Author by: JOHN CHILIBECK Legislature Bureau
Photo by : SHANE MAGEE/TIMES & TRANSCRIPT
Those mountains of garbage contain plenty of material that could be recycled and reused — material that’s needlessly filling up costly landfill space. – David Coon
New Brunswickers have more recycling options than ever, but the amount of garbage being buried is the same as nearly 30 years ago when all the waste was thrown into unsanitary dumps, suggests figures obtained by the Telegraph-Journal.
Data provided by the province’s six regional landfills show that in 2016, slightly more than 449,000 tonnes of garbage were buried. That’s nowhere near the 225,000 tonnes the provincial government had set as a goal long ago for the year 2000.
Meanwhile, nearly 82,000 tonnes of material was recycled or composted in 2016. That’s a diversion rate of 15 per cent of waste, much lower than targets set in some provinces of closer to 50 per cent.
Green Party leader David Coon says “some time ago, the provincial government vacated its leadership on waste management and recycling,” Coon said in an interview. “Instead of saying, ‘Here are the diversion targets, here are the job creation possibilities with a vibrant recycling industry in the province,’ the government has basically given up.”
Serge Rousselle, the minister of environment and local government, declined interview requests.
But Marc André Chiasson, a departmental spokesman, outlined in an email measures the provincial government had taken since releasing a strategy in 1990 to reduce waste.
For instance, he said, in 1992, the government introduced the bottle redemption program, allowing New Brunswickers to get half the money back they pay on deposits for beer cans, juice containers and the like.
It now diverts 290 million containers annually from being disposed of in landfills and along roadsides, Chiasson said.
In 1996, it put in place the stewardship program that allows New Brunswickers to bring any used tires back to a retailer, where they are then collected and sent for recycling, he said.
Last year, more than 1.1 million tires were collected through the program and and sent for processing at TRACC, a company in Minto, 50 kilometres northeast of Fredericton. TRACC takes the tires and processes them into products such as cow mats, traffic cone bases, large rubber mats and many other value added products, he said.
“The province has taken strides over the past 27 years to improve the overall waste management system in New Brunswick including introducing 12 regional commissions to manage waste, ensuring that all waste is disposed properly, and introducing programs to help reduce the amount of waste going into landfills,” Chaisson wrote in the email.
“The government’s main focus during these years was on ensuring the protection of the environment. This is why all municipal waste now is properly disposed of in lined landfill cells that have leachate collection and treatment.”
Last year, the Green party posted a video online that referenced a strategy released in 1990 by the Liberal government of the day.
In it, the province set a goal of reducing the 450,000 tonnes of garbage that were dumped each year in half within a decade.
At the time, New Brunswick had more than 300 unsanitary local dumps and the provincial government wanted to site six large regional dumps – a politically charged topic, according to Brunswick News archives, because few people wanted them in their backyards.
New Brunswick’s population, meanwhile, grew from 740,156 in 1990 to 744,101 in 2016 – an increase of less than one per cent.
Recycling and composting is offered sporadically throughout the province. In Fredericton, curbside recycling is available to many residents, but apartment dwellers have to haul their materials to depots.
Similarly, in other places, such as in the southwest, people who want to recycle can’t find it curbside.
Diversion rates across the province are also all over the map.
Southeast Eco360, which handles all the garbage for the Metro Moncton and neighbouring counties, collects the most waste with its three-bag system – more than 161,000 tonnes in 2016 – and also diverts the most to recycling and composting programs – more than 57,000 tonnes, a diversion rate of 26 per cent.
By contrast, in Charlotte County, the Hemlock Knoll Sanitary Landfill handled just over 21,000 tonnes of waste last year and recycled about 865 tonnes of material, a diversion rate of four per cent.
“The figures speak to the diversion programs that are in place,” said Brenda MacCallum, a spokeswoman at Crane Mountain landfill, which handles waste for the Greater Saint John area and had a 16 per cent diversion rate in 2016. “Recycling and composting programs are expensive to set up and expensive to operate. It’s not easy to get them up and running.”
MacCallum said statistics show consumers throughout Canada are producing more garbage, hurting waste reduction efforts, despite a myriad of educational campaigns.
“Think about when you’re in the grocery store. Thirty years ago, you would have bought vegetables loose, with maybe just a thin plastic bag covering it. Today, it often comes in a thick, plastic box.”
Recycling NB, a nonprofit organization based in Fredericton, manages the extended producer responsibility programs and is studying the idea of one for paper and plastics. But it says it’s years away from a full-fledged program.
“The amount of waste being diverted could be much higher,” said CEO Pat McCarthy of Recycling NB in an interview.
“Right now, we only divert about 15 per cent of waste from landfill. If paper and plastics were under the same program, we could be hitting 55 to 60 per cent.”
Coon, the MLA for Fredericton South, believes those targets are reachable and it could create a whole new industry.
He said he was disturbed to learn on a tour of the Fredericton landfill that most of the recyclables are not processed in New Brunswick.
“I was shocked that our recyclables were being shipped halfway across the world. We should be encouraging a robust recycling industry right here, whether it’s plastic, fiber or metals. The potential is huge,” he said.