Thorsen Creek Landfill has some new infrastructure

CCRD fails to manage solid waste; Thorsen Creek landfill to be full in 2013

CCRD fails to manage solid waste; Thorsen Creek landfill to be full in 2013

The Valley’s only landfill site, Thorsen Creek Waste and Recycling Centre, is nearly full and the CCRD has no clear direction on what they plan to do next.

As the March 14 board meeting minutes state, the CCRD received a report from the former Property Manager indicating that the landfill was reaching capacity and could be full as early as the end of 2013. The landfill operator has also confirmed this.

Acting CAO Isabell Harford characterized this as an ‘urgent’ matter that was to be ‘recognized as a serious environmental responsibility.’

However, it is precisely the lack of responsibility by the CCRD, especially in regards to recycling, which has led to this very difficult position.

It should come as no surprise that the landfill is filling up and there are no immediate alternatives. In 2006, an independent consultant determined that there were ‘no feasible alternate sites’ located within the Valley to establish another landfill site.

Armed with this knowledge, the former CCRD Board decided to implement recycling to extend the life of the landfill. Preliminary efforts started in 2007, and in 2008 a successful application for the ‘Towns for Tomorrow’ grant resulted in funds of $250,000 earmarked for recycling and infrastructure development.

“There have been several subsequent planning documents to help reduce waste and increase recycling,” said Joan Sawicki, former CCRD Volunteer Solid Waste Management Coordinator from 2007 to 2010. “The problem is, the CCRD has failed to implement them.”

While the Ministry of Environment is now recommending that the CCRD seriously review its last official Solid Waste Management Plan, which was prepared in 2004, the CCRD had confirmed long ago that this plan was ‘out of sync with current operations’ and did not meet the existing goals of the CCRD to ‘optimize the life of the current landfill site.’

Sawicki agreed with the Board that pursuing a new SWMP is not a top priority at this time, but is disappointed by the CCRD’s lack of action over the past five years.

In January 2009, Thorsen Creek Landfill became ‘Thorsen Creek Waste and Recycling Centre,’ accepting ‘Phase One’ items such as beverage containers, milk jugs, and tin cans.

But progress stalled in 2010 and the plans for expanding into more recyclables, such as cardboard and hard plastics, have gone nowhere.

In an effort to get the recycling program back on track, the CCRD again commissioned Sawicki to prepare two plans in 2011. A Preliminary Site Development Plan was approved and adopted by the Board at their September 2011 Board meeting, and an Interim Operational Plan was received and referred to staff at that same September meeting.

However, although both of these plans included strong messaging to encourage recycling and focus on community awareness and education as a necessary component, the CCRD did not pursue this avenue, and instead concentrated on infrastructure development.

While Chief Financial Officer and Acting CAO Donna Mikkelson could not comment on previous years operations at the Thorsen Creek Landfill, she did cite a lack of capacity within the CCRD as a major impediment to moving forward with this initiative.

“Staff resources are stretched beyond our capacity,” stated Mikkelson. “We simply do not have the resources we require.”

Mikkelson has since been tasked with preparing a situational analysis of the landfill to present to the Board at the April meeting, and from there the Board will decide how it wants to proceed.

Unfortunately, although the CCRD did implement some of the Site Development Plan in regard to infrastructure development, the final upgrades (such as the installation of water) will not be completed as the Ministry has refused to permit a third extension to the Towns for Tomorrow grant monies. The CCRD has now lost access to the remaining funds.

In the face of these overwhelming obstacles, Mikkelson has requested assistance from Ministry of Environment officials. “The matter of waste management and recycling is urgent and is in dire need of dedicated personnel,” said Mikkelson. “Existing staff lacks the expertise and time to move this forward in the manner required.”

Mikkelson also indicated that efforts are underway to encourage the board to consider the formation of another Solid Waste Management Committee. It remains unclear, however, how this Committee would address the imminent problems now plaguing the landfill.

While recycling options in the Valley may seem limited, there is still considerable progress that could be made to reduce the amount of waste entering the landfill. An expansion of the former ‘product stewardship’ policy has now evolved into ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ (EPR), which requires producers of certain products to be financially responsible for its eventual disposal or recycling.

Despite receiving repeated recommendations to take measures to divert these EPR products away from Thorsen Creek, up to and including banning them, the CCRD has take no action to do so.

The Bella Coola Recycling Depot, operated by Barney Kern, does take dozens of EPR recyclables, including all small electronics, and that list is set to expand.

“We take basically every electronic besides stoves and fridges, including electronic toys, fans, computers, stereos, you name it,” said Kern. “The list is growing all the time, but these items are still ending up in the landfill.”

Diverting these items from the landfill would alleviate the tax burden of their disposal from the taxpayer to the producer and ultimately save the District money. However, unless the CCRD takes some definitive action to discourage EPR disposal at Thorsen Creek, they will continue to take up valuable space in the landfill.

This point is not lost on Kern, who submitted a letter to the CCRD expressing his ‘discontent’ at how the landfill is currently dealing with these EPR items. While the Board received his letter at their March meeting, no concrete solution has been offered.

“The CCRD has not dealt with the recycling component at all, and I’m frustrated these items are still ending up in the landfill,” said Kern. “I think it’s time to make some changes.”

Kern is confident that if the CCRD started charging residents to dump their garbage, this would change. “That’s how every other landfill operates,” he said. “The best incentive to keep recyclables out of the landfill is to encourage people to reduce the amount of waste they bring.  A fee would do that.”

At present, however, the CCRD has yet to pursue any tangible solution to this very real problem.  “After years of work and ample opportunity to modernize how we handle solid waste in the Valley, it appears our community has now ended up with the worst of all possible worlds,” said Sawicki.  “A full landfill, a failed recycling program and lost recycling grant money. That is inexcusable.”