Let's Talk Trash

Once upon a time I worked at the Free Store and Recycling Center. It was an interesting, sociable, and gross job which caused me to despair for the world at the same time as it provided me with treasure. Back then, I fantasized about having time to write inspiring, informative pieces about work in the waste stream on a remote and inconvenient island. Seven years later, my dream has come true! I’ve signed a year long contract with the qRD’s Let’s Talk Trash team. (Many thanks to Julie Newton for filling this role since 2016). My new job is to publish monthly, innovative and relevant articles about recycling, use of the Free Store, and offering waste reduction tips while keeping Lasquetians up-to-date on how our waste management system is working and changing. I’m also to communicate regularly with the Waste Manager Mark Bottomley (known hereafter as WMM), which shouldn’t be hard since we live together and many of our conversations concern Lasqueti trash, how to reduce it and get creative with it.

January 2020 - Consider Glass

Let’s begin this new year and new decade, by considering glass. Glass is made of sand. Besides air and water, sand is the most consumed resource in the world. Sand is primarily used as a concrete aggregate, though it also appears in toothpaste, windows, paper, plastics, paint and tires (to name a few).
Though desert sand is plentiful, it’s also smooth, therefore not ideal for construction. The angular sand from the bottom of the ocean, or from beaches, is the perfect aggregate for concrete. Because of demand for this sand, machines are harvesting the sea floor and further endangering ocean health by disturbing the base of all sea-life communities, from micro-organisms to whales. Sand is such a hot commodity that a sand mafia has sprung up (see the Netflix documentary Sand Wars.)
Some parts of the construction industry are now turning to crushed glass as an alternative to sand. Glass is plentiful in the waste stream and undesirable in a landfill. Though it’s inert, it’s also not biodegradable and it takes up a lot of space. When repurposed, it’s a resource. It can be crushed, (into various grades) for use in roadbeds, bedding for pipes, filler around retaining walls, and in polished concrete countertops and floors. Studies have found that finely ground glass aggregate, used in place of sand, can even increase the strength of concrete.
Last spring, a glass crusher was donated to Lasqueti (thanks to Cindy Mundy and her contact on Pender Island). WMM made some modifications to the machine and now the accumulating glass is turned into fine sand (though it needs to be screened to get out the labels and bits of plastic left on the bottles - be helpful - strip your bottles of labels and plastic). This Lasqueti crushed glass/sand is available to anyone who wants to experiment with it. This is a FREE local resource. Please, try it in a concrete project and let us all know how it worked!
Last fall, WMM stopped accepting glass refundable bottles when he realized that the time and energy it took to sort, store and transport them was not worth the minimal
return. (Remember, accepting refundable beverage containers is not part of the WM’s contract). Now that the glass crusher is working, he and Aigul will accept all glass containers (no plates etc) but only during the hours the Recycling Depot is open. Please don’t leave your glass in the refundable area. (If you want a refund for your juice and wine bottles, take them over to Parksville).

 

February 2020 - Consider Polystyrene

Hopefully you’ve heard that Vancouver is the latest city to join over 100 other cities worldwide in banning polystyrene foam take-out food containers and cups in a bid to phase out single use plastics and move toward the goal of Zero Waste. 

Polystyrene (PS) is a versatile plastic that’s been in commercial use since 1938 (when Dow Chemical trademarked it as Styrofoam). It appears in appliances, automotives, electronics, food service, insulation, medical materials, and packaging. It’s highly valued by industry because it is lightweight, low cost, strong, insulating, and sanitary. 

Unfortunately, it’s easier and cheaper to produce new PS than it is to transport and process this 100% recyclable material. Expanded PS foam is 90% air -  the other 10% contains styrene and benzene, suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins hazardous to humans and other forms of life. In our economic model, it’s costly to collect bulky and light-weight, post-consumer PS, and some businesses are now densifying PS (removing the air) so shipping to recycling centres makes more money sense. Recycle BC accepts PS at its depots, though it needs to be collected separate from other recyclables because of its tendency to break apart and contaminate other recycling streams.

The Lasqueti Recycling depot takes expanded PS foam used for food services and for packaging. Foam insulation and packing peanuts, however, are not accepted because they are a different type of material. Until Lasqueti is accepted into the Recycle BC program (hopefully in April) the qRD is figuring out where to send what residents bring in. The current plan is for WM Mark to take the PS packaging (the kind that protects appliances and electronics) on his boat, then in his truck to Cascades Recovery Inc., located south of Nanaimo, where it will be turned into a new hard plastic product. The polystyrene meat and food take-out containers, while recyclable, will need to be stored until Lasqueti is on board with Recycle BC.

