When it comes to achieving "Zero Waste" in the region, there are some recurring themes in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District's (SLRD) new Solid Waste and Resource Management Plan (SWRMP) — namely, education, communication and behavioural change.
"When I was young, my parents never recycled pop cans, and I remember coming home from school and being like, 'OK, now you guys can't throw that in the garbage," recalled Jaye-Jay Berggren, director and operator of Sea to Sky Soils.
Today, Berggren hopes to pass a similar message on to a new generation of school children through Sea to Sky Soils' youth education program. A group of Pemberton schoolchildren were invited to tour Sea to Sky's composting site on May 10.
"(My hope) is that they're going to go home and educate their parents about the importance, because they really are the next generation," he said.
The SLRD's new Solid Waste plan — which replaces a document created in 2007 — has a long-term vision made up of five points: The ultimate goal is zero waste, with all discards viewed as resources; these resources are used locally as much as possible; the system to manage these discards is financially self-sustaining; citizens are committed to the cause (reduce before reuse before recycle); and until the region has achieved zero waste, the infrastructure to manage waste meets or exceeds provincial requirements.
"I think the fact that it is so focused on regionalism is fundamental," said SLRD board chair and Whistler councillor Jack Crompton, adding that achieving zero waste is "definitely" possible.
"I think waste management by its very nature requires us to think regionally and to work regionally, and this document definitely does that... It starts at home, and it starts with individuals making decisions about how they consume and use products, and then it extends to businesses and community groups, and ultimately it ends in us changing the way we live."
It's estimated that up to 43 per cent of the SLRD's disposed waste stream is compostable organics, while plastic and paper make up an additional 25 per cent of landfilled waste.
The plan's key diversion initiatives are: a residential food scraps reduction campaign; a multi-family communications strategy; a tourist accommodation communication strategy; Re-Build-it facilities in Pemberton and Lillooet and curbside collection services in Pemberton and the surrounding area.
With full implementation, it's estimated that the initiatives have the potential to reduce waste sent to landfill from the current estimate of 525 kg per person to 347 kg per person — a reduction of 34 per cent.
Waste management specialist and Whistler councillor Sue Maxwell said that while there is much to like about the plan, it could probably be stronger in terms of looking at upstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
"So not just looking at the GHG impacts of the waste as it gets disposed... but also the GHGs that get saved from all the production and transportation and storage and everything of those products," she said.
Whistler has good infrastructure to help people reduce and reuse — like the Re-Use-It and Re-Build-It centres and its various rental shops — but some people may not be aware of the various recycling options available to them, Maxwell said.
"That's where the communications and behaviour change aspects help people to be aware of the systems that we have, and help them to start changing their behaviour so it's normal to recycle or compost your materials that you don't want," she said.
The SWRMP points out that there is a lack of disposal capacity in the region — Whistler currently sends its waste to a privately owned landfill in Washington state, and the District of Squamish landfill is nearing capacity.
If the Squamish landfill is expanded vertically it could gain another 13 or 14 years of operation, while a horizontal expansion would allow for an even longer lifespan and enough capacity to support the whole region.
A working group of municipal, SLRD and First Nations representatives will be formed to look at long-term waste management options.
Claire Ruddy, executive director of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), said achieving zero waste is about "conscious consumption."
"Choices are needed: Is this purchase necessary? Can the need be filled by repurposing or repairing items I already have?" Ruddy wrote in an email.
It's hard for local governments to control such choices in their areas, which is why the plan focuses on supporting infrastructure expansions, education and monitoring — all of which are great ways local governments can support change, Ruddy said.
The SWRMP is to be implemented over the next four years. It is estimated that additional operating costs to the SLRD will be between $20,000 and $55,000 annually.