#1. Here we are

This valley is special. It has steep cliffs and undulating hills; forest groves and open fields; birds, wildlife, waterways, and back-country trails. It’s where we enjoy a rural life among many homesteads. But, there’s a subtle tug towards a certain activity in one small East-side enclave. Cars, trucks and people stream in and out to dispose of (and sometimes claim) all manner of unwanted bits, pieces, and the fully assembled that I will inadequately describe for now as waste. It’s an odd process. Where nature does not create any waste, humans are tangled in this conundrum.

For years, the now Mount Lorne Transfer Station (TS) was an actual dump that conveniently enabled the disposal of unwanted things. They went “away”. Buried or burned, the stuff disappeared and all seemed well. But the increasing flow of waste into the finite space revealed projections that were not going to work out for the neighbourhood. There are perhaps those who might feel there is ample space for dumps, particularly in a place like the Yukon. But science and common sense have converged on this one. The “over there” arguments fail because everything over there, one way or another, affects quite a bit over here. Nature is one system and it is relatively porous. With the transformation of landfills we witness science, industry and government coming to terms and playing a part in solutions-based thinking around waste management.

. . . everything over there, one way or another affects quite a bit over here.

The TS functions pretty well. There is a dedicated staff who focus on both reducing absolute waste by preparing materials for recycling streams and promoting re-using whenever possible. Staff implement innovative ideas and adjustments that swing with the changes in efficiency, recycling markets, funding, person-power and the trends of the public. But the inflow of materials is significant. To make it work, it’s our job to keep the TS systems humming by reducing, separating and reclaiming as much as we can.

It’s a Transfer Station because all materials (except wood and organics) get transferred to other facilities for transportation or other processes. But we still have garbage. The big compacter of garbage goes to the Whitehorse landfill. It’s not in Mount Lorne but it’s still a non-starter problem. How can we cut back what goes into that compacter?

For me at home, while I sort and manage my own separation-at-source materials, I can’t help but notice just how many materials are now in the recycling stream. My recycling is easily 5x the volume of my garbage. There are a lot of materials in our economy. Most are intended for a short life – one use.

Recycling can be a useful process but it takes significant energy; is driven by market forces; is challenged by transportation costs; and is dependent on sorting materials into pure streams. To maximize the effect of recycling, at our level, I get how we have to keep the material streams (different bins) pure.

While playing my part in keeping the TS humming, I can’t help but think of the whole system of goods. Can I reduce the amount of materials ending up at my home in the first place? And then further, can the stores reduce the materials that they supply? And can the manufacturers reduce the amount that they create? And can the designers reduce the amount needed in the first place? I’m not passing the buck. I’m realizing that everyone in the long chain of a product can consider how to contribute.

I confess that I’m a little obsessed with the TS. Imagine all of the processes required to make products. In the end, I get this “thing.” It’s a great thing. Look what this thing can do! I can work or play so much better with this thing. This thing even looks great. I love this thing. It’s so helpful that I got 3 of them. When was the last time you saw a thing so well made as this? Right? Then, inevitably after a time, this thing has served its purpose; I don’t need it anymore or it falls apart. Now what?

So many options could be taken with that thing. Our aim is to curb its path away from being absolutely useless as garbage, or worse, detrimental to the health of people, animals, soil, water or air. Dealing with unwanted stuff is a mind-game. Uselessness is not a definition; it’s just bound by timing and point of view. The minute-by-minute flow of goods changing hands at the free store is a testament to how we defy uselessness. Stuff just takes on a different kind of value.

Dealing with unwanted stuff is a mind-game.

Garbage is not rational. Given the ingenuity that we have to make the thing in the first place, we surely have the same ability to redesign its potential obsolescence into something else – something lasting, or really absorbable by the system that created it.

But while those levels are getting worked out, I’m resolved to reduce, re-use, and recycle in that order and follow the directions set out at the TS. There are a lot of bins and a lot of special products in our economy. When in doubt about where to put things, I don’t guess; I consult with the TS staff. Their knowledge and our sorting makes the place work.

~ Ross Burnet ~