Point of View

It's not easy being green: The challenge of recycling household waste in Labrador

I have a hard time throwing out stuff that can be recycled but the Green Depot in Happy Valley-Goose Bay doesn't accept glass, cardboard or plastic containers.

CBC reporter John Gaudi wonders why cardboard boxes can't be recycled in Labrador

CBC reporter John Gaudi wondered what it would take to recycle cardboard boxes that build up over the holidays. (John Gaudi/CBC)

So, I have a confession.

I have a hard time throwing things out in the garbage. What I mean is stuff that can be recycled elsewhere. Things like glass jars, cardboard boxes, plastic containers, you name it.

But the Green Depot in Happy Valley-Goose Bay doesn't accept them, so unless you re-use, it all goes into the municipal dump.

You can bring used beverage containers like plastic drinking bottles and pop cans to the depot for a refund, but we don't have curbside recycling for other household waste in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, or elsewhere in Labrador.

Several months ago, I started stashing things like paper, envelopes and cereal boxes at home because I can't bear the thought of them ending up in the landfill. And it's probably excessive, but I've even filled up suitcases with the stuff when I travel, bringing it out to towns that do recycle.

Here's the proof.

A bit extreme? One option is to pack suitcases full of cardboard and paper when travelling to towns that do recycle. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Over Christmas, I saw that the City of St. John's encouraged residents to recycle all those cardboard boxes that build up during the holidays. They called it De-boxing Day, which is a pretty catchy name. It also got me thinking, if St. John's can do it, why can't we do it in Labrador?

The costs of recycling

My first stop was the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. I wanted to find out if they had ever looked into recycling paper and cardboard.

Turns out, they did. The town says it explored the idea in 2014, as a way to divert waste from the landfill.

I found out the town's department of public works contacted Scotia Recycling in St. John's to research what it would take to set up an operation.

Here's some of what they'd need to do: buy equipment such as a baler and a forklift, build a facility for storing the material, and of course, pay staff to work at the operation.

Private enterprise haven't been able to make it a profitable business either.- Coun. Tony Chubbs

There were also transportation costs.

The town says it looked at shipping the paper and cardboard to paper mills in Quebec and northern New Brunswick. A truckload of cardboard would fetch $2,000 to $2,500, but it would cost twice that to transport.

Coun. Tony Chubbs says it simply wasn't economically feasible.

"Even though we have a lot of transport trucks that come into this town full, and they leave empty, there's still a price of doing business when they go back out and private enterprise haven't been able to make it a profitable business either."

The Green Depot in Happy Valley-Goose Bay collected 5.7 million pieces last year, but it's still not enough to make the business profitable. (John Gaudi/CBC )

George Rodgers who operates the Green Depot in Happy Valley-Goose Bay did try. He shipped out a load of paper and cardboard about 10 years ago, but the high transportation costs made it a losing proposition.

Rodgers says he's just getting-by operating the recycling depot in Happy Valley-Goose Bay as it is. The depot he runs collected more than five-and-a-half million used beverage containers last year. But, he says the volume still isn't enough to make his business profitable the way it works now.

What if there was help?

A handful of schools in Happy Valley-Goose Bay tried to recycle, through a blue box program, but that too was derailed by the cost.

Marie-Josée Derouin, the principal at École Boréale in 2008, started a program called Au Cœur De Notre Terre, to recycle paper and beverage containers and to compost.

A grant helped to buy 54 blue bins that were distributed among Queen of Peace Middle School, Peacock Primary and École Boréale, as well as among parents who were interested in taking part.

École Boréale principal, John-Pierre Arbour, said a trucking company used to take paper out to a recycling depot in Baie-Comeau, Quebec free-of-charge, but not any more.

The collected paper was dropped off at a business in Happy Valley-Goose Bay where it was loaded onto a truck twice a month. A trucking company took it to a recycling depot in Baie-Comeau, Quebec — free-of-charge.

Some of the parents would call me and saying, 'Well, you know, they're really born-again environmentalists.'- Jean-Pierre Arbour

John-Pierre Arbour, the school's current principal, says students were proud to make a difference, and some even taught their parents not to throw away paper.

"Some of the parents would call me saying, 'Well, you know, they're really born-again environmentalists.' Following that, more and more parents were requesting their little blue bins that we distributed if there was a request from home," he said.

The school's blue box program ended at the beginning of 2016. Arbour says the trucking company told them it would have to start charging $125 per trip due to the cost of fuel, and he said the school simply couldn't afford it.

Finding creative ways to recycle 

Arbour says he'd like to see a paper recycling program brought back, and thinks it might be possible to come up with an arrangement given all the trucks that do leave Labrador empty.

"I'm very hopeful because recycling it's part of the vocabulary now. It only needs a little will to get another project started, or get over one hurdle that has made it impossible to continue in the past."

He says forming an environmental group could prove to the community that recycling is a positive thing to do, rather than putting it into the landfill. It requires a change in attitude.

Coun. Chubbs speculates the town would need money from the provincial government to start a recycling program, or else the municipality would have to foot the bill.

He says raising taxes to do that is not on the table.

All the paper, cardboard, envelopes, receipts are in a box at home in hopes that one day being able to recycle the whole lot of it. (John Gaudi/CBC )

Meanwhile, I'm going to keep taking used beverage containers down to the depot to be recycled.

But, there's a growing pile of paper and cardboard that I'd really like to be able to recycle too, and keep out of the landfill.

Can it be done? I'm definitely open to suggestions.

About the Author

John Gaudi

CBC reporter

John Gaudi reports from Happy Valley-Goose Bay for CBC's Labrador Morning.