Thunder Bay

Woman from Thunder Bay, Ont., says she 'hoped to start a discussion' around waste reduction with dump photo

A woman from Thunder Bay, Ont., said she hoped to start a wider discussion around the need to reduce waste when she posted a photo to social media that appears to show recyclables amid other garbage in an area landfill.

Elaine Foster-Seargeant took July 12 photo of blue bags, cardboard, plastic jugs at Lappe industrial landfill

Elaine Foster-Seargeant says she snapped this photo on July 12 at an industrial landfill in Lappe, Ont. (Elaine Foster-Seargeant/Facebook)

A Thunder Bay-area resident said she hoped to start a wider discussion around the need to reduce waste when she posted a photo to social media that appears to show recyclables amid other garbage in an area landfill.

Elaine Foster-Seargeant snapped the photo at an industrial landfill in Lappe, just north of Thunder Bay, on July 12 and posted it to Facebook several days later, she told CBC News. The photo appears to show a large waste pile that includes blue bags, cardboard and plastic jugs. It's not clear in the photo what's in the blue bags; Foster-Seargeant added that, as she understands, the jugs aren't a type of plastic the local recycling program processes.

"The reason I took [the photo] was mostly for two reasons: one that I was concerned that package cardboard was being put in the landfill site and second of all, to showcase all the [unrecyclable] plastics," she said in an interview.

"I have a really strong belief that recycling isn't the answer, that if we're going to make a change in the environmental crisis we're in, we have to reduce the amount of plastics that we're using." She added that she's not discouraging people from recycling, but that it's not the only solution.

Foster-Seargeant said she initially posted the photo just to her friends to start a discussion around waste reduction. She later made it public when one of her friends asked she do so.

"We need to heighten our education process in the city so people aren't putting non-recyclables in the garbage," she said. "This is a complex issue that requires a lot of thought and a lot of introspection and it's going to take time for us to sort it out."

"I thought that I would be starting some discussion."

While she was at the industrial landfill in Lappe, she said she also saw a GFL Environmental truck leaving the property, although she didn't see it actually depositing any materials. GFL is contracted by the city to collect and process recyclables.

Foster-Seargeant's initial post with the photo said it was taken "at our local dump here in Thunder Bay."

I thought that I would be starting some discussion-Elaine Foster-Seargeant

The spread of the post led the City of Thunder Bay to respond with a post on its official Facebook page from Jason Sherband, the city's manager of solid waste and recycling, that "upon review that the photo taken is not of the city's solid waste and recycling facility."

"The city's recycling program continues to operate as per normal," the statement said. "In fact, we are trending in the right direction when it comes to waste reduction in our community. Over the last six years, the city's waste diversion has increased by eight per cent, which is significant from an industry perspective."

Foster-Seargeant later added on Facebook that she didn't initially disclose at which landfill the photo was taken, over concerns the dump operator would face backlash, adding that she never said it was the city's main facility.

CBC News requested further comment from Sherband about the photo and the city's response; he said that the city has no further comment and stands by the online statement. GFL Environmental did not return CBC News's request for comment on Wednesday.

'Huge amount of vitriol'

As it turned out, Foster-Seargeant said her post and the city's response, when both went public, landed her in some hot water online.

"It's turned into ... quite a huge amount of vitriol," she said. "The whole thing is a great lesson in social media."

"When the city put out their statement, that's when things got really aggressive."

She said she wishes someone from city hall contacted her about her concerns or asked her some questions "so that they could investigate this further."

Still, she said the hundreds of times her post has been shared has her feeling hopeful.

"It may show how concerned people are about the environment," she said. "[It] shows that there's a lot of concern and people want to know that their efforts toward being environmentally conscious are going to have some positive effect."