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Collecting cast offs Is Whistler’s free spirit buried in the snow? By Karen Hugdahl As a child growing up in TV-land, Oscar the grouch was a true hero. Besides being the ultimate furry green dude and king of the garbage cans, he was a great mentor. I’m not talking about his mercurial mean streak (we’d be the same way living with a toxic overindulgence of fermenting fumes). I’m referring to his fetish for collecting other people’s cast offs and throw aways. He loved garbage of all kinds — the smellier the better. The puppet is so politically incorrect you’ve just got to love him. I’d even go as far to say Oscar was probably one of the first true environmentalists, before peeling labels and squishing tins became our nation’s dutiful pastime. Speaking of Sesame Street, it’s time to meet some of the people in our neighbourhood who are making a positive difference when it comes to the garbage being gathered under our very noses. As a landfill attendant for Carney’s Waste Systems, Heidi Goldie is familiar with the waste left behind when Whistlerites and the many hordes of visitors stop by to dump their garbage before making a quick exit. To many, Whistler represents consumerism at its peak. On the face, it is a community boasting multi-million dollar monster homes and the latest in shops rivalling Robson Strauss, yet this exists right alongside those scrambling to pay their next months’ rent. Outside, the morning snow is just covering the top section of the landfill turning it into a vanilla-dipped chocolate sundae. Inside, the office is warm. This is Goldie’s domain and here she’s like the mother-hen of recycling, with a quick word of wit for each co-worker who passes through. Goldie’s supervisor teases her on the phone about what she’s wearing for the big interview. "Oh yah, I’m wearing my stilettos and long-johns," she says, pointing to her actual attire: a worn pair of jeans with muddied work boots and hair pulled back into a practical pony tail. For Goldie, recycling is a creative approach to an honest way of living, and one day she plans to build a round house made entirely from recycled goods. "I’ve always been a pack-rat," she says, letting go a terrifically un-selfconscious giggle that sounds more like a gaggle. "You’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing… I like to wake up in the morning with the attitude of what can I do for someone else instead of what can I get out of the day. Ultimately when I approach the world with that attitude, I’m rewarded. You can’t put a dollar on that." Working on the front lines, Goldie sees both sides of the garbage equation: those in desperate need and those who want to give their stuff to others. A single mother of three, she’s familiar with the Whistler dream of making it big and then paying all her hard-earned money to high rents. "But who wants to come to a resort to be confronted by poverty?" Goldie asks, pointedly. "These are $150 dollar boots," she says, holding the latest in mountaineering equipment as an example of what she finds beside the dumpster, "and people are walking around without shoes." Point proven. "I firmly believe that what goes around comes around," she says, standing on a terra-firma of concrete in the depot’s warehouse. "There have been times when I thought the rug would literally be pulled from under me — and it hasn’t." Having struggled herself, Goldie has made use of her position at the landfill and initiated a "free store," a collection of misfit goods that she lines along a narrow section of wall inside the depot. Today, the free section looks sparse. Goldie explains that the In-SHUCK-ch Service Society dropped by two days before to haul away a truck full of goods — a couch, TV, bags of clothing, a sewing machine, building supplies, and a kitchen table — all delivered to low income families. In three months, the society has picked up 16 loads, assisting between 60 and 75 families struggling to survive. "What Heidi’s doing is really helpful," says Shirley Wallace, a social worker with the society. "Basically, she’s given us supplies people need that don’t fit into their $175 monthly budget." In this way, Goldie acts as a middle-woman, bridging the gap of have and have-nots. She’s done so since she started working at the transfer station 16 months ago and was given the silent go-ahead by her boss. Her discrete operation runs by word of mouth and an ask-the-universe-and-you-shall-receive philosophy. Unfortunately, this won’t be able to continue at the same rate, there simply isn’t the storage space or a budget to cover this operation. (For the past five years, however, Carney’s has operated a free re-use-it centre in Devine, D’Arcy, funded through their contract with the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.) It’s a catch-22. "Carney’s has given me the opportunity to do what I love to do — to feel a part of and to contribute to the community," says Goldie. "But like I’ve said it’s something we can’t continue. That re-use it centre just can’t come soon enough. If I had the money, I’d rent a warehouse and store it all away today." The municipality’s recent announcement that it will build a re-use-it centre in the spring is a good thing. But there is one small point of concern: people might have to pay. Are the powers that be embarrassed at the idea of a free store and would such a bohemian brainstorm look too much like a gravy stain on the starched white collar of corporate Whistler? "I don’t think so," says the municipality’s manager of environmental services, Brian Barnett. "Actually, I think it’s the opposite. There’s so much wealth in this community and because of its seasonal nature, people tend to throw things out. So often I hear people wanting to give things away rather than throw them out." When asked about the possibility of charging the public for the exchange of unwanted items, Barnett assures that the nominal charge — say $1 for a sofa — would strictly go towards management costs to ensure the facility is operating at its best. "The last thing I want to do is make a nice big building for the re-use-it centre and not manage it properly so everything that’s dropped off is just junk." At this point, all road work and (sewer, water, and power) servicing to the future re-use-it centre site in Function Junction completed. Construction begins in spring. All the designs for the $100,000 municipality-funded centre are complete, with the engineering plans for the warehouse and budget in place and council-approved. The project includes the new compactor site, cardboard recycling, recycling igloos for paper, bottles and cans and the future re-use-it centre and an RV sani-dump. After studying other re-use-it centres in the province, the municipality plans to contract management to a private organization, similar to what has been done with the bottle depot. The Whistler Community Services Society has been approached to manage the re-use-it centre, with discussions still under way to sort out operating details. Janet McDonald, executive director of WCSS, says the opportunity to run the centre would guarantee their non-profit organization a minimal budget for community services they offer, such as the food bank, rummage sales, and emergency response program. "We’re hoping to have a little business to make us more self-sufficient so we don’t need to have our hand out to the community as much." The prices, McDonald says, would be comparable to the Salvation Army — very affordable. But any price may be too much for some. When asked if the In-SHUCK-ch Service Society could afford to pay even a small fee for such goods in the future, Wallace hesitates: "Probably, but it would have to be what I could afford to pay out of my own pocket." Could the Whistler re-use-it centre accommodate such organizations without making them grovel? "If a person really needs something that’s essential and can’t afford to buy it, we’re not going to turn them away," says McDonald. "We’re in the business of helping people." Based on what she’s seen at the landfill, Goldie has concerns as to whether the public ought to be charged any fee for re-using others unwanted items. "I don’t think that’s right. I feel it should be open to donations. That’s why I started this, because some people can’t afford it — a dollar decides whether or not they’re going to have a box of Kraft dinner for supper." So, why not inject some free-spirited good will into the re-use-it operation and provide a needed service without attaching a price tag? Couldn’t a small operating budget collected from the taxes intended for garbage removal be allocated to Whistler’s re-use it centre, as is done on Hornby Island? "I don’t think anyone in Whistler is talking about approaching this as a profit business," says Barnett. "It’s more a matter of how we can operate this efficiently." While the details are still being worked out, there’s little question the re-use-it centre will be a good thing, much needed in Whistler. When the snow melts we’ll be able to see the form into which this seed-of-an-idea eventually blooms. In the meantime, Goldie will continue her quiet crusade on the sidelines… free of charge. She’d make Oscar proud.