Waste not, want not

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In our Beyond Recycling Program, we talk a lot about ways that we can reduce waste.  Mrs Delcaro’s and Mr. Blick’s classes just had two back to back field trips to really dive deep in the programs that make waste reduction a reality in the valley.  

Last week, we went to the Creston landfill to get a visceral feel for waste. Perched on a hill above the Kootenay River, the landfill has a bird’s eye view of the river floodplain and is surrounded by agricultural land. “When you throw stuff away, this is away,” says Travis Barrington, Resource Recovery Technician for the Regional District of the Central Kootenay (RDCK). In Creston, we produce 7000 tonnes of garbage a year.  As we gaze out the bus at this mountain of garbage, Mr. Blick remarks, “It’s so disturbing to see how much we throw away”. And this is just for one small community in the Kootenays.

“My job is to keep as much stuff out of the landfill as possible.” Travis Barrington describes as we tour the recycling area, and the various bins for yard waste, wood waste and metal waste. We learn how recycling in BC relies on a concept of producer responsibility.  That means that if you are a producer that makes a product with packaging, you are responsible for collecting and managing the material at the end of its useful life.  BC is a leader in this type of recycling initiative and 95% of materials that enter a recycling program, are recycled in BC. BC has programs for plastic, paper, cans, glass, batteries, tires, motor oil etc.  Mattresses will soon be involved in this producer responsibility model in BC.

The RDCK is also a few weeks away from completing the composting facility at the Creston Landfill, which will divert 25-35% of waste from the landfill.  This will save space in the landfill, reduce how much methane (a harmful greenhouse gas) is produced in the landfill, reduce wildlife attractants at the landfill, and produce compost. 

This week we visited the Kootenay Farms Food Hub, which is an initiative by Fields Forward. The Creston Valley is full of farms that produce amazing produce, grains, dairy, meat, oil, hay and more.  However, sometimes it’s hard to get fresh produce to market, or there may be not-so-perfect produce that is unsellable to major markets.  At the Kootenay Farms Food Hub, we are “reducing the amount of produce going to waste” says Josh Hammermeister, Operations Lead.  That is because the Food Hub has equipment and resources to help farmers in all stages of their production and distribution.  They have a flash freezer, a mobile juice press, a vegetable washer, a freeze dryer, a custom label printer, a glass bottling line, a slicer, a stone fruit pitter, and a commercial kitchen.  Often this type of equipment can be expensive for one farmer to buy, and/or the inspection and food safe requirements are too time-consuming for one producer. 

The vegetable slicer is being used to make veggie chips and for soups/stew mixes.  The Mobile Juice Press has been in action for a few years now and has reduced how many less-than-perfect cherries and apples go to the landfill, while providing farmers with another product to sell.   The freeze drier has been used to make freeze-dried cherry juice. “It’s like candy” says Charlie, after tasting it at the end of the tour. Every single student, voted that eating the freeze-dried cherry juice was the best part of the tour!  The freeze drier is also being used to make organic whey powder from Kootenay Meadows.  Whey is a byproduct of the cheese making process.  Kootenay Meadows often feeds the whey back onto the pastures, but the food hub may open the possibilities of making new products. 

This year, the vegetable washer is going to be at Wloka farms in Erickson.  This unit washes 800-1000 lbs of potatoes every hour, and the waste water is nutrient dense and go back to the farm to feed crops.  Farmers will be able to book time on the vegetable washer to process their veggies and make this time-consuming job a bit quicker.

The food hub is also helping farmers distribute their products outside the community.  Sometimes producers will only have a bit of product to go out to other communities, but with other producers, together it will make enough to ship together.  The food hub has also taken over distribution of Kootenay Meadows milk to some surrounding communities.  Wow! What great ways to feed local communities, grow the local economy and reduce waste!