Blue box discussion

Raven Recycling has started leaving Blue Box postcards around town. This is to help Whitehorse imagine what it would be like to have a recycling system comparable to other cities in Canada.

Raven Recycling has started leaving Blue Box postcards around town.

This is to help Whitehorse imagine what it would be like to have a recycling system comparable to other cities in Canada.

It has been purposely timed to coincide with the municipal election as Raven is encourage the electorate to remind the candidates that a blue box system is something that should be debated.

A blue box is essentially a door-to-door collection system of household recyclable items.

Just as garbage and compost is picked up from most Whitehorse households, a blue box program would have recyclables picked up from households.

The recyclables range from plastic egg cartons to newspapers.

People would still have to take beverage cans and bottles to get a recycling centre for a refund, or if they didn’t want the hassle they could leave them with the other recyclables in the blue box.

All the items in the blue box would then be taken to a central sorting facility for processing.

Raven is not, if one will forgive the pun, coming out of the wide blue yonder with this idea.

Recently, Raven did a survey of what Whitehorse residents think of a blue box collection system.

Even when it was pointed out that it would cost money to provide this service, 65 per cent of respondents were still in favour of it.

Raven has also been contemplating building a new facility not only to deal with a blue box system but to possibly provide space for other programs.

The Yukon government is starting to shut down community burning barrels and instead transfer waste to centralized landfills.

For example, the Carcross and Tagish dumps will soon become transfer stations with their waste being hauled to Whitehorse.

This will be a great opportunity to also install containers at these stations for recyclables.

These could be hauled to Raven Recycling for processing.

There is one slight catch though.

Raven’s existing building cannot handle dealing with much more in the way of recyclables.

The building is old and not designed to take the sort of equipment required for the sorting of large amounts of recyclables.

Raven scored some federal dollars a while back to do a detailed study on exactly this issue.

The study showed that what is required is a Small Materials Recovery Facility, which in the recycling business is referred to as a SMuRF.

This is a building about the size of an aircraft hanger that is stuffed full of equipment that can mechanically sort and process the typical recyclables a Yukon household would churn out.

The important thing is that with this facility the Yukon could recycle a lot more waste that it is currently doing.

Even in a good year, the amount of waste diverted through recycling probably hovers around 10 per cent of the waste stream.

Note that this figure does not include compost.

With a SMuRF, it should be possible to easily divert fifty per cent of the waste stream towards recycling.

Now a SmuRF does not come cheap.

Including the sorting equipment Raven could be looking at a $15-million dollar building.

Raven, as a non-profit in the recycling business, does not have that kind of cash.

The city of Whitehorse does not, and in all likelihood the Yukon government probably does not either.

Enter the federal government.

Thanks to the economic downturn, which hammered the world-wide recycling markets and in the process gave Raven a nasty financial slap while it was at it, the federal government is shoveling out money.

One just has to look at the amount being handed over for the Mayo B hydro project.

A SMuRF recycling centre, which arguably would be much more useful to the Yukon than another measly five megawatts of power, would cost about one fifth of the Mayo B project.

If the feds could pay about three-quarters of the cost that would mean Raven, the city and the Yukon would have to cover the rest.

So for a mere $3.5 million the Yukon could get a waste facility worth many times that.

It would divert 50 per cent of the waste stream not only from Whitehorse but from any Yukon community that has a transfer station and was separating recyclables away from pure garbage.

It would provide a facility that would service not only the community but also provide for opportunities to continue to recycle new products into the future.

Raven Recycling, through its blue box postcard campaign, is raising awareness on this issue and is hoping it becomes a topic of discussion in the municipal election.

Voters go to the polls on Thursday, October 15th.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist who

occasionally does contract work

for Raven Recycling.