With current technology, expanded PS foam is only recycled once. This may change as start-up businesses develop new technologies, but currently after processing it’s no longer expandable or foam-like so it is turned into hard plastic for crown moldings, picture frames and park benches. Unfortunately, PS is often mismanaged and so is less likely to be recycled than it is to pollute oceans and rivers or be buried in landfills. Because PS foam is so lightweight and because aquaculture and docks use large blocks of PS for floats, it makes up 60-80% of marine litter. In our waterways it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until it’s microscopic. After that we find it in the bodies of fish and birds, and micro-plastics are even being found in humans! Other PS that doesn’t get recycled winds up in the trash, where it could take centuries to break down.

Burning PS, is not a viable way to manage it. As most residents are well aware, if you burn PS in your wood stove, or in a burn barrel, you are releasing styrene and other toxic chemicals into the air that are a danger to human health as well as to the planet.  Share this information with anyone who isn’t aware, along with the information that PS can be taken to our local depot.

Worth considering: research has shown that people who recycle may be more wasteful because throwing something in the recycling bin makes them feel that using more of that product is harmless. Remember, before recycling, we can reduce and reuse. This means planning ahead, taking shopping bags, re-usable to-go cups, and containers for food with us and making informed choices about what we buy. There are alternatives to PS foam packaging. Ask for your meat to be wrapped in brown paper. Take a container with you if you are planning on getting take-out food. Buy second hand appliances and electronics. Plan ahead and make a practice of being less wasteful.

 

March 2020 - Textiles

n a monthly average, four garbage bags of sorted, clean, and useful textiles (clothing and footwear, sheets, towels etc) leave Lasqueti to be donated to thrift stores in Parksville and Qualicum, and at least one additional bag is sent to the landfill.  This may sound like a large volume for a small population that has a Free Store, but apparently, the average person throws out 81 lbs of textiles per year. 

We have a fast fashion addiction. Global clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014 and much of this is not being recycled. In Canada, 85% of the still usable textiles we throw away goes straight to the landfill. We now purchase 60% more textile products and keep them for only half the time. Our grandmothers would be shocked at the waste! The production of new clothing involves the use of synthetic chemicals and requires huge water consumption to process, dye and print material. For example, the production of one pair of blue jeans uses 6,800 litres of water treated with dyes and other chemicals. After agriculture, the textile industry is the second worst polluter globally. 

This makes textile reuse, upcycling, and recycling all the more important. These reduce the production and consumption of raw materials for fibres. They reduce the use of dyes and fixing agents. They keep synthetic fibres out of the landfill where they take up space and don’t decompose. They also can make some fibres locally available for use as clothing, upcycling materials, and materials for industry, reducing the energy needed to transport materials from abroad. 

There is a growing world wide textile salvaging market. Businesses and charities that collect used textiles can make revenue from donations. Once collected they are sorted for resale, industrial rags, or for shredding to be turned into insulation or other recycled textile products like paper, yarn and carpet padding. This said, the highest end use is to keep usable textiles locally rather than exporting abroad like some thrift stores do, because many countries importing our used textiles are overwhelmed by the volumes.  Some materials do get repurposed, but much still needs to be landfilled abroad, and local textile industries in these foreign nations is negatively affected – leading to a ‘Westernization’ of fashion and loss of the local culture’s expression.

So, the best option is to keep our textiles in good shape longer, and to keep them in local circulation. Here are some ways to consciously change the way you clothe yourself. Think twice about buying something new. Avoid cheap low quality trends. Choose to purchase sustainable long lasting materials that support fair trade - the fashion industry is famous for exploiting women workers in third world countries. Shop at our free store and thrift stores. Mend, patch and repair your clothes - visible mending is a new trend to showcase your willingness to make things last. Host a clothing swap. Get creative and upcycle your old bits into something new. Turn your worn out things into rags. The best case scenario seems to apply to the western lifestyle in general - BUY LESS.

It’s also important to keep in mind that natural fibres have a much lighter footprint than synthetic alternatives. Some estimates say that as many as 2000 fibres are released during a single washing cycle of items made from fleece and polyester fabrics. Most of these will end up in the ocean. Apparently there are 3000 particles of plastic in one cubic meter of sea water in the Strait of Georgia. The marine life at the bottom of the food chain (plankton and invertebrates) ingest these micro-plastics. They might die of starvation or they can show further up the food chain in the fish you eat.

