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The business, and politics, of garbage

With the landfill closing next month there are short-term and long-term solutions to Whistler’s waste



This month, as Whistler businesses start to ramp up for winter, Sandie Blair and her management team at Wildflower Lodging Company took a look at a perpetual issue that is becoming more expensive to deal with: waste generation.

"We are looking at our present practices and we know we could do a better job, so we are challenging ourselves to be better," said Blair, whose company manages Le Chamois.

The challenge has been raised with the understanding that in less than three weeks Whistler’s waste tipping fees will go from $87 per tonne to $110 per tonne. That’s because the landfill is expected to close Nov. 1 and all waste will then be shipped out of Whistler.

The economic incentive to reduce waste is obvious, and the environmental argument is no more difficult to understand. But it may take something like the closing of the landfill to get people to take a really hard look at their practices. That’s what Wildflower is doing, but some people still don’t realize the landfill and the landscape are changing.

The present Whistler landfill, next to the Cheakamus River and across the highway from Function Junction, opened 28 years ago, in 1977, after it was decided that the previous landfill would become the site of the new Whistler Village. Assuming the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District gives its approval, on Nov. 1 the Cheakamus landfill is expected to close, again to make way for a new village. This time it’s the athletes village for the 2010 Olympics, and the post-Games Legacy Village, which will become a new Whistler neighbourhood.

The Olympic athletes village is influencing the timing of the landfill closure but closure was inevitable. The landfill, in its current configuration, is reaching capacity and wasn’t expected to last beyond 2008.

Starting next month, the garbage that has gone to the Whistler landfill, which includes solid waste from Whistler, Pemberton and D’Arcy, will go by truck and train to the Rabanco landfill in south-eastern Washington, more than 900 kilometres away. Long term, it’s hoped that the Squamish landfill can be expanded and upgraded to meet provincial environmental standards so that all the solid waste from the north end of the corridor can be dumped there.

More than 18,000 tonnes of solid waste annually ends up in the Whistler landfill. Whistler has set a goal of producing zero waste, and while some people, like Wildflower, are working towards this goal, it’s going to be some time before Whistler has no need for a landfill. And most of the rest of the world is in the same position.

Need, or demand, is one of the most basic tenants of economics, and explains why garbage is a business; a cost for some, and an opportunity for others.