Cuvier’s Beaked Whale; Parksville Plastic Bags; Closing Public Landfill

In January, Nanaimo Council and Parksville Council heard two presentations regarding garbage waste and a request for a ban on single-use plastic bags.

What is the RDN’s garbage plan? Is the incinerator a go?

Sort, Recycle, Burn, Bury garbage?

Here are some of the highlights of the RDN’s new garbage plan presented to Nanaimo Council on January 23, 2016:

The ‘trash’ talk was left to end of the meeting at 10:30pm.  Possibly trying to bury a hot topic?  The RDN is now at Stage 2 of their four stage plan.  They are getting to the end of looking at garbage options.   The ‘Stage 2’ results goes to the RDN board in the summer for a vote and then approval by the province.

What are the Stage 2 options that the RDN has looked at over the last 2 years? Some of these are:

  • non-deposit glass at curbside
  • yard and garden waste at curbside
  • education of waste diversion
  • hazardous waste and demolition waste

In 2004 the goal of zero waste was identified.  Residents are producing 68% less garbage than the 1980s but there are more people now than back then. Residents produced 347kg (756 pounds) of garbage per person in 2016, compared to 1100kg (2,425 pounds) in 1980.

A budget of $300,000 is estimated to be needed for a new education program to address residential and commercial users to get people to sort their garbage, and produce less.

Commercial garbage is a BIG problem

The diagram below shows that commercial waste is not being sorted or recycled. Paper is still ending up in the landfill and so is compostable organics! Why? Stores and malls are not doing a very good job, compared to residents.

15% of paper from commercial waste is still ending up in landfill

Closing Public Landfill

During the RDN waste manager’s presentation it was repeated several times that the private sector is better than the public sector at sorting waste.

According to the manager, the RDN plans to get rid of the public landfill and have people take their waste to a private operator. Is this leading up to an incinerator in Cedar?

Metro Vancouver regional directors released a short list of potential incinerator sites in December 2016. They plan to build as many as three waste-to-energy plants in or outside the region by 2018. Is Nanaimo on the list?

Commercial haulers are taking Metro’s garbage to Washington state. The Cache Creek landfill which received the bulk of Vancouver’s garbage, is scheduled to close at the end of 2017. It has been in operation since 1989.

Council Chatter:

Bestwick:..waste dollars?…

RDN: …business is better at diversion than the government…DBL pulls out way more stuff than we do…we can give them more motivation to pull more materials out…if we could set up a fee differential…so for example, if [commercial] waste haulers could pay a lower rate than others the waste would flow more through those businesses…they are better at diversion…they end up setting up more waste streams…it is a way to change the structure….so we can drive the waste through business…

Bestwick:…education?. .Business does it and does it well…only 6% target for education…

RDN: …education first…regulate sector…the idea is anyone hauling waste for profit is to be a licenced operator…by licencing haulers we can give them a lower fee for disposal…now they have to pay the same price as everyone else…If we can change that then people will give them their waste…1/3 of the waste taken to the transfer station comes from individuals in cars and pickup trucks…If we can get people to take their waste to [private dump] they can sort through it better than we can or do…

Bestwick: I’m sold.

Hong: …it is really interesting how this is being presented…yes, companies do a good job of diversion…We should go to a ‘condo style’ system…we are talking about going to an automated system with 160-litre bins…so we are talking about people producing more garbage…How are we going to divert more without a process?…all garbage has to be sorted BEFORE it gets to the landfill…

RDN: I agree.

Yoachim: …can we create energy with the landfill?

RDN: Yes, we do…we get gas [from the landfill] …turn it into electricity …doing it for six years…

Wellington School Renovation

McKay: …City of Nanaimo doesn’t have a requirement to do recycling for commercial buildings…Cameron Island is a great model…we need teeth and regulations…if you go to company A with a request for X number of recycling bins you are going to pay 4 times as much as Company B who just brings in just one bin…

Industry is telling us they need regulations and enforcement…we need the province’s backing…construction and demo waste… You watch DBL do their waste and everything is separated…

Wellington School renovation went to one contractor who farmed out the construction and demo waste to a 1 bin operator who sent all the waste unsorted to a [landfill] in the Fraser Valley… entire houses that are taken down in Nanaimo are burned up in Cedar…This is what people are competing with…

Automatized [curbside] system is costing $110 per year per household…in Kelowna they have a private operator who charges $160 per household for pick-up…

RDN:…when the antique coke machine came into the landfill and the beverage company wanted to buy it…we couldn’t sell it…we don’t have the ability to adjust policies [on the fly]…We [the RDN] can’t compete with the private sector…

Parksville: BAN single-use plastic bags

Two speakers from Communities Protecting Our Coast (CPOC) came to speak to Parksville Council in January. They made a request that the City of Parkville ban single-use plastic bags. They covered many reasons why action is urgently needed.  CPOC mentioned that they have added their concerns to the RDN’s Stage 2 garbage plan.

