The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) paid a visit the Nanaimo Recycling Exchange this week.
Monday evening’s visit was part of a two-day provincewide tour for the U.S. government agency, which is curious to learn more about how recycling and waste management regulations, programs and organizations operate and are financed in British Columbia.
Gabriela Carvalho, tribal solid and hazardous waste coordinator with the EPA, said her organization is hoping to better understand how Recycle B.C. and related programs and non-profit organizations work across British Columbia and how they are financed.
“We are here in British Columbia to learn about how stewardship programs get waste out of rural communities or communities in general,” she said. “One big challenge that we have right now is that we are trying to create a state-wide backhaul program and we are trying to figure out how to finance it.”
There aren’t any safe disposal sites for hazardous waste in rural Alaska, according to Carvalho, who said there are few recycling centres and that many communities end up improperly burning waste, disposing it in landfills or simply shipping it out on barges or planes.
The EPA and officials from Alaska are in the process of developing a program known as Backhaul Alaska, which aims to provide co-ordinated and centralized shipping of certain toxic materials for roughly 180 indigenous villages that have no access to the state’s road network.
Led by the NRE’s executive director Jan Hastings, the EPA learned how the Nanaimo facility works and what improvements could made to it and the entire recycling program in B.C.
Carvalho said the Nanaimo Recycle Exchange’s zero waste concept was fascinating. She said it was important to hear about the challenges that the NRE is facing and what kinds of improvements could be made to B.C.’s waste disposal programs.
“It’s great to learn from somebody who is administering a program like this,” she said. “It’s great to see the wide variety of products accepted at the NRE and it is also fascinating to see the complexity of running an organization like this.”
Carvalho said regulations around waste disposal and recycling in British Columbia are unique in that there is more responsibility on corporations and industry, unlike in Alaska.
“Ultimately the regulations require industry to manage the collection and removal,” she said. “There is no program like that in Alaska, so we are looking at its adoption for the state.”
In a follow-up e-mail to the News Bulletin, EPA spokeswoman Suzanne Skadowski clarified that the EPA cannot create or impose state recycling regulations, but can present observations to inform discussions with the state and waste management stakeholders.
EPA and other officials involved in Backhaul Alaska hope pilot projects will begin by 2018. The EPA wraps up its tour of B.C. on Wednesday (Aug. 29).