The Yukon government is already working on a number of recommendations around recycling and solid waste management, says John Streicker, Minister of Community Services.
The issue came up during the annual general meeting for the Association of Yukon Communities, which took place the weekend of May 12.
“I want to emphasize that this, for our municipalities, this has been a real concern,” Streicker told the News on May 15. “And they want to see real leadership on it.”
In response, Streicker said YG is working from recommendations made by the ministerial committee on solid waste, which published findings in April 2018.
“We have a lot of specific details,” he said of the report, which includes actions that can be completed this year, as well as longer-term actions that may play out over the next four or five years. “I took it to cabinet and got full support to move ahead on all recommendations.”
Key findings in the report include the high cost of waste management (the Yukon has 27 waste management facilities run at an annual cost of $10.5 million) and user fees.
“Users, industry, and governments, must pay a reasonable portion of the cost of the waste they generate if a sustainable system of management of solid waste is desired,” reads the report.
Streicker cited the Watson Lake dump, which instituted solid waste fees in 2014. Since then, he said the dump sees less waste on a per person basis.
Streicker did acknowledge there is no way of knowing whether this reduction is the result of diversion or illegal dumping. “There are always situations where there is illegal dumping,” he said.
As well, in 2014, following the introduction of fees at the Watson Lake dump, the News reported an uptick in waste being taken to the Upper Liard Dump, which was free.
Still, Streicker said he believes people are diverting their solid waste.
“When we have done this and put up a gate to some control, we almost always see that there is at first some reluctance and then usually over time it comes back,” he said. “It is our experience that when you test these things as much as you can, you generally get the same amount of compliance from one community to another.”
Streicker said some issues are more easily solved than others due to the unique circumstances in the North.
Composting, for example, is relatively simple. He said he was happy to see the City of Whitehorse introduce mandatory composting rules for businesses.
The question of what to do with e-waste and tires is a bigger one because of the economies of scale here, he said.
He also pointed to the issue of high-volume, low-value waste such as paper and plastics. He said he knows there are solutions out there, including reforming plastics into non-structural lumber for siding and decks.
He said he thinks solutions like this are feasible when considering that the Yukon has such great resources in the Yukon Innovation Hub, Cold Climate Innovation at Yukon College and individual businesses that have come up with ways of their own to reuse waste.
“This is about finding the facilities,” he said.
“I think we all need to sort of imagine that solid waste will always be an issue for us so this start is how to make the overall system more sustainable, more efficient,” he said. “But I think we should also imagine that it is a continuous work in progress.”
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