When considering whether or not to donate to our local free store remember, that what most overwhelms workers and waste manager is the volume of textiles that lands on the porch. There isn’t enough room for even the good quality, wearable items never mind the one legged jeans, ripped and holey t-shirts, stained polyester party dresses and leak-prone rubber boots. If  anyone on Lasqueti has a great idea for using textiles destined for trash bags, please step up.  There is plenty of material available for a cottage textile industry.

To better manage the excess of textiles arriving at the Lasqueti Free Store, a sign will be placed on the door when the store is at capacity for certain items.  Thanks for participating in keeping this amazing local resource running smoothly.

 

April 2020

E-Waste Recycling & Right to Repair

E-waste, which includes all computers, newer TVs, smart phones, some higher tech fridges, and so much more, has become a global ecological issue. It is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. In 2018, an estimated 50 million tones of e-waste was created. Only 15-20% of it was recycled, the rest went to landfills and incinerators.

Increasingly, electronics are manufactured with built in planned obsolescence. This, coupled with consumer demand for faster, better, cooler products, means most devices are not handled for more than a couple of years by their original owner.  Add to that the difficulty, inconvenience and high cost of repairs, and the consumer finds it cheaper to buy something new. The economics of gadgetry encourages disposal!

Maybe you’re like me and have a stash of broken phones and computers in your house. Maybe you’re keeping them because they might be repairable or useful. You might not know what to do with them but you probably don’t want them to end up in a landfill.  

If your old cell phone ends up in a formal (First World) electronic recycling facility, it will be shredded and sorted into its constituent parts by industrial machines that take lots of energy to power and money to run (add that to the overall footprint of your device). The expense of such e-recycling makes it cheaper to export e-waste to the developing world where it’s processed in unlicensed and unregulated situations which don’t consider human and environmental health hazards.

Most e-waste ends up in Asia where thousands of men, women and children are employed by informal recycling businesses. Discarded devices are sorted and disassembled with bare hands. Plastic is openly burned from wiring and casing to get at the valuable and complex mix of materials that make the devices work. They can contain lead, silver, gold, copper, titanium, platinum, palladium, lithium and cobalt. So, one benefit of recycling e-waste is that these valuable elements are reclaimed less mining for raw materials is needed. E-waste, however, also includes heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, and beryllium, as well as polluting PVC plastics and other chemicals like brominated flame retardants that have proven to be harmful to human health. 

The regions where e-waste is hand recycled have contaminated air, soil and groundwater. People who work at informally recycling e-waste are more likely to have spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, premature births, increased lead levels in their blood, decreased lung function and increased neurobehavioral disturbances. 

Imagine if manufacturers were required to design better products that were built to last (or at least had to label them with the average time before breakdown). Imagine if they had to offer replacement parts and other resources at reasonable prices. Imagine if the producers had to be responsible for recycling the devices they sold. Imagine if the consumers of these products had the right to repair them.

Currently, Canadians do not have a right to repair. Companies like Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, and John Deere keep lobbying to ensure that the laws that benefit their corporations don’t change. These manufacturers use “authorized shops” that charge more to repair a device than to buy a new one. They restrict access to spare parts and manuals and they even use software to render devices unusable if they’ve undergone “unauthorized repair”. Sometimes the software is designed to be deliberately slow on older models so users upgrade to newer models. These companies argue that intellectual property rights as well as security and safety concerns should limit consumers rights to fix their own devices. 

Thankfully, there are organizations advocating for the Right to Repair as a necessary principle in this technologically connected world. In the consumers bill of rights we should be able to open everything we own, to be able to modify and repair it, to unlock and jailbreak software in the electronics. There should be easy access to repair information and software tools for diagnostics. Products should be able to be repaired at reasonable cost and independent repair shops should be allowed to exist. The end goal should be to reduce waste, allow for repairs to be made locally and to encourage innovation. If you agree, join the right to repair movement!

Most cities now have Repair Cafe’s where a consumer can take broken electronics and have them fixed for free. Local expertise, tools, repair manuals, and materials are made available. The idea is to combine education with social inclusivity and to teach “sharing economy” practices and sustainable actions. Here on Lasqueti, WMM will have a go at repairing “dumb devices’ that don’t depend on computer chips to operate. Anyone else out there want to join the revolution and help fix the electronics we already own?

Where repair proves impossible, there are local stores that are happy to receive used electronics to use for parts.  Some smaller computer stores, for instance, fall into this category. If recycling is your only option, here is a list of programs available in BC. It is especially important to properly dispose of batteries. 

Parksville Recycling Depot takes electronics and batteries

Household Batteries and Cell Phones (Call2Recycle)

Automotive Batteries (Canadian Battery Association)

Small Electronics (Return It Electronics)

Small Appliances (Electrorecycle)

    Notes from WMMark:  Covid-19 protocol for the Depot from the qRD: one person at a time doing recycling, depot worker keeps distance and supervises. This will be slower, but no one is in a rush anymore, right?

I have a good little repair space in my office, so bring in your small jobs so we can try to divert products from becoming garbage.  mb [at] lasqueti [dot] ca or 8601 or 250 240 9886

 

Landfills - June 2020

    In 2019, the Lasqueti Landfill closed because it had reached capacity and is not up to modern day standards. It is currently going through the process of being properly closed by technical engineers through a plan that has been approved by the Ministry of Environment. We’ll keep you updated as this plan progresses.

    Since it closed, our true trash (not our recycling) has been sent over to the Nanaimo Landfill via a bin on Keith’s barge (first Thursday of the month 11am-1pm at the Weldon Bay boat ramp) which is then hauled to Nanaimo. I wanted to know more about where our garbage goes so I poked around the Regional District of Nanaimo’s website, seeking information about the Cedar Road Landfill.

    I learned that approximately 58,000 tonnes of waste are disposed there per year. 19,000 of those tonnes first land at the Church Road Transfer Station in Parksville. These Solid Waste Facilities are meant to safely manage and dispose of waste that can’t be composted, reused, recycled or otherwise diverted from disposal.

    When loads of waste arrive at the Nanaimo Landfill, they are inspected. If the load contains excessive amounts of recyclable or compostable materials, the hauler is subject to penalties in addition to the cost of disposal. If these volumes are high, the hauler might not be allowed to deposit the ‘waste’ and may be asked to remove the material from the site. This might surprise folks who still think that the recyclable material collected on Lasqueti ends up in a landfill. 

The amount of recylables in BC landfills might differ from the rest of Canada because Recycle BC does a good job of providing a way for residents to divert recyclable packaging and printed paper from the waste stream. There are also 21 other recycling programs in place for us to make use of. Composting is also an incredible way to reduce our waste, as it accounts for about 40% of the average household’s trash. 

That said, the Nanaimo Landfill has to deal with the same problems that landfills world wide confront. The flow of trash from the single-use model our culture illustrates has not stopped. Apparently, embarrassingly, Canada produces more garbage per capita than many other countries in the world. Though this is largely due to the significant tonnages from the commercial sector of oil and gas excavation, it should still capture our attention – living in a spacious landscape, we can live under the illusion that we don’t create as much waste as the numbers reveal.

    A landfill is defined as a large portion of land or an excavated site designed to be built into or on top of the ground and kept isolated from the surrounding environment. It’s a place to dispose of waste material by burying it or covering it over with soil, especially as a method of filling in or extending usable land. There are 10,000 landfill sites in Canada and though our country is vast, we are running out of space where we can encase our garbage and expect it to be handled with consideration of the surrounding environment. Most towns and cities don’t want a landfill inside their borders. 

    Why? Partly because they are toxic landmasses that emit dangerous gases. Landfill gas (LFG) is produced when microbes decompose garbage in the absence of oxygen. This process generates equal amounts of methane and carbon dioxide. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas which greatly contributes to global warming (landfills are the 3rd largest source of methane emissions in the US). According to safety standards, methane must be monitored and collected. In Nanaimo, it’s burned at an on-site flare station to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. There are also plans in place to use the collected methane to produce electricity and sell it to the BC Hydro grid. 

    Landfill gas can migrate through the landfill cover or adjacent soil and enter the atmosphere. These gases also smell, ie they create ’nuisance odours’. They are also an explosive hazard, not to mention being harmful to human and vegetative life. 

    When solid waste decomposes it also produces a liquid called leachate which is accelerated by the percolation of water through the landfill. Leachate is a complex mix of organic and inorganic compounds made by a combination of physical, chemical and biochemical processes in the trash mix. Landfills are designed to contain leachate with liners of high density plastic, and perforated pipes to collect the leachate at the lowest spots. Once collected it is transported to the regional sewage treatment plant. Sometimes leachate migrates to where it affects ground quality, so groundwater around landfills is monitored both uphill and downhill from the site to check for contamination. 

    We all want our garbage to go ‘away’ where we don’t have to see it, smell it, or suffer the consequences of it on the natural world. However, there is no ‘away’, there is only our backyard. All the trash we generate stays on Earth, in the atmosphere, in the ocean and in landfills. Thank you for all the efforts you are making to reduce our island’s impact on the planet.

