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Zero-waste plan gaining ground in B.C. communities

Zero-waste programs in cities such as Wood Buffalo, Alberta, have garnered international attention.

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As Metro Vancouver pursues a zero-waste solution to its garbage problem, other regional districts are taking the same approach on a smaller scale.

In Squamish-Lillooet, for example, a draft zero-waste report for part of the district will be discussed at a committee meeting on Monday.

The area is running short of approved places to put its garbage, and the report's findings are expected to become part of a district-wide plan for solid-waste management.

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"The [Squamish-Lillooet Regional District] in the south is running into the same problems as Metro Vancouver," Janis Netzel, director of utilities and environmental services for the SLRD, said on Thursday.

"We're running out of capacity in the landfill. Whistler is already trucking its waste to Rabanco [a landfill operator in Washington state] because the Squamish landfill can't handle that much waste; it would have reached capacity a long time ago. So with that [Squamish landfill] at the end of its lifespan, we have to do as much as we can within the region to reduce our garbage – to just extend the lifespan as long as we can."

The regional district, one of 29 in the province, covers about 16,000 square kilometres and takes in four municipalities – Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and Lillooet – and four electoral areas.

The district has landfills in Squamish and Lillooet and transfer stations in smaller communities.

Whistler runs its own garbage facilities, which include a transfer station from which garbage is trucked to Rabanco, and a composting facility.

In its new plan, the district aims to plot operations for five to 10 years and to look at options for handling garbage for the next 50 years or longer.

Those options could include a "full commitment to zero waste," new or expanded landfills, waste-to-energy facilities or shipping garbage to facilities in Washington or interior B.C., according to a May 15 request for proposals from the district.

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When the district refers to zero waste, it is talking about getting consumers to reduce their garbage through buying less or using different products as well as keeping refuse out of a landfill, Ms. Netzel said.

The National Zero Waste Council, a fledgling group created by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Metro Vancouver, is taking the same approach, advocating for a rethink of garbage that emphasizes "not producing it in the first place."

In Metro Vancouver, meanwhile, an eight-step procurement process for a proposed waste-to-energy facility continues.

The first phase, which focused on technologies, is completed.

The second phase, picking a potential site, is under way. In May, Metro Vancouver wrote to all of the regional districts in the province advising them of "high level" criteria it would be using.

The proposal for a waste-to-energy facility is controversial, with critics raising concerns about cost – an estimated $500-million – air quality and the rationale for building a facility that requires a steady stream of waste to operate.

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Under the current proposed timeline, the facility would be built and operating by 2018.

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