Recycling containers at Yellowknife's dump in March 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
New recycling programs are coming to the NWT – gradually. Some are starting this fall, while it might be nine years until others are implemented.
An expanded electronics recycling program will begin later this year. It will be followed by programs that try to do more with used tires and used oil, but the territorial government says those require more research and development.
Diep Duong, director of the NWT government’s environmental protection and waste management division, said the three programs were chosen in part because other provinces and territories already have similar initiatives and industries are used to them.
Doing more with tires, in particular, is seen as environmentally beneficial on a range of levels.
“If there is ever a landfill fire and some of the tires burned, they can burn for a really, really long time and release a lot of toxic components into the air,” Duong said.
Similarly, used oil and electronics can leach into the ground and pollute waterways.
Eventually – but not yet – the territory also hopes to figure out how to improve recycling of printer paper, construction demolition materials, and household hazardous waste.
In September, a facelift for the NWT’s electronics recycling program will add new items to a list that previous was, by Duong’s admission, “fairly limited.”
Personal computers were already on that list. New additions will include small home appliances, audio visual equipment, games consoles, power tools, toys, and solar panels.
These items will be collected at some of the NWT’s community depots. Recycling operators are still being selected and confirmed. It’s considered a pilot program, in which the territory will assess the quantity of materials it receives and study the best way to process them.
The territorial government currently estimates 131 tonnes of electronics and electrical items will be diverted out of the landfill each year under the recycling program – the equivalent of around 10 53-foot trailers.
An estimated 484 tonnes of tires diverted per year would fill 48 of those trailers, while an estimated 479,600 litres of oil diverted would fill just under half of Yellowknife’s swimming pool.
“A lot of these materials take up quite a bit of room in the landfill, especially tires,” said Duong, calling their toxicity “a huge factor” as many NWT landfills are not specifically engineered to combat that. Many are, she said, “just holes dug in the ground.”
The territory has not expanded or created new recycling programming since 2016, when the electronics program was first launched.
“I think a lot of NWT residents are really keen on having the opportunity to be able to recycle and divert more waste,” said Duong.
“And it’s also an economic driver, because with the already existing programs that we do have, it creates jobs in addition to having environmental benefits.”
Producer responsibility considered
The territorial government is also looking into developing an extended producer responsibility program, which would mean handing the responsibility for waste to its original producer through an amendment to the NWT’s Waste Reduction and Recovery Act.
“What that does is it encourages the design of the product so that it’s less toxic, it’s more modular, and it’s easily repaired, refurbished, or recycled,” Duong explained.
“And then if they have to be responsible for managing them down the road, they want to make sure that it’s a product that they can actually easily manage in the end.”
Duong gave the example of how some electronics last just two years, and how this type of legislation could encourage manufacturers to make products that last five years instead.
A request for proposals issued by the territorial government calls for a contractor to study how extended producer responsibility could work in the NWT – including potential recycling rates, enforcement, fees, and how to deal with the lack of year-round ground transportation across much of the territory.