Comment: We should strive for zero waste instead of expanding the landfill

The Capital Regional District’s general manager of parks and environmental services, Larisa Hutcheson, concluded her commentary on Trevor Hancock’s recent column on zero waste with an invitation for continued conversation on policy options for the future of the Hartland Landfill.

Three policy options that need to be considered include: zero waste, carbon neutrality and tipping fees.

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The international definition of zero waste is 90 per cent of waste diverted from landfills, primarily through the top three Rs of the waste hierarchy: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

The Regional District of Nanaimo, under its approved Solid Waste Management Plan, is on target to reduce waste generation from more than 1,000 kilograms per person (before Blue Box programs) to 109 kilograms per person by 2027.

By contrast, the CRD has set a target of 250 kilograms per person by 2030, but does not formally embrace a target of 125 kilograms per person thereafter, despite the CRD’s commitment to endorse zero waste and encourage a circular economy.

Hutcheson points out that the current footprint of Hartland Landfill will need to be expanded by 2045 if “current trends and population growth follow current projections.’’

But current trends are already changing. The City of Victoria released its Zero Waste Victoria Plan last week, committing to a 50 per cent reduction in current waste disposal by 2040.

The Township of Esquimalt is undertaking a business case study of thermal conversion of residual waste after recycling into a renewable gas used for heating buildings. If proven, Esquimalt will not send any waste to Hartland by 2025.

The CRD and a number of municipalities have declared a climate emergency pledging to become carbon neutral by 2050.

This means that any carbon emitted from human sources will have to be offset by increased storage of carbon by practising regenerative agriculture to convert soils from being carbon sources to carbon sinks; restoring wetlands and protecting our forests, and not removing 73 acres of forest at Hartland to expand the landfill.

Hancock is championing this approach through his Conversations for a One Planet Region, challenging all of us to reduce consumption by 75 per cent by 2050. Two of the essential principles of this approach are carbon neutrality and zero waste.

Achieving such targets will require a transformative set of actions by all citizens across the region. It is inconceivable that we can continue to consume at current rates for transporting products and their packaging with their combined carbon footprint and hope to become carbon neutral by 2050. Yet this date is the same timeframe for considering expansion of the current landfill.

The core issue for Hartland is not only the removal of trees, the loss of biodiversity and recreational values in the Mount Work area, but that we can collectively reduce our consumption and waste generation through recycling and resource recovery in a truly circular economy before mid-century so that expansion is simply not relevant.

Tipping fees are the current source of funds to manage Hartland Landfill. This method depends on an ever-increasing source of waste to pay for the rising costs of operating and managing the landfill. It is completely counter-productive to a zero waste society.

Progressive communities use fees to provide incentives to reduce waste such as charging only for the times when residents use their waste bins. Currently, most residents in this region pay a fixed fee regardless whether they use their bins every two weeks or twice a year.

Similarly, the CRD and the province can establish pricing policies that extend for the full lifecycle of a product, effectively making polluters pay and resulting in packaging being reduced or eliminated.

The CRD is asking for public comment on its draft plan by Jan. 15. Concerned citizens should tell the CRD that expanding Hartland Landfill is not the answer, but that it should fully embrace more aggressive waste reduction strategies.

A decision to expand Hartland Landfill is not the responsibility of the CRD board. It is up to all of us to rise to the challenge and demonstrate that we are capable of achieving a zero waste future by mid-century.

Jon O’Riordan was a deputy minister with the provincial ­government and was responsible for establishing the Blue Box ­program across the province.

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