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‘It’s a logistical nightmare’: School District 8 struggling to restore recycling

The district has limited recycling to cardboard only since 2020
School District 8’s recycling has been limited to just cardboard since 2020. File photo

It can reduce and reuse, but School District 8 is still struggling to recycle.

A report presented by director of operations Chris Kerr to the board of trustees at the district’s Feb. 14 meeting shows costs for garbage and cardboard collection are expected to rise with no clear answers for how to re-establish the district’s recycling program.

Recycling pick-up from SD8 schools has been limited to cardboard since September 2020 after local contractor Waste Management stopped accepting several types of plastics and paper earlier that year. Contaminated loads, which can include items like pizza boxes with food still inside or improperly sorted materials, were instead being sent to a landfill and cost the district additional fines.

Kerr said the district wants to have a complete recycling service again, but is limited by the cost and constraints of commercial recycling.

“We’re doing our best. We’re not anti-recyclers, as some people are saying in the public outcry. It’s a logistical nightmare.”

SD8 contracts Waste Management for waste and cardboard pick up in the Nelson area, Green For Life in the Creston area and smaller operators for some of its rural schools.

Kerr said Waste Management and Green For Life use multiple sorting plants with distinct recycling requirements. The recycling is considered commercial, and therefore has different standards than residential pick-up that falls under the mandate of RecycleBC.

The difference between commercial recycling, which the district is tied to, and residential recycling is often lost on the public, according to Kerr.

“We’re not facing the same challenges that people are at home. We are following different rules.”

The district is paying Waste Management approximately $45,000 for garbage pick up and $13,000 for cardboard collection this year. Kerr estimated those expenses will rise by $2,000 and $1,000, respectively, by next year.

Those costs also assume no penalties have been added for contamination, and that staff and students are performing cleaning and sorting of recyclables.

Kerr said several schools have student volunteers sorting recycling as well as volunteers transporting the material to depots. But they are limited by the transportation distance of some rural schools as well as Regional District of Central Kootenay sites that are only for residential use.

Hiring additional operations staff to work exclusively on recycling, he said, would be too expensive, and custodians wouldn’t have time to take on the task during their work hours.

Reducing the amount of recycling may be the more practical solution. Kerr said students should be encouraged to take on a pack-in-pack-out mindset. Any waste or recyclable materials they bring to school should be taken home once used.

Education, in the end, may be the school district’s only answer.

“The best thing we can do is educate the differences so you understand and let’s start going to the source, let’s get to the root cause of the problem. Don’t bring the garbage to school, take it back home with you. Pack in, pack out and then we’ll work through the rest as options become available.”


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Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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