Inside the Numbers

October 23, 1998

By Michael Jessen

Numbers tell stories and paint pictures. Numbers are words and symbols for numerals that record the singleness or plurality of our lives.

Numbers on a clock are often our first glimpse upon waking. A calendar of numbered days and months determines our daily routine. Some people live their lives "by the numbers" and others only look out for "number one."

As a recycling coordinator, I play the "numbers game" seeking to "get your number" and an insight into your recycling character. The occasion for this discourse on digits is the compilation of solid waste statistics for the Regional District of Central Kootenay for the period 1993 to 1997. This information essentially constitutes your recycling report card.

The good news is that RDCK residents have begun to change their habits regarding garbage. Over this five year span, area residents and businesses have reduced the amount of waste being landfilled by 30 percent.

One of the district's most successful waste reduction initiatives has been the segregation of organic yard and wood waste which is chipped or ground up for compost. In 1997, 3,425 tonnes of this material were composted compared to only 183 tonnes in 1993. At the low cost of only $2.00 per residential-sourced truckload, many residents are choosing this option and reducing backyard burning of organic material.

Another major waste reduction success is the recycling of scrap metal and appliances. In 1997, 319.1 tonnes of this material were recycled, a 201 percent improvement over the 106 tonnes recycled in 1993.

During 1997, user fees for waste disposal were implemented in the RDCK and the result was a big improvement in residential and business recycling. The recycling of paper, metal and glass materials from these sources reached 3,138.3 tonnes in 1997, a 37.5 percent increase from 1996. Over the past five years, the recycling of these materials has increased 144.4 percent from the 1,284.3 tonnes recycled in 1993.

All right, all ready you say. What's the big deal with all these numbers?

The solid waste reduction goal for British Columbia is to reduce per capita waste disposal by the year 2000 to less than 50 percent of the 1990 per capita disposal level. Knowledge of our progress toward this goal allows the district to set priorities for further waste reduction strategies and to evaluate the effectiveness of the district's Solid Waste Management Plan in meeting waste reduction goals.

The RDCK per capita disposal rate has dropped from .49 tonnes per capita in 1990 to .34 tonnes per capita in 1997, a 31 percent reduction. So we're approximately two-thirds of the way toward achieving our 50 percent reduction. During the same time period the average per capita recycling rate has increased from 3 kilograms per person per year to 115 kilograms per person per year.

According to the provincial government's latest municipal solid waste tracking report (with data to 1996), the British Columbia per capita disposal rate has dropped 33 percent since 1990. This means the RDCK is about average.

Compared with the other 26 regional districts in BC, the RDCK's per capita recycling rate is 13th highest. Some regional districts achieved higher than normal recycling of certain materials due to new program start-ups and cleanup of accumulated backlogs in 1996, so it is probably accurate to say the RDCK is among the top ten in the province.

The task facing most regional districts, including our own, is how to achieve the additional 20 percent reduction required to meet our goal.

The numbers indicate we are on the road away from waste and we are learning to change our wasteful habits. While we score an A for effort, it is clear we need to study hard and do more homework in the next two years to reach the magical 50 percent reduction in landfilled waste.

TRASH TIP - The average office worker throws away about 180 pounds of high-grade recyclable paper every year. That's enough to build a wall 12 feet high stretching from Los Angeles to New York City.

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