It’s a rare moment that you don’t see brown, dirty clouds of smoke spewing out of the garbage-burning vessel in Tagish, said resident Anne Middler
Everything gets burned, right down to couches and tires, even though a sign beside the vessel expressly forbids people from doing so.
The resulting smoke is what some residents have called a “toxic cocktail” of chemicals, hazardous to their health and which they are forced to breathe.
All that will change next week when the government of Yukon will officially end a longstanding tradition of openly burning garbage in Carcross and Tagish.
It’s welcome news for Middler who, along with other residents in Tagish and Carcross, has spent several years battling the Yukon government to stop burning waste in their backyard.
“For five years we were shouting into the void,” she said.
Now she feels as though the wishes of her community were finally heard and she is looking forward to putting the issue behind her, she said.
“All I feel is joy.”
The majority of other communities in Yukon where the open burning of garbage still occurs – about 13 of 18 communities – won’t be as lucky as Tagish and Carcross.
Open burning will stop in these communities, but not until 2012, the territory announced Thursday.
It’s part of a number of changes to the Yukon’s solid waste management that the government unveiled that day.
Foremost is the creation of waste transfer stations in communities around the territory that will see garbage moving along four separate “waste circuits.”
Communities on the periphery of Whitehorse – Carcross, Tagish and Deep Creek – will be the first to get waste-transfer stations. Waste in these communities will be sorted into separate streams of recyclables, household waste, and hazardous waste that will then be trucked through to Whitehorse. Three other waste circuits serving the Haines Junction, Carmacks and Mayo areas are in the works.
However, Old Crow, an “immediate concern” for the government, is too far away to be part of any waste circuit, and hazardous waste that has been piling up in the dump will continue to be a problem.
“Gassification might be usable there,” said assistant deputy minister of community development, Paul Moore. Gassification is high temperature garbage-burning that doesn’t release toxic gases, he said.
“We’re also willing to have a discussion about moving the dump,” he added.
Improved monitoring and supervision of all landfill sites will also ensure that hazardous wastes will be properly disposed of and that waste will be separated into its appropriate streams, said Moore.
That means communities like Dawson City, which have recently experienced problems with oil contamination at their Quiqley Landfill, are less likely to see hazardous waste problems in the future.
People have been dumping waste oil from vehicles and machinery at the Dawson City landfill without authority to do so.
The site is monitored by an attendant 40 hours a week, but anyone can drop off hazardous liquids without advising the attendant.
“If you don’t have the proper type of management, then spilling occurs,”
said assistant deputy minister of operations for the environment, Allan Koprowsky, in reference to the Yukon government’s recent request that Dawson clean up its facility.
“It’s about people not having places to separate these materials. Most facilities don’t have containment for waste oil.”
Jim Taggart, president of Klondike Conservation, which co-manages the landfill, agrees.
“The previous drop-off (arrangement) is not up to standard,” he said.
“Better supervision and public awareness will certainly help.”
But he wonders how enforcable the new initiatives put forward by the government will be and whether “they will go far enough.”
Another part of the waste-management plan calls for an advisory committee that would include representation from municipal governments, residents, First Nations and recycling and transportation industries to discuss and provide feedback on the new plan.
The territory will also look at consolidating its waste disposal and recycling programs around the Yukon.
This means the Yukon will be looking to third-party groups like Raven Recycling to handle any recyclable waste coming from outer communities.
Some communities already have recycling clubs that co-ordinate waste diversion, but it’s “minimal,” according to Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society.
“It’s important because right now valuable resources are literally going up in smoke. The fumes from the smoke are a big issue but so are the loss of recyclables that are getting burned,” said Rifkind.
Contact Vivian Belik at