The Balancing Act of Waste

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Just as a seesaw requires coordination, communication, and patience to balance, so does the waste system here in the East Kootenays. As the wonderful people of the East Kootenays reduce the quantity of “stuff” in their garbages, the lifespan and space available in the landfill increases. Students from Mrs. Murphy’s Grade 5/6/7 class from Martin Morigeau School learned all about this balancing act during their tour of Cranbrook’s Transfer Station, Materials Recovery Facility, and the Cranbrook Landfill on May 9th. 


First stop was the Transfer Station, where students learned how the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, and recycle) are enacted to reduce waste at the landfill. Students learned about the plethora of items that can now be recycled, such as styrofoam meat trays, candy bar/granola bar wrappers, and ziplock bags. Since this field trip, students have set up a wrapper bin in their classroom so they can collect and recycle the large quantity of wrappers their class produces. Way to be changemakers students!


Nathan, our guide from the RDEK, then explained how enterprising local companies have started to capitalize on the vast quantities of unwanted items collected at the transfer station. For example, Nathan explained that the Skookumchuk Mill collects the unwanted wood waste and uses it to make electricity at their mill – thus reducing the wood waste in the landfill & their electricity bill. 


Another company out of Alberta collects used mattresses, separates the individual components and then sells those parts to other companies who use them to make new products. These mattresses would othewise float to the top of the landfill and take up a lot of space, explained Nathan. 


Students then visited the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF( where they learned how materials from the community yellow recycling bins are sorted, compacted into bales, and further packed into trucks with the solid bales on the bottom and the lighter and bulkier styrofoam on top. This minimizes the number of trucks needed to transport these materials to other facilities to be recycled further.


The machines used to load and dump the recycling materials were one student’s favourite part of the tour – they move an impressive amount of materials each day!


The last stop on the tour was the last stop for all unwanted items, the landfill…”No! The dump!” chimed in Cole. Natha, our guide from the RDEK then explained the difference between a dump from the past, and a carefully managed landfill of today by touring us around the Cranbrook landfill. Students were amazed by the piles of shingles, wood, and tires, but mostly by the antics of the many eagles. 

At the end of the tour, Nathan explained how when this landfill was first built it had a lifespan of a handful of decades, and yet now thirty years later it has the same projected lifespan. The reason being that like our seesaws, when people find ways to reduce the amount of waste being added to the landfill through initiatives viewed earlier on the tour, the amount of space and lifespan of the landfill remains high. I look forward to seeing what other creative ways these students find to reduce their waste at school and potentially what solutions they find to humanity’s ever changing waste needs. 


Thank you to Nathan from the RDEK for the fascinating tour, and the many people using the transfer station and recycling bins!