LTT - Metal - July 2020

It’s time to talk about metal. Since the Lasqueti dump closed, folks have been wondering what to do with metal garbage as its not accepted at the Nanaimo Landfill. The Let’s Talk Trash team and WMMark are planning a metal collection day for August 6, 2020. 10am-1pm at the barge ramp.

Most infrastructure is built with metal. Airports, highways, bridges, all need metal. So do cars, computers, appliances, windows, fixtures, bikes, and toys, (the list goes on). Copper, in particular, is essential to modern life as it transmits power and information. Metal is versatile. Metal requires ore and energy to be created. Metal can also be recycled over and over without altering its properties. Metal is precious. Because of this it’s (slightly) more likely to be recycled than it is to be landfilled. 

Scrap metal recycling is a big business player in the global economy. Scrap metal buyers know that mining ore is costly. Most of us know that resources are finite and that depleted mines leave behind disastrous, toxic scars on the Earth. Still, the demand to extract more ore remains. It makes economic sense to reuse what metal has already been torn from the ground. The EPA states that using scrap metal provides a 75% in energy savings over using virgin ore.

The first step in recycling metal is to collect it, usually in a scrap yard. Then, it’s sorted into component parts either by machine, or dismantled by hand (in the case of many developing countries which buy scrap metal for processing). Magnets are used to separate out iron and steel. Non-ferrous metals (aluminum, silver, copper, brass) are sorted by weight and colour. After sorting and shredding, the metals are cleaned. All contaminants are removed so they don’t affect the quality of the recycled product. Once cleaned, the metals are melted, purified, and re-formed into solid usable units called ingots or into sheets. The process is energy intensive but not as damaging as mining for ore.

The metals most commonly recycled are aluminum and steel. Approximately, 2/3 of manufactured steel comes from recycled steel. Silver, brass, copper and gold are so valuable they are rarely thrown away so they don’t cause waste problems. 

Consider the metal all around you. It might once have been part of a car, filing cabinet, bridge or phone line. Before that it was a seam in the ground. When you leave metal in the bush or dump it in the landfill this means you don’t understand the value and benefits of recycling metal. One of the articles I read suggested that throwing away a single aluminum can wastes the energy equivalent to that same can full of gas. So evaluate the metal bits in your yard (before they rust away) and bring them to the metal collection event on August 6.

 ACCEPTED MATERIALS:
Scrap metal & metal appliances. Fridges, freezers and other ozone depleting substances (ODS) units must have Freon removed and sticker confirming removal attached to unit.

Questions? Contact Mark Bottomley at (250) 240-9886 or mb [at] lasqueti [dot] ca

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Lasqueti Landfill is officially closed. For now, you’ll have to hang on to your large appliances, metal and tires until a potential future Round-up event.

Trash Removal System: 

First Thursday of the month. 11 am - 1 pm, at the Weldon Road Barge Ramp.(If weather is not permitting they'll try for the following Monday, same time, same place.) WMM will inspect Lasqueti Island residential waste destined for the Nanaimo Landfill before its loaded onto a bin on Keith’s barge. No construction materials, renovation or demolition waste, prohibited waste, organics, recyclable material or stewardship materials. $5 per bag, $25 per truckload. Mattresses and boxsprings $15 each. NO garbage can be left at barge ramp!

Recycling Depot: Spring/Summer Hours  April 1- October 31st

-Mondays 10 am - 2 pm, Thursdays 1- 5 pm, Friday 10am-4pm

Closed on Statutory Holidays. All recycling is monitored. Please bring it CLEAN and DRY.

Free Store: Spring/Summer Hours  April 1- October 31st

- Monday 10am-2pm and Thursday 1 - 5 pm 

Ginja requests you drop off outstanding items only i.e. clean, usable clothing and household items. Please, NO food, garbage, recycling, TV’s, soft foam, batteries, electrical devices, mattresses or hazardous materials ie: chemicals, fluorescent light tubes, prescription/non-prescription drugs, or pills in general.

Return-It Beverage Depot open 24/7

Front left of Free Store. Accepts refundable beverage containers: beer, cider, pop, coconut water cans, boxed wine cartons (leave them intact), water jugs and tetra juice packs. No, milk containers and any kind of glass - please take these to the recycling depot.

Recycle BC Website: www.recyclebc.ca/what-can-i-recycle

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions for me and the qRd Let’s Talk Trash team please get in touch! jennyv [at] lasqueti [dot] ca or 8601.