In many Canadian cities, residents put their recycling out at the curb. It gets taken away, out of sight and mind.
In Whitehorse, driving to the local depot and physically dropping off sorted recyclables fosters a sense of community. Here, residents catch a glimpse into the process of what happens to waste once it is out of their hands.
Whitehorse’s Raven Recycling is a non-profit social enterprise, separate from all levels of government. And while recycling can make Raven some money, all the profits go back to their vision of a zero-waste future for the Yukon, according to communications and policy coordinator Megan MacLeod.
Unlike provincial government-run recycling depots, she says, Raven Recycling has more leeway to explore and try different things. The strength of the organization lies in its ability to build community and spark conversations about waste.
MacLeod first started working at the depot shortly before the onset of the pandemic. She said this is the type of job she has always strived for.
“When I envisioned the future when I was in college, this was exactly what I was picturing. We have a lot of room for creativity here.”
This summer, six artists-in-residency are working out of the depot in plain sight of the public passing through. They are each engaging with a different waste material, making what is dropped off more visible by turning it into art.
The artists involved include Janet Patterson (textiles); Heidi Marion (vessels); Nicole Bauberger (plastic); Helen O’Connor (paper); Dennis Shorty and Jenny Fröhling (metals).
“You won’t see artist residencies at other recycling depots in the provinces,” MacLeod said.
Being located so far north, Raven also has unique challenges including the need to transport everything to specialized plants down south.
Currently, all plastics go to Merlin Plastics in Delta, B.C., paper goes to Capital Paper Recycling Ltd. in Calgary and electronic waste (E-waste) is shipped to Edmonton. While there can sometimes be a lack of transparency with how everything is being recycled, MacLeod says it’s up to her and her team to ask questions and hold these organizations accountable.
The most discouraging aspect of the job, she says, is the sheer amount of waste that comes through the depot every day and knowing it’s not anybody’s fault.
“This is how the system is set up, and the system is just locked in place, and it’s so hard to change even the smallest thing about it,” she said, going on to mention, “Raven has been fighting for a city-wide blue bin program for the longest time and it is just so hard to make that happen. We’re constantly fighting against red tape and bureaucracy.”
There is a private option for curbside recycling collection in Whitehorse for those who sign up, but no public program through the city’s curbside waste collection system.
Even though recycling is “really complicated,” and she and her team know they aren’t going to save the world, MacLeod tries hard to make a difference. As a non-profit, Raven’s resources are limited but the staff are tireless in their pursuits to contribute to a sustainable system.
With climate change “happening so fast” and “feeling so out of control,” making a living spreading awareness every day about what is or isn’t going to help solve this makes MacLeod feel like she’s “not doing nothing.”
One of her favourite parts of the job is taking groups of children on tours of the depot. She says she loves sharing her passion for recycling.
“I think about this all the time, and I read about it all the time, so I love talking to the public about it and bouncing ideas around, even if sometimes the kids can be a bit rowdy.”
On July 13, MacLeod led the Yukon Wildlife Preserve Summer Nature Camp on a tour. She shared many facts and statistics, delving into why aluminum was her favourite metal. Unlike paper or plastic, she explained to the kids, aluminum can be recycled an infinite number of times and never lose its strength.
“We recycle 8.5 million aluminum cans a year here and they can go on to become cars, airplanes, spaceships or more pop cans.”
MacLeod asked the campers if they knew the four Rs of recycling: reduce, reuse, recycle and rethink.
“They are not all equal though,” she added. “What do you think the least important ‘R’ might be?”
When she said it was recycling, one of the kids gasped with a long, drawn out, “whaaat?”
“At Raven,” said MacLeod, “we like to think that ‘reduce’ and ‘rethink’ are the most important. ‘Recycle’ is just one small piece in the waste-management puzzle.”
At the end of the tour, she encouraged the group to join the 2022 Yukon Recycling Club. Children as young as four and as old as 16 are eligible. Registration opened on April 29 and will remain open until Nov. 12.
The purpose of this initiative is to get kids excited about contributing to their community. When they collect beverage containers – juice jugs, pop cans, alcohol bottles or milk cartons – they earn points and can redeem them for certificates and prizes at the end of the year.
The club is sponsored by Community Services, the Recycling Fund and participating businesses. Raven Recyling is responsible for administering points and prizes on behalf of the club.
For more information or to register your child, visit yukonrecyclingclub.ca.
To book a tour of Raven Recycling for a school group or camp, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Magan Carty at email@example.com