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Editorial: Process garbage closer to home

Exporting garbage is never a good idea — disposal and processing of waste should be done as close to the source as possible.

Exporting garbage is never a good idea — disposal and processing of waste should be done as close to the source as possible. Capital Regional District staff have recommended awarding a contract that would see food scraps from Greater Victoria shipped to the Lower Mainland over the next 20 months for processing at a cost of nearly $5 million. The CRD board has tabled the proposal and has asked for more information.

The plan was intended to be an interim measure after the region stopped sending kitchen scraps for composting to Foundation Organics on Stanhope Farm in Central Saanich.

The CRD decided to ban dumping food scraps in the Hartland landfill as of January 2015 in an effort to prolong the life of the landfill. Without removing food scraps from the waste stream, it is estimated the landfill would be full by 2035. Removing food scraps, it could be used until 2047.

The kitchen waste was to be turned into compost at the Foundation Organics facility, but the CRD pulled Foundation’s recycler licence last August, an action sparked by numerous complaints of strong odours emanating from the facility and upheld by the B.C. Supreme Court in January.

The region then began sending its food scraps over the Malahat to Fisher Road Recycling in Cobble Hill, but is still looking for a permanent solution.

The plan advanced by CRD staff would see food scraps shipped by barge or ferry to Emterra Environmental in Richmond for anaerobic digestion. Shipping food wastes across the Strait of Georgia — or even over the Malahat — erases some of the environmental gains of recycling, and leaves people in other areas to deal with the negative effects of our garbage.

Meanwhile, Vancouver has examined the possibility of shipping garbage to Nanaimo for incineration. It sets up a jarring mental image of barges filled with trash passing each other between the Island and the mainland.

At least they’re not dumping the garbage in the ocean, which is what Victoria did with its trash from 1908 to 1958, which meant families going for a seaside outing often took rakes with them to clear trash off the beaches before laying out their picnic lunches.

We might laugh at the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that would let someone think dumping garbage in the ocean was acceptable, but we still need to be more conscious about how much waste we generate and how we dispose of it. Sending it somewhere else, even for processing into compost, is not what we should do with our garbage. While a regional approach makes sense, it should be within reasonable limits. Nanaimo should not have to endure Vancouver’s garbage; Cobble Hill should not have to smell Victoria’s trash.

Self-sufficiency should be the goal for any municipal recycling program. And that can be more readily achieved with a better quality of garbage.

One of the problems encountered in any recycling program is the purity of the product. If you are handling plastics, you don’t want to have to deal with food wastes. If you are processing kitchen scraps, plastic makes the composting process more difficult. That is why sorting of trash is so important.

The best way to handle waste is not to create it. Ours is a profligate society. One study estimates that Canadians waste 40 per cent of the food produced in the country at a cost of about $27 billion. That waste comes from buying and cooking too much, improper storage and an unwillingness to use leftovers.

Perhaps we’re wrestling with the wrong problem. Perhaps we should not be asking what we should do with food waste, but why we’re producing so much of it in the first place.