Solid waste has been a major item on the municipal council agenda recently, with new provincial recycling regulations on the way, the addition of Styrofoam recycling to the recycling stream, new plans for handling wood chips and wood waste at the municipal waste transfer station and compost facility, and a proposal that would see the composter producing biofuels as a product for sale as well as, or as an alternative to, composted soil.
To help explain the various programs and plans underway, the municipality held a media tour last week with James Hallisey, manager of transportation and solid waste for the RMOW, and representatives from Carney's Waste Systems, the contractor that manages the site.
While all of the activity around waste is different, the main goal of everything is to reduce costs.
"Garbage is the most expensive way to get rid of waste," said Hallisey. "If we do more recycling, more composting we can actually save the taxpayers money."
Whistler currently ships its garbage to the Rabanco landfill in Washington State, starting this after the closure of Whistler's own landfill in 2005. There were no other options at the time.
Currently, Whistler spends roughly $5 million a year on waste, a number that the municipality believes can be reduced in the long run. Projections suggest that costs could be reduced by as much as $685,000 a year by 2030 through the new Solid Waste Management Strategy approved by council in July.
For example, a company in Vancouver just started to recycle mattresses. Now the municipality sends around 200 mattresses each month to that facility, paying less than they do to ship that waste to Rabanco. As well, Whistler pays by the container rather than by weight and therefore it makes sense to remove bulky, lightweight objects like mattresses from the waste stream.
Another example of that is Styrofoam, which is now being collected at the Callaghan Waste Transfer Station and sent to another new processor in Vancouver.
The Solid Waste Management Strategy shows that Whistler has had some success in diverting waste from the garbage into other streams — composting, where the final product can be sold to reduce costs, and recycling.
Per capita solid waste is decreasing from close to 800kg per person in 2003 to 465kg per person in 2012. As well, waste diversion in the resort broke the 50 per cent barrier for the first time in 2011, and within a year it was close to 55 per cent.
Solid waste operating costs are also higher than they used to be. When the Whistler landfill was open, annual costs were about $2 million a year, almost doubling the year the landfill closed. The costs exceeded $5 million in 2010, which was one of the resort's busiest years for construction with the Olympics underway, but have dropped in the years since.
By 2030 the goal is a diversion rate of 80 per cent, reducing garbage loads sent to Robanco from 12,540 tonnes in 2012 to about 3,600 tonnes in 2030.
There are several ways the municipality is hoping to achieve this reduction, including some programs that are already underway:
• Enlisting stratas to divert more organic waste to the composting facility and recycle more. Some 62 per cent of all waste originates with the commercial and multi-family, strata-housing sector. To accomplish that, the municipality is encouraging stratas and commercial tenants to divert more waste by pushing the financial incentive. For example, it costs about $120 per tonne for garbage removal, while food waste is $75 per tonne;
• A new provincial recycling program will get underway in May 2014 which transfers the cost of collecting various recyclable materials onto the producers. The result will be substantially lower costs for recycling, but participating municipalities will be required to staff waste transfer stations to ensure that recycling is properly diverted from waste. As a result, the transfer stations will have new hours of operation.