An aerial view of Yellowknife's dump as shown on Google Maps, carrying the playful 'YKEA' label given to the dump by residents who enjoy its salvage area.
The City of Yellowknife says garbage and recycling are now being better managed, a year after concerns arose about recycling heading straight to the landfill.
Chris Greencorn, Yellowknife’s director of public works and engineering, says the way each type of waste is processed has changed – with garbage and recycling now more clearly separated.
In the past, both garbage and recycling were baled and treated at the same facility. Baling involves shoving the waste into a machine that reduces it to a compacted rectangle for placement in the landfill.
Some worries about how the facility was separating waste arose last year when Yellowknife residents saw their recycling being dumped in the landfill.
Now, garbage isn’t baled. Instead, changes phased in from April to June see garbage compacted in remote areas of the facilities until it is as flat as possible.
Greencorn said the switch allows the City to “more effectively manage different types of waste.”
The baler is still being used for recycling but is in its own facility. Now, only items in the “blue bin” enter the baling facility.
Some plastic recycling that can’t be disposed of is still being placed in the landfill, the City told Cabin Radio.
However, cardboard and mixed cardboard is being collected, baled, and sent south to Capital Paper Recycling in Edmonton. Greencorn says over the past year the City sent 13 trailers to that facility, equalling 416 bales of cardboard.
Alternatives are being explored for other types of recycling. Clean wood is being separated into its own pile and can be put into a wood chipper, creating chippings for use in compost, as landfill cover, or as tree bedding in parks.
‘Per-tonne’ fee possible
Sheila Bassi-Kellett, the City’s senior administrator, acknowledged waste in Yellowknife has been a significant issue.
She said changes over the past few months were ensuring the City can “manage waste in a way that’s going to benefit all of Yellowknife.”
Bassi-Kellett said the “silver lining” to Covid-19 for the City had been “the opportunity to look at how we were doing things, and are there ways that we can do them better and more efficiently?”
Greencorn said the evolution of the landfill has been happening since 2013, when composting was introduced in Yellowknife – comprising approximately 40 percent of the City’s waste.
The facility had been baling waste since the early 2000s according to Greencorn, but stopped the practice because it can be problematic for garbage.
Over the past year, the landfill received about 37,000 tonnes of waste. The City’s waste management strategy aims to cut that in half in the next 10 years.
“Creating landfill space in Yellowknife is very expensive. We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to maximize that space,” said Greencorn.
“We kind-of have 10 years to get our ducks in a row.”
The City has purchased a scale. Once installed, it will allow staff to measure how much waste enters and leaves the facility.
Once this is done, Greencorn says the City may be able to move away from an entrance fee at the landfill and charge people “per tonne” instead.
Here’s what we know about how various forms of garbage and recycling are currently being managed.
According to the website of the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (ENR), the Beverage Container Program sends different products to separate locations in the USA and Alberta to be turned into new products.
Products are taken to regional processing centres where they are sorted, baled, and then shipped to the appropriate facility.
Cans are sent to the US, where 97 percent of the weight is recycled – primarily into new beverage containers. Refillable glass bottles are given to breweries in Alberta, where they are cleaned and refilled an average of 15 times.
Non-refillable glass bottles are transformed into “cullet” – recycled broken or waste glass – and shipped to Airdrie, Alberta to form fibreglass insulation. Some is kept and used locally for construction fill.
Jugs are baled and shipped to Alberta, where 80 percent of the weight can be used to create new non-food containers.
Containers that may contain multiple materials – such as juice boxes, milk and juice cartons – are baled and shipped to the US.
Bi-metal containers used to hold liquids like tomato juice or evaporated milk are baled and shipped to be turned into rebar and car parts, where 95 percent of the weight can be recycled.
If your local depot previously accepted electronics and has now reopened, you can carry on recycling electronics there. Other electronics recycling depots remain closed due to Covid-19. (Here’s the list of the ones that are open.)
When they are operational, electronics are consolidated at a beverage container processing centre – in Inuvik, Hay River or Yellowknife – and sent to a registered electronics recycling facility in Alberta.
The facility accepts products like laptops, cellphones, batteries, tablets, tv screens and monitors, and printers.
Blue bin recycling
Blue bin recycling stations across Yellowknife accept different recyclable materials sorted into the appropriate bins: paper and cardboard, glass jars and containers that can’t be brought to the bottle depot, plastics, and tin cans.
The City now accepts plastic types one through five and type seven. The plastic type can usually be determined by looking on the product, locating the three arrows that form the triangular recycling symbol, and looking at the number printed within.
Food waste, yard waste, and food-soiled paper products are all accepted. This includes products like pizza boxes, napkins, any compostable food scraps, and yard trimmings.
This waste can be left on the curb as part of the green cart program, where residents can have it collected on a bi-weekly schedule.
Collected materials are taken to the compost facility, where it takes approximately two years to decompose into “mature and stable” compost, according to the City of Yellowknife.
Solid waste facility
The dump’s public drop-off section is currently open from 11am until 5:15pm every Tuesday to Sunday, according to the City.
Salvaging is still not available, but Bassi-Kellett says the City is working on a plan to bring it back in accordance with the current public health regulations.
Electronic waste is also accepted – which differs from the electronic recycling depot – and includes products like VCRs, DVD players, toner cartridges, smoke detectors, and fluorescent light bulbs. For a service fee, the dump also takes “white goods” like refrigerators and washing machines.