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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

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It’s also a political football. Most of us like to assume that our waste is being safely and responsibly disposed of after we close the door on the garbage compactor, but we don’t really want to think too much about it. Out of sight, out of mind. But it goes somewhere, where someone else has to deal with it.

The closure of the landfill is an opportunity to look at how Whistler deals with its garbage, and what not having a landfill will mean. It’s something we’ve been contemplating for years, even though it may catch some by surprise.

A long time coming

In 1996 the plan was that all landfills in the Sea to Sky corridor would be closed by 2000. Whistler, Squamish, Pemberton and other communities within the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District agreed to a Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP) that would have seen garbage from the corridor go to the Rabanco landfill in Washington.

In 1997 the Ministry of Environment approved this SWMP, as part of the province-wide directive that every regional district develop a plan to reduce the amount of solid waste generated per capita by 50 per cent (from 1990 levels) by the year 2000.

But even before the province approved the SWMP, Squamish and Whistler were having second thoughts. A staff memo to Squamish council on Dec. 5, 1996 – less than two months after SLRD members had approved the SWMP – recommended closure of the Squamish landfill be delayed due to budgetary impacts.

A Jan. 2, 1997 memo from staff to Whistler council recommended that extending the life of the Whistler landfill be investigated. In July 1997 Whistler council approved the phase I expansion of the Whistler landfill, which was expected to add another 2.5 years to the life of the facility. In the same resolution Whistler chose to begin "exploring the option of extending the life of the Whistler landfill after the year 2000 for a period of 10 to 20 years." In addition to looking at a phase II landfill expansion Whistler also notified the SLRD that it recommended no further negotiations be carried out with regard to exporting garbage.

In January 1999 Whistler council authorized the phase II expansion, guaranteeing use of the landfill to at least 2008. Whistler also decided it would review alternative disposal methods in 2004 to determine a course of action beyond 2008. Last year Whistler did that review and, with the Cheakamus site for the athletes village already chosen, announced the landfill would close in 2005.