorial government.
“We got to a road block in terms of exactly what zero waste means,” said Wes Wirth, the Yukon government’s operations and programs manager, who works on the solid waste advisory committee.
“We really wanted to bring someone up that had some expertise.”
Zero waste is a philosophy that encourages project designs and processes that turn common trash into resources.
But the city has been looking at other ways to reduce the amount of stuff that ends up in landfills.
“We have been approached by Yukon Energy about using our waste and creating energy for them,” said city councillor Dave Stockdale.
Recently the city sent staff to Europe to look at a waste-to-energy project in Scotland.
But burning waste to create energy is not an effective use of resources, or as economically beneficial as recycling, said Seidel.
“There is a distinct advantage to recycling,” she said. “It has many more economic spinoffs, and can have a big impact on climate change”
In Alberta, the government is looking at developing a tradable carbon credit for recycling.
“When you take into account the energy it would take to produce it again, recycling creates a significant carbon offset,” said Seidel.
Even in a place as remote as the Yukon, where waste has to be transported long distances for processing, recycling is still environmentally sound.
“It takes more far more energy to make things from raw materials than it does to recycle them,” she said.
In Whitehorse only 18 per cent of the city’s garbage is recycled.
Still, the industry employs more than 30 people.
“It brings a lot to the local economy,” said Joy Snyder the executive director of Raven Recycling, one of two recycling companies in Whitehorse.
Last year, Raven alone processed more than 1,000 tons of cardboard, and shipped $700,000 of recyclable material south for processing.
In other jurisdictions recycling is done through the municipality, but Whitehorse is unique in that it is done by private businesses, said Snyder.
Raven – a non-profit company – makes most of its money from aluminum and other scrap metals.
The company uses the profits from the metal to pay for the recycling of paper and plastic, said Snyder.
There is a lot of potential for growth, but marketplace uncertainty limits the industry, she said.
“We want to recycle more, but we can’t afford to,” said Snyder. “In order for us to invest in more infrastructure we need the framework of a clear solid-waste-management strategy.”
The city and the recycling industry are working together with the Yukon government to develop a plan.
There is no timeline yet, but Snyder is hopeful that it will happen soon.
Any waste management plan must include education, said Seidel.
“You really need to involve the public,” she said. “You can have an technically perfect program, but if you don’t have effective promotion and education it won’t work.”
In Whitehorse, residential waste accounts for only nine per cent of the garbage that ends up in the landfill.
Construction, demolition and commercial waste make up the other 91 per cent.
Because business accounts for so much of the city’s waste, it’s important that they are involved in the development of any strategy, said Seidel.
“They need to be involved in the solution” she said. “Get them to tell you what’s going to work for them.”
“Down the road you can look at things like regulation, but you sure don’t start with that.”
Contact Josh Kerr at