North

Happy as a pig in paper: New recycling program keeps Hay River livestock warm

A simple recycling program that insulates farm animals during the winter is showing how a northern agricultural community is doing its part when waste-reduction programs fall short, or don’t exist.

'They fluff it up like they would natural straw,' says manager with Northern Farm Training Institute

Pigs at the Northern Farm Training Institute fluff up the biodegradable bedding. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

A simple recycling program that insulates homes for farm animals during the winter is showing how a northern agricultural community is doing its part when waste-reduction programs fall short, or don't exist.

For the third winter, the Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) near Hay River is lining chicken coops and pig pens with reams of shredded paper. The biodegradable strips were once office memos, newsprint, phone bills and box board — any shreddable paper product except glossy paper because of harmful dyes and inks.

In the past, businesses and schools were the main paper suppliers. But NFTI's inventory is growing with a new drop-off bin at the farm's entrance 15 kilometres from town. It's for the general public. The one downside is the paper must arrive pre-shredded.

Kim Rapati adds shredded paper to a pig pen. The paper is a free source of insulation and absorption for livestock. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Like many small communities, recycling options are limited in Hay River. The Tri-R Recycling bottle depot in town accepts old electronics, some plastics and tin but no paper, which means items such as phone bills and letters end up in the trash.

"Something like 37 per cent of our landfill is paper product, so that's a large portion in our dumps," says Kim Rapati, the farm's operations manager, citing a 2018 waste management plan by the City of Yellowknife.

"So in a small town without paper recycling you have to be creative."

Rapati says paper is softer and more absorbent than hay, although prone to clumping, which is why hay is still used in small quantities.

"Paper is a resource that we have a lot of and we found it works wonderfully for the pigs, especially in the winter," she said. "The barn can get quite muddy and gross and so it helps absorb the moisture and the animals just love it. They fluff it up like they would natural straw."

Kim Rapati collects shredded paper from NFTI’s new drop-off bin. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Rapati estimates the program has kept approximately 60 cubic metres of paper — or about 20 garbage bags a month — out of the landfill since 2016.

In the spring, the paper becomes compost for the farm's vegetable garden.

Rapati hopes other small communities are encouraged to repurpose recycled materials.

She says future plans include drop off bins closer to town and on-site cardboard shredding next year.

Meanwhile, the Town of Hay River will be working on a new solid-waste management plan in the new year.

Senior administrative officer Judy Goucher says she expects household recycling will be part of the discussions.

About the Author

Kirsten Murphy is a reporter in Hay River, N.W.T. She graduated from the International Center of Photography (New York) in 2015. In 2010 Kirsten won an RTDNA award for her syndicated radio show about climate change and traditional Indigenous knowledge on CKLB. You can reach her at kirsten.murphy@cbc.ca.