The Ins and Outs of the RDCK’s Recycling Program

This blog post is part of a series written on waste management in Nelson. The objective is to understand where and how to deal with waste and where it ends up.

By Marie-Paule Berthiaume –  Slimmer Waste

The Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) joined Recycle BC (RBC) to offer a new recycling depot program that launched in June 2020. With upgraded equipment, the Nelson recycling depot is now accepting a wider variety of materials.

RBC Sorting Notice

The RDCK Resource Recovery Technician, Travis Barrington, describes the new recycling program and its challenges and successes. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What do you do in your position?

The Resource Recovery Technician’s mission is to increase opportunities for diversion for residents of the RDCK. The main feature is the depot recycling program, which had a few changes this year. The other aspects are the household hazardous waste events, as well as working with other extended producer responsibility groups, such as the bottle, paint, and electronics recycling. We are working to increase access to these services.

How is the RDCK working with RBC?

The RDCK runs the depots using its own staff to ensure items are being sorted correctly, while Recycle BC collects the materials to take to processing facilities.

What is a simple way to describe the RBC program?

RBC is a stewardship program for the collection and recycling of packaging in BC. The eco-fees that consumers pay at the time of purchase on things such as paint or electronics are used to fund their recycling. 

Businesses in BC also pay RBC a fee to pay for the recycling of all the bags, boxes and packaging that their customers take home. This fee is the reason RBC is able to keep our recycling going even in times of plastic bans in China and things like that.

What are some challenges the RDCK has faced since the program debuted last June?

A large number of depots spread over a large area is a major challenge. This includes training and maintaining the staff for these depots and coordinating with our partners for the collection and shipping of materials. Additionally, we underestimated how much people in this area like to recycle. This led to occasional site closures due to shipping constraints at the start of the new program.

Another challenge has been educating users at the sites. Our staff members are doing an excellent job in this respect. People need to get used to a new routine.

Now we have the extra categories, the extra sorting, etc. I totally understand people are busy and when you go to the recycling depot, you just want to drop your stuff off and get out but now we need to take the extra time for sorting, ideally at home

RDCK Recycling Home Setup
Photo Credit: Marie-Paule Berthiaume

What are the successes of the program?

The majority of people are happy with the program because they can recycle more, especially styrofoam and plastic bags. A lot of people were waiting for that.

The investments and improvements we have made to our depots have been positive. The sites are much cleaner with onsite staff. There is less litter on the ground, there is less contamination, less garbage.

The new equipment and everything we ordered came out looking really good. All the attention that is going to the sites makes it look more professional; a place where you want to go and recycle and feel like you are making a difference.

Do you have some waste management advice for Nelson residents?

A common comment is that our recycling system is complex. However, it’s because the items that we buy are complex.

It starts at the store. For example, with groceries, you have boxes, plastics, metal, Tetra Paks and all these things. I know that it is not always possible to buy the simplest packaging but that is a good way to simplify your recycling. Again, another thing is being organized at home. Although it takes more space, having multiple bins at home to sort everything before going to a depot will make things easier. 

How does the RDCK program fit within Nelson’s recycling landscape?

The RDCK operates the landfills and recycling depots, while the towns and villages operate their curbside pickup independently. They have to bring their curbside waste to our landfill facilities but their curbside recycling programs are independent from what the district does.

Now the district and all the towns and places with curbside programs are all using RBC for recycling. This has made it a lot easier because we have the same rules as those curbside programs. That is a really big thing and I am really happy with that. 

What options do businesses have for their recycling? 

Due to our isolated area, recycling options for private business are limited. RBC is very helpful for our residential recycling because we get the benefit of their network of big haulers and transporters that can take the material back to the lower mainland. However, RBC is not responsible for commercial recycling therefore businesses cannot rely on their transportation network. We only have two big haulers in our area that can service businesses, Alpine and Waste Management, but they are expensive because we are remote.

The big challenge is to get the material you collect to a place where it can be recycled.

In Nelson, there is the additional challenge of the small alleys and compact streets downtown. Many of the businesses do not have room for a big recycling bin. There is a bin available for business cardboard recycling at the Nelson depot and it is very busy and popular. We saw there was a gap there and we offered that as a kind of compromise service for them.

Is there a plan for adding options for businesses?

Businesses have been vocal about wanting more service. However, currently RBC’s mandate is only to collect residential packaging. That allows residents to recycle but not businesses. This has been a problem for other districts as well.

We have been lobbying RBC to add commercial recycling.

As RBC already has the network of haulers and facilities, it only makes sense for them to add commercial recycling versus creating a whole new separate network for it. Due to Covid-19 these plans have been pushed aside for now. If RBC does decide to include commercial recycling, it will take a while to implement.

Is the RDCK doing anything to pressure companies to simplify their packaging?

The RDCK and even Recycle BC are such small entities in the overall scheme of recycling in North America. Therefore, we cannot have much impact until there are more similar programs to put direct pressure on companies. The best we can do at the local level is demanding simpler packaging and utilizing reusable containers.

The RDCK could be doing more to promote simpler packaging and the use of reusable containers in its messaging. Reducing before even getting to recycling. I think we have that kind of mentality here already, there are a lot of places you can go for groceries and food that will let you bring your own containers, this year being an exception.

However, when that option does come back, I think we are well set up and I know that there are a few local champions that are behind that. For example, I buy all my coffee from a local roaster, I bring a jar in and he fills it. Over four years, I have saved almost 200 bags of coffee. This is definitely a thing we the RDCK could be promoting more. I think we are in an area that really embraces that type of action.