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Coasters' garbage is almost half recyclables: SCRD waste composition study

Forty-six per cent of the garbage delivered to Sechelt Landfill examined in the audited period could have been recycled, a new report finds
An aerial view of sorting activities at Sechelt landfill during the 2022 waste composition study

Some Coast residents need to re-consider what they class as "garbage."

During two-week periods in May and October 2022, samples from the contents of 7,431 kilograms of garbage deliveries to Sechelt landfill were audited. The results: 46 per cent of that volume could have been recycled, according to a report considered by Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) directors at a Feb. 23 committee meeting. Food waste made up half of that amount.

Contractor XCG Consulting completed last year’s waste composition study for the SCRD. In their report, they also compared their results to those from similar studies conducted in 2014 and 2015. The comparisons revealed that food waste and other organics made up 23 per cent of garbage samples examined last year, down from 32 per cent in previous studies.

XCG’s report revealed between 2014 and 2022, organic content in the municipal component of the region’s garbage stream decreased by 17 per cent.

“Curbside collection systems have greatly decreased the amount of organic material found in the landfill stream; however, additional diversion of organics can still be achieved,” the report concluded. Curbside organics pickup was introduced in Gibsons in 2018, in sections of the rural areas (except Area A) in 2020, and throughout the District of Sechelt and shíshálh Nation lands in 2021/22. A pilot project operated in Sechelt‘s Davis Bay neighbourhood since 2014.

“We are on the right track we just need a little nudge in the area of organics,” commented Area D director Kelly Backs in response to the report.

In 2022, the SCRD introduced new disposal regulations banning the disposal of food waste, food-soiled paper and paper at its landfill. As of last November, those rules have been enforceable.

Recyclables in our garbage

Last year’s garbage audit monitored samples of about 100 kilograms from loads received from different garbage collection areas on the Coast. The study showed that the types of materials in the Coast’s garbage did not change significantly between 2014 and 2022.

Samples examined from deliveries "self-hauled" to the landfill or delivered via Pender Harbour transfer station showed about 40 per cent of that material should have been diverted to recycling. Recyclables made up 53 per cent of the waste delivered from areas that receive garbage collection through local government services. In both cases, about half those amounts were organics.

Waste arriving at the landfill from the shíshálh Nation Government District contained the highest level of organics at 40 per cent. Garbage from District of Sechelt contained 31 per cent organics and waste received from Gibsons showed 22 per cent organic materials. Deliveries from SCRD Areas B, D, E and F contained between 23 and 27 per cent. Garbage delivered via the Pender Harbour transfer station contained the lowest organic content at 20 per cent.

Sechelt director Alton Toth said it was “really unfortunate” garbage from that municipality still contained what he viewed as a “high” level of food waste and kitchen scraps. Analysis from an October 2022 sampling showed kitchen waste was the largest recyclable component of garbage from that area at 19 percent, with food-soiled paper making up an additional nine per cent. He noted both are products are accepted in the area's weekly curbside collection.

In addition to organics, waste sampled in the 2022 study contained 22 per cent recyclable paper and packaging materials. That percentage increased over the earlier report period, which reported those products made up 20 per cent of garbage. Other items that can be recycled including batteries, electronics and used oil made up a single per cent of the refuse delivered in the 2022 samples, down from four per cent during the earlier study.

Pet waste was identified as a significant component of garbage sampled that arrived from Gibsons. In discussion, it was noted that although this is an organic material, it is considered garbage and not accepted by any coast recycling service.

Making audit results relatable

Area F director Kate Stamford and Area E Director Donna McMahon asked how the SCRD’s waste content analysis results compared to other areas. XCG’s report did not address that issue and their spokesperson at the meeting Michelle Grant said she did not have that information on hand and suggested that it could be requested by contacting other jurisdictions.

In response to a question about how to make the study results more comparable to landfill volume reports that SCRD staff prepare, Grant explained that sampling results are “snapshots” reflecting garbage contents on specific dates during the two 14-day sampling periods. She suggested that if the sampling were to be spread out as four one-week sessions, that could result in more accurate reflections of the content of garbage on a year-round basis.

Solid waste plan progress and updating

Staff at the meeting said that data from the study would be used to guide the update of the regional solid waste management plan. That process is slated to include community consultation. SCRD communications staff told Coast Reporter that the timeframe for those events is yet to be determined. The Solid Waste Management Plan Public and Technical Advisory Committee, which will help guide that process, is slated to have its first meeting of the year on Feb. 28.

That plan was adopted in 2011. It includes a target of diverting 69 per cent of the waste being sent to the landfill, based on 2011 volumes. According to XCG’s report, in 2021, the SCRD was at a 57 per cent diversion level. The goal is to achieve a solid waste disposal rate of 279 kilograms per person per year. In 2011,  that level was almost 600 kilograms. In 2021, the regional district reported that measure was at 421 kilograms.

Area B director Justine Gabias said that finding out “what is keeping people from diverting food waste and recyclables” was key to changing behaviours on what gets sent to the landfill.

One potential issue Backs identified was that while curbside organics collection is available in his area, it doesn’t exist for other recyclables and there is no local facility where those materials can be dropped off.

McMahon noted while that may be viewed as a barrier by some, there are two private businesses on the Coast that offer curbside recycling collection. “If people really want the service, it is available,” she noted.

McMahon pointed out that a growing amount of material coming to the landfill was construction waste and encouraged her counterparts to consider the need for diversion programs for those items. “Construction waste is the largest single portion of our waste stream. Homeowners sneaking small amounts of construction material into the residential waste stream (which Grant noted in her presentation at the meeting) is not new. It's the major construction that's the problem. Typical building sites don't bother to sort their garbage, they just throw all of it out,” she wrote in an Feb. 23 email to Coast Reporter.

SCRD manager of solid waste services Marc Sole told the committee that increasing partnerships with Salish Soils on recycling of wood products as well as looking at structure decommissioning bylaws are options that could help keep construction materials that could be reused or recycled out of the landfill. He suggested these items be discussed with the public during the solid waste plan update sessions.