Why CPOC wants to ban single-use plastic bags:

  • Single-use bags or other plastic bags are not recyclable at curbside
  • They are used for an average of 12 minutes but they are here forever
  • To make 9 single-use plastic bags is equal to runing a car for 1 kilometre
  • Costs for landfill and disposable adds up to more than $90 per person per year

Adding up all the costs of  extraction,  disposal, and environmental impacts are too large to dismiss. The UN secretariat has recommended a global ban on all single-use plastic bags.

A tax or a ban on plastic bags?

In 2002, Ireland became the first country to enforce a plastic bag tax. This 25 cent fee was started because the country was using 1.2 billion shopping bags a year and it was causing a waste problem. The tax resulted in a 94% decrease in plastic bag use. In the first year the plastic bag tax raised $9.6 million for environmental initiatives.

Montreal has voted to ban single-use plastic bags as of 2018. The 82 municipalities that make up the metropolitan area of Montreal agreed unanimously to prohibit “the use of single-use shopping bags which are not biodegradable, or fully recyclable” effective Earth Day on April 22, 2018, according to a resolution.

Delhi has also just passed a ban on single-use plastic bags. It was introduced after complaints about the illegal mass burning of plastic at three incinerators, which were blamed for causing toxic air pollution.

Seven Canadian municipalities have banned single-use plastic bags:

  1. Leaf Rapids, Manitoba
  2. Thompson, Manitoba
  3. Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality, Alberta
  4. Huntingdon, Quebec
  5. Deux-Montagnes, Quebec
  6. Brossard, Quebec
  7. Montreal, Quebec

Where is BC on this list? Tofino has recently banned plastic straws. Victoria is making steps to ban plastic bags.

Will Parksville and Qualicum Beach take action? What is the RDN planning to do?

Nanaimo Recycling Exhange

In order to recycle plastic bags people have to drive to the Nanaimo Recycling Exchange (NRE) on Kenworth Road or the Regional Recycling depot on Old Victoria Road.  Imagine if we could spend $80 million on a state-of-the-art recycling depot rather than an Events Centre? It could have a world class research and development facility in partnership with VIU and provide many local jobs.

Local governments have been neglecting our recycling centres. Is that to make way for a billion dollar incinerator to pollute our land and water?

Whale starved by plastic bags

On January 28, 2017, an emaciated and sick Cuvier’s Beaked Whale beached itself on the shores of the island of Sotra, about ten miles west of Bergen, Norway.  Despite the best efforts of the locals, it would not budge. When experts arrived, they realized the whale was in distress, so it was euthanized.

Sotra Islanders stand near Cuvier’s Beaked Whale that had beached itself

At first, scientists didn’t even know what type of whale they were looking at. These beaked whales are so rare and scientists know so little about this type of whale that there are no estimates of past or present population size.

What was the cause of the whale’s pain? When zoologists examined the dead whale, they found its stomach was choked full with plastic bags still with their Danish and English labels visible and large amounts of microplastics. Zoologist Terje Lislevand of the University of Bergen said that the whale most likely had been unable to digest any real food since September. The whale had starved to death. Its intestine had no food.

Normally, this species of whale would only be found in deep water of over 3,300 feet (1,000 m) and avoid shallow coastal areas. What does that say about the plastic garbage? It’s not just floating on the surface – it’s down deep.

Some of the 30 plastic bags that were found in the Cuvier Whale’s stomach.

This whale’s skeleton is going to be preserved and displayed at the University of Bergen, alongside those plastic bags that caused its death.

Unfortunately, whales aren’t the only casualty of plastic bags. Seabirds are attracted to algae-covered plastic because it smells like food.

Dr. Dudas, a VIU biology professor and Canada Research Chair in shellfish aquaculture ecosystems, directed a study of clams and oysters on Vancouver Island.  Some 3,000  shellfish were tagged in July 2016 and they have found plastic in these organisms.

Plastic in our food

Even when the plastic does break down, fish and plankton feed on these broken down plastic bags. Eventually those tiny fish get gobbled up by larger fish which end up on a dinner plate.

Solutions to our plastic addiction

What did people do before plastic bags? In the old days, customers purchased their produce (sometimes with a bit of dirt still on it) and it was wrapped in brown paper. You didn’t have plastic packaging.

Canada’s first zero-waste grocery store is on Salt Spring Island, called Green. Customers bring their own jars, boxes and bags.

One store owner in Iran estimated he gave out 249,600 plastic bags to his customers – about 80 kilograms (over 176 pounds) every month. He decided to give out ten cent cloth bags for free to his customers and he soon found that people were coming back with the same cloth bags to be refilled.

“People often say to themselves that it will make no difference if only one person refrains from using plastic bags. Does that ever cross your mind?”

“I’ve always tried to follow a verse from Rumi that says, “No matter if you are the only one who wants peace and light in a world where everyone else is lost in the darkness of war, you are responsible to light your own candle.”