Waste not, want not Understanding the dynamic flow of Jasper's waste stream
Smash! The sound of a glass salsa jar breaking is oddly satisfying, sort of like popping bubble wrap or crunching an ice puddle. I used to cringe every time I dropped my glass recyclables into the bins at the Jasper Recycling Depo, thinking that an intact glass container is easier to recycle, or at least easier to transport, than a bunch of broken shards. But no longer! Ever since I learned that all of the glass collected in Jasper ends up in a huge pile of smithereens at the Jasper Transfer Station, I chuck unrepentantly. Smash! There goes another!
What’s that you say? Jasper’s collected glass isn’t given a new lease on life? It’s not melted down and made into new pickle containers, mustard receptacles or windowpanes? Nope! The dirt (or sand) on glass is much different than I assumed. In fact, a trip to the Jasper Transfer Station gave me an entirely new perspective on the dynamic flow of our community’s waste stream.
“There is no market for glass.” Those are sober words from Jasper’s Janet Cooper, the town’s environmental stewardship coordinator. Cooper is helping me understand where all of the products that can (and should) be diverted from the waste stream, end up. The bad news for glass is that it’s heavy, meaning it’s expensive to ship and therefore doesn’t fetch any money from brokers. So why even bother collecting it? Firstly, because it might someday become in demand. And secondly, because carting it to the Grande Yellowhead Regional Landfill, near Hinton, would be a huge expense. “If you can pull out glass it’s not coming back to your own garbage bill,” Cooper says, responding to the folks who now balk at cleaning out their spaghetti sauce jars when they know the jars will simply sit in the ground. In the meantime, she points out, glass is not contaminating our water sources or leaching into the ground.
“It’s inert,” she reminds me. I always was terrible at chemistry. What’s not inert is the market for cardboard. Cardboard is gold in the recycling world (OK, actual gold recycled from computer chips would hold that title, but you get my drift). Fetching anywhere from $65 to $100 per metric tonne, fibre from cardboard is coveted by brokers who send the stuff to pulp and paper manufacturers. Jasper, with all its retail outlets, restaurants and hotels, produces a lot of cardboard for a community its size. “All afternoon we’re bailing cardboard,” Cooper says. And cardboard isn’t the only thing getting bailed. Plastics get the same treatment—although because they compact so much, it takes a lot more loads from Jasper’s two recycling depots to fill a tractor trailer with 23 bails of yogurt containers, detergent bottles and clamshell packaging. “It literally takes us a year to make enough bails to fill a truck,” Cooper says. Trucks are a big part of the recycling game. The ones from DBS Environmental, a waste specialist company based in Lethbridge, come to Jasper a couple times every year to get rid of things like batteries, tires, electronic waste and household chemicals. Another truck comes for oil and filters, still another picks up appliances. But it doesn’t have to be trucked to the Jasper transfer station; folks can bring it there anytime. The facility, which is operated by Parks Canada but which will eventually be taken over by the municipality, accepts all sorts of household waste—something Cooper says is often forgotten by residents. “Every year when we have the e-waste round up we fill a truck up. I don’t think people realize that the transfer station is a free service.” And it is free. For now. While this year the transfer station was supposed to enact fees for residential waste—just as it has for commercial waste—the process has been delayed. Ross Pigeon, landfill supervisor for Parks Canada, admits he’s not sure when, or if, Parks Canada will implement the fees. “If there is a charge coming, I’m not sure when exactly that will be” he said.
What Pigeon is sure of is that if the Jasper
transfer station is going to be upgraded—a move which would seem
logical, given the site’s slurry of issues: an inept fluorescent bulb
disposal system; its antiquated weigh scales, the lack of a glass
sorting facility (turns out there is a market for the clear stuff!) and
the open-air windrows of compost, just to name a few--it will be
upgraded at the behest of the municipality. But until the federal
government and the town can resolve issues related to liability (for
potentially contaminated groundwater) and cost, the transfer station’s
needs will likely remain unattended to. Talking to Cooper, I get the
feeling that she can’t wait to have more of a say on how the station
operates, if only to take advantage of the regional partnerships. “All the recommendations are to work regionally,” she says. “Our volumes are so tiny it makes sense to work together.” Cooper looks to Edson as a beacon of hope. There, a not-for-profit organization is ahead of the curve in diverting materials from the waste stream. “There are so many ideas that we could implement if we worked together,” she said, pulling up slides on her computer of proper, mercury-vapor-catching florescent bulb disposal machines and propane canister recycling systems. In fact, Cooper is working with Edson to bring the latter system to the region. In light of all the camping that takes place on the Rockies’ eastern slopes in the summer, West Yellowhead should be processing our own propane canisters, she figures. “We should be leading the way with things like this,” she said.
Sadly, Jasper is not leading the way in waste diversion. The last waste audit suggested that 50 per cent of Jasper’s waste could be diverted. Much of what is bagged and chucked could be added to the compost stream (which, by the way, is perfectly capable of accepting dairy and meat scraps, contrary to municipal signage). This grim fact in a national park is largely a consequence of our bear-proof infrastructure; as there are no enforceable regulations on how much, or what type of, garbage goes into our bins, there seems to be no limits to it.
All of these messy thoughts are particularly poignant as we enter the holiday season, a dynamic time indeed for Jasper’s waste stream. And even though part of Cooper’s job is to try to reduce the amount of waste that comes through the tail end, the key, she says, is at the head. “One of the best ways to reduce our footprint is to work with manufacturers so they’re not producing more packaging than what’s necessary,” she says. That, and to stop buying so much salsa. Smash!