by Ben Derochie
Having just gone through a municipal election where current issues with waste management were addressed in various candidates’ platforms, you may be tired of hearing about the need to solve our waste problems.
But it is Waste Reduction Week across Canada, and I can’t think of a better time to reflect on the state of waste management in Yukon.
As much progress as we seem to make, the issue never seems to be solved. Don’t we already pay a lot of money in tipping fees at the waste management facility? Doesn’t the city have dedicated staff working on reducing garbage? Didn’t Raven Recycling open its drop-off bins again? Isn’t Whitehorse Blue Bin Recycling thriving? Why is this still an issue then?
Garbage is a funny matter, in that we have never truly agreed upon on how to properly manage it. When looking at how we have previously dealt with improving our waste diversion, we have only come up with Band Aid solutions that constantly need to be revised.
Certainly we are doing much better at responsibly managing it than when we simply dumped it in McIntyre Creek, but landfilling is not a permanent solution.
Recycling in the territory has never been easier and practiced more, but it can’t be applied to every material we use.
The City of Whitehorse’s waste diversion rate has never been higher with it currently at 33 per cent, but that means we are still throwing out 67 per cent of materials we use.
We are more conscious than ever about the amount of waste we produce and how we should responsibly dispose of it, but the amount of disposable packaging included in everyday products we purchase is increasing.
If we really want to work on solving our waste problems, we need to look at it from a wider perspective. We need to work towards what is known as zero waste, where products are designed to be reusable and repurposed rather than disposed of and forgotten.
Everything we throw out is essentially a resource that we are wasting.
Considering the amount of factors involved in how we manage our waste, we cannot expect to entirely solve this problem by only fixing one issue. All of the factors in managing our garbage influence one another, and we need to work towards improving all of them: recycling, composting, landfills, waste haulers, transfer stations, illegal dumping, controlled substances, recycling processors, tipping fees, e-waste, beverage container regulation fees and hazardous waste.
You can quickly see how daunting this problem can become.
Here are some of the more immediate concerns in waste management within Whitehorse. We still need to implement a blue box program, better use of our compost facilities and ensure cardboard and organics aren’t being put in the garbage. We also need manufacturers to become stewards and take more responsibility in ensuring their products are reused. Then, as more residents begin to divert more of their waste, we need to ensure our recycling processors can accommodate the increasing amounts of material from residents to look after.
Where do we even start on this long list of things to do?
All of us need to participate. Be conscious of the amount of food waste you throw out. Recycle cardboard rather than putting it in the garbage. Start composting if you have not already. Be mindful of the amount of fast food packaging you purchase and bring your own containers. Be mindful of how much you are actually throwing away in the garbage as the majority of it can actually be diverted.
Many businesses around town are already focused on reducing the amount of waste they produce and increasing their recycling rates. We have just elected a new council that supports implementing a blue box program. Both of these institutions are on the right track, but they will not be successful solely by themselves. The public has to engage and participate in the process as well; we won’t achieve anything without politicians and the public cooperating with one another.
This problem will not be solved quickly. But small steps do make a big difference, and everyone from all parts of the community will have to be involved.
Waste Reduction Week is a good time to discuss these matters, but it is only one part of what we need to do. We have already made good progress on waste management and we have never had a higher waste diversion rate, but the City of Whitehorse has declared a goal to become a zero waste community by 2040. Let us see how much more progress we can accomplish.
Ben Derochie is the co-ordinator for Zero Waste Yukon