Recycling chief wants Iqaluit to think clean thoughts
“A lot of the bad waste habits of the South come up here”
Erin Brubacher, Iqaluit’s new recycling coordinator, recently found the city’s addiction to waste staring her in the face.
Over lunch in a local restaurant, she ended up with six disposable plastic cups on her table for two people – all for refills of water.
While the volume of waste was small, it was easily avoidable.
And as easy as it may have been to simply refill the original cups, Brubacher said the lunch-time episode illustrates how large a task she has ahead.
She wants to shift the city’s entire mindset about reusing, reducing and recycling.
“The thing is people don’t think about it,” Brubacher said of the three Rs during an interview in her office in the Nunavut Research Institute. “If I can change people’s thinking about consumption, and the waste we create – individuals and each business individually – that is a feat in itself.”
Brubacher’s ambitious plan is timely. City hall released figures recently showing the disproportionate cost of Iqaluit’s two-year-old recycling project, compared with simply dumping throwaways in the landfill.
Estimates show recycling costs Iqaluit more than $7,700 per tonne. Garbage that goes to the landfill is pegged at $200 per tonne.
In order to cut costs, city hall administration said large businesses and government departments need to reduce the amount of garbage they produce.
The city’s public works director, Mark Hall, said that if these groups didn’t voluntarily boost their recycling, city council would have to consider refusing to pick up garbage mixed with recyclables.
However, Brubacher believes the responsibility lies with both customers and companies. For example, she points to the high volume of white plastic bags coming from Northmart. Like many grocery stores, the company offers them, and customers take them.
And, as councillors observed during a recent meeting, the bags often end up blowing through the streets, or into the bay.
While reducing or eliminating the use of plastic bags wouldn’t solve Iqaluit’s garbage conundrum, Brubacher said they represent an ideal place to start changing Iqalungmiut’s daily trash-making habits.
Instead of taking yet another plastic bag home, shoppers could bring their own bags, or re-use the ones they already have, she said.
“It sounds like a little thing, but if everybody did it, it would make a huge, huge difference,” Brubacher said.
She added that adopting environmentally friendly habits would instill pride in Iqaluit residents by setting themselves apart from communities south of the 60th parallel.
“We’ve got a lot of the bad waste habits of the South coming up here,” she said.
Northmart manager Glenn Cousins said the store has tried reducing the use of plastic bags by offering to refund two cents per bag to people who reuse them, and keeping cardboard boxes on hand for customers who want to avoid plastic.
So, if recycling advocates were aiming to reduce the use of plastic bags, Cousins suggested they would have to try something new.
Around 10 years ago, the Northern stores offered canvas bags, but the product line disappeared. Today, Cousins said he hardly sees any of the cloth bags currently sold by the Iqaluit Recycling Society being used at Northmart.
Cousins argued the past shows plastic bags are the only “viable option,” if customers didn’t choose the alternatives.
“Just because we’re providing people with plastic bags doesn’t mean it’s … our fault there are plastic bags floating around the streets,” Cousins said.
Despite reservations, Cousins said council and the recycling society should consider starting a joint project with businesses to promote cloth bags, such as offering them for sale in the stores at a minimum price.
In a recent interview, Nancy Gillis, chair of Iqaluit’s solid waste management committee, said the city should aim to be “totally recyclable,” offering ways to keep all waste out of the landfill, which she believed would be achievable in the next five years.
During a committee meeting, Gillis and other members discussed ways of cutting recycling costs, such as encouraging more people to recycle paper in the office, and reduce garbage by starting a composting program in Iqaluit.