Iqaluit's new garbage separation plan hits snags

New waste management practices, sparked by concerns about a fire at Iqaluit's dump, are making some people scratch their heads. People aren't sure what kinds of combustible materials should be separated.

Iqaluit's new waste management practices are making some people scratch their heads

Iqaluit sorts out waste sorting 2:10

Iqaluit's new waste management practices are making some people scratch their heads. The city's dump fire sparked some changes in how the city collects garbage. It's been several weeks since the new rules were introduced, but some people are still confused about how combustible material will be kept out of the dump. 

Wood that is separated out at Iqaluit's landfill will go through this shredder to help reduce the volume of waste in the dump. After it's shredded, it will eventually be burned in a burn box. (Vince Robinet/CBC)
​Homes and businesses are expected to separate combustible material like cardboard and wood before it reaches the dump. But that doesn't always happen.  It's hard for people to adapt to the change, said the city's Director of Public Works Keith Couture.

"The biggest thing we're asking the public to do is break down their boxes so they're flat," said Couture. "Either tie them or put them in a bag so that we know what it is. That way they're less bulky when we transport. So it's a learning curve but it's a good learning curve."

In the future, Couture said the city hopes to have cans and bottles separated, too. 

Top Five Separation Tips

  • Separate all paper and cardboard products, like cereal boxes or newspapers, says Director of Public Works Keith Couture.
  • The city will collect cardboard that's dirty.  
  • Don't separate products that are waxy, like juice packs, Tetra Paks or milk cartons.
  • You can either bundle paper and cardboard or put it in a clear bag. The bag doesn't have to be blue, but you have to be able to see through it, so "crews can see what's inside," says Couture. 
  • Paper and cardboard collection replaces one regular garbage pick up. 

"People are used to two pickups a week, but they're used to two garbage pickups, not one garbage and one cardboard. So that was a learning curve," said Keith Couture. "But all in all, the public's been pretty good. We've fielded hundreds of calls, for sure, but that's part of the curve."

Problems at the dump

City workers are facing their own challenges handling the wood and cardboard arriving at the dump. The wood shredder can only do smaller pieces of wood and the cardboard baler won't bale because it's missing baling wire. The burn box the city ordered won't arrive by sealift until the fall.

"You've got the cardboard and paper products, which will be baled and stored until we have a burn box to reduce the volume," said Jeff MacMunn, the foreman at the landfill, while showing off the temporary site where cardboard and wood is separated. Wood is run through the shredder and will be burned too. 

"To maximize the life expectancy of the landfill, we want to reduce the volume as much as possible," MacMunn said. "The burn box will eliminate the cardboard and it will eliminate roughly 80 to 90 per cent of the wood volume."

Businesses confused

Staff at Iqaluit's Baffin Deli used to break down cardboard boxes, pile them into one big box and then put it in the garbage bin.

"Then two weeks ago we were told it all has to be put in garbage bags," said manager Brian Czar. "We're going 'this makes no sense' because what we were already doing was separating it and it was all just cardboard boxes going into the bin." Now they're tossing dozens of boxes into the garbage each day. 

If you look at programs down south, they supply the people with bins to recycle, Czar said.

"If they would put out in the parking lot a bin here and it said 'just cardboard and paper products', I'll guarantee people in this whole building would make sure that everything that went in there was just paper and cardboard." ​