Making the Change from Waste to Recovery

A bottom up solution for communities who are running out of landfill space or have solid waste challenges.

Buddy Boyd and Barb Hetherington

For any community that is running out of landfill space or, alternatively, for those that have an abundance of landfill space, burying and incinerating is a job killer, not to mention not so great for our environment. Often massive excessive trucking and transporting of materials in the waste stream are required for these two options which are ultimately destructive. Not only do many communities truck or barge their waste great distances to facilities for burying or burning, but, in reality, the shipping of discards from communities is exporting much-needed jobs.

Mining the waste stream is a way to look at creating desperately needed jobs while getting reuse and repair back onto the front burner. Communities that have limited landfill life or no landfills, dissecting the waste stream can be an excellent cost savings technique. Shipping off less waste while recovering as much value from the discard stream locally would include all the stakeholders—the manufacturers, community, