Homeowners in Nanaimo have helped the region become leaders in waste reduction. Pretty soon, more of the onus could start to fall on residents who live in apartments and condos.
The Regional District of Nanaimo’s new solid waste management plan is expected to go before the board of directors next month. Some aspects of the plan would bring significant change, including mandatory waste source separation – all multi-family complexes, as well as businesses and institutions, would be required to separate garbage, recycling and organic waste.
“There’s lots that are already doing it, so we’re a long way down that path already,” said Larry Gardner, the RDN’s solid waste manager.
The provincial government mandates that all regional districts have solid waste management plans, and Gardner said it was time for the RDN to renew, update and seek board and ministry approval on a plan to guide the next decade of program delivery.
Currently, the RDN estimates it has a 68 per cent diversion rate, so it sees room for improvement in working toward a stated goal of 90 per cent diversion. Based on a 2012 composition study of the waste stream, Gardner said the region believes the “opportunity for the greatest gains” comes from source separation at multi-family residences and businesses.
That won’t happen on its own, though – since recycling costs more than landfilling, rules and regulations are needed. Along with mandatory source separation, the RDN is planning waste hauler licensing and a system of incentivizing recycling through a decrease to local tipping fees and a disposal levy for material landfilled or incinerated elsewhere.
“If we really want to get zero waste, I myself don’t think we can rely on people volunteering to do the environmentally friendly thing,” Gardner said. “I think we’d be far more effective if we can make it more of a reward that capitalizes on that positive behaviour.”
The idea is that the waste haulers that can work best under the new system should benefit financially.
“If they’re more successful marketing and selling diversion and making it easy for you as a waste generator to divert your materials, they put more effort into providing services around that and that’s where we start to drive innovation,” Gardner said.
Ben Geselbracht, vice-chairman of the Nanaimo Recycling Exchange and a member of the solid waste advisory committee, said he thinks the region has to put measures in place to move closer to zero waste because it won’t happen on its own.
“With the requirements of having non-contaminated streams [of recycled material] and also people educated enough and then trained enough to do it, there’s a negative market pressure to accomplish that because it’s just way cheaper for everybody to throw it all in one bin and then ship it to landfill in the States,” he said.
Derek Haarsma, another member of the committee and district manager of major hauler GFL Environmental, said consistent standards on source separation are needed. Right now, he said most buildings have recycling programs, but those programs vary – some recycle just paper products, some paper and containers, some more, some less.
“Some will have to change dramatically because they’re not doing anything at all, but for the most part, there’s recycling programs everywhere and this would make it really easy, because every building [would be] exactly the same. In a lot of ways, it would make our life a lot easier,” he said.
Haarsma said at the advisory committee table he’s stressed the point that it’s important that the rules are the same at all complexes.
“What it does for me, is I don’t have to compete at an apartment building where they say, ‘oh, your competitor was just in and said to throw it all in one bin,’” said Haarsma.
Enforcement under a new plan won’t be difficult, he said. The haulers “don’t want to have to be the bad guy” at the buildings, because they’re dealing with their customers there, but they won’t be happy about regular fines at the landfill, either, so they’ll co-operate and communicate with RDN staff and let the region take care of any compliance concerns.
Gardner said the regional district’s current zero waste strategy costs $3.4 million per year and the measures in the new plan would raise costs to $4.9 million. That would include $469,000 per year to administer the waste hauler licensing and $373,000 for the mandatory waste source separation file.
If the board approves the solid waste management plan this spring, Gardner said the next steps in 2018 would be ministry approval, consultation and requests for proposals, so residents probably won’t notice “substantive change until well into 2019.”
Haarsma said there are a lot of haulers in Nanaimo and plenty of capacity to take on the additional recycling everyone wants to see.
“Initially when you brought in recycling programs, it reduced your garbage costs. Now, that’s not the case and that’s the issue,” he said. “I think [this plan is] needed more than ever right now.”