The private detective hired by your ex-wife/Revenue Canada/( insert random enemy here ) to get the dirt on you is going to start in one place. And its not delving into your credit card records or your computers hard drive. Its your trash, where all your secrets are easily decrypted. Take a look through the plastic bag and like a tracker, chart your path through the day grinds from the morning coffee, flayed-wide skin of banana, crusty evidence of last nights pizza that made for a satisfying breakfast, sweeping of dog hair, envelopes and paid bills and Visa statements, a roach or two, the tissues that reveal the ongoing dregs of a cold. You can tell a lot about a person from their waste. And youd be surprised at whos going through yours. Scavengers and secret hunters and students of refuse.
Its 11 p.m. Under cover of darkness, I pull into the Alpine Waste Centre. Slide towards the compactor in neutral. Flush up against it, lights glow from the cab of an RV. Housing is desperate, I think, if fifth wheels are squatting next to the dumpster. I rummage through my trash, a last minute sorting: glass, plastic, paper. The RVs owner emerges with a wave and asks if I have a jumper cable. Helps me unload my trash, sidelines the bottles and empties he says hes going to take them for the refund. My trash, his treasure its all relative.
Down in Squamish, eight hours later, six staff are at their stations in the recycling centre, hand-sorting the igloos loads. All recyclables in Whistler go to the Whistler transfer station at the landfill and are packaged down to Squamish or Vancouver to market. In Squamish, the recyclables go into a sorting chain and are resorted by staff, who, according to Owen Carney, proprietor of Carneys Waste Systems, "maybe remove less than 5 per cent, as trash, as not recyclable. Maybe its contaminated, or half full of food waste. But its really not very much."
Ive wondered, diligently sorting my lifes by-products, what actually happens once I wipe my hands clean. Is it a great conspiracy, as Michael Moore has suggested, to lull consumers into a sense of righteous complacency, to free their consciences to shop a little more, when the "recyclables" are in fact simply diverted back into landfill?
Carney, who has operated waste disposal services in the corridor since 1965 and in Whistler since 1970, reassures me. "The sorted recyclables are packaged and exported: pulp mills use all the paper products, plastics go to Merlins plastics or are baled to ship to the Orient, tin and aluminium go locally to Squamish Scrap Metals, the glass is crushed in Whistler and goes to contractors who use it under slabs and houses," he says. "The depositables go back to Oncor. Four-hundred tonnes a month of recyclables are collected at the Squamish plant from throughout the corridor. Whistler, the whole corridor actually, is very good at recycling.