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Comox Strathcona Waste Management considers composting in rural areas

The board hears report on pilot project to provide organics options in two communities
Comox Strathcona Waste Management is running a pilot project looking at composting in rural and remote communities. Black Press File Photo

Comox Strathcona Waste Management is looking to continue a pilot program aimed at providing composting in rural and remote communities.

CSWM represents the regional districts of Comox Valley and Strathcona, and much of its composting attention in recent years has been on a new organics facility being built in Campbell River that would serve as the central depot for CSWM.

However, it has been operating the pilot in Tahsis and on Cortes Island to get a sense of the challenges and opportunities for composting in smaller communities in the region. The board had approved it in June 2019.

At the December board meeting, Stephanie Valdal, CSWM services co-ordinator, provided an overview of the pilot project.

“We have the opportunity to make a larger environmental impact,” she said.

RELATED STORY: Construction starts at Campbell River composting facility

The site in Tahsis is centrally located and material is housed in a ventilated sea can, though Mayor Martin Davis, the community’s representative on CSWM, said there had been some issues with leakage. He also suggested more service for pickups.

For Cortes, CSWM is working with Klahoose First Nation, which has a community garden.

The rural sites can pose special challenges, such as more attention from wildlife, and as with other recycling issues, there can be contamination issues. Another consideration Valdal pointed out is the financial viability of any of these projects.

The project has relied on volunteer participation. Another goal is to increase the participation rates, which are low, ranging from three to 17 per cent, even though CSWM has taken different approaches in the communities.

“People do have a preference when it comes to composting,” Valdal said.

The staff report to the board also noted the role of COVID-19, as some residents might have been reluctant to deliver their food waste to the composter, while in some cases, community organizations shut down or scaled back operations. It also affected staff’s efforts for public education sessions about the program.

Director Brenda Leigh, who sits on the SRD board, questioned the centralized program and suggested many people might already be using backyard composters at home, though Valdal said backyard units could pose problems for communities like Tahsis because they can attract bears.

Arzeena Hamir, one of the CVRD directors, asked if the focus was on households and whether there were possibilities to look at industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) food waste, though senior manager of CSWM services Vivian Schau clarified this is not in their jurisdiction currently. However, she added the Regional District of Nanaimo is currently spearheading legislation, which if successful, will require source separation of waste in the ICI sector.

“If they’re successful, it would be something that we’d definitely be really interested in,” Schau said.

Charlie Cornfield, one of the Campbell River directors, also suggested looking at waste generated around tourism and events.

The plan is to continue to support the existing pilot projects and work with individual remote communities interested in establishing an organics management program. The board approved a staff recommendation for these actions as well as to have CSWM’s community education program include education for rural and remote residents on the importance of food loss and food waste, as well as provide composting options for people to manage organics at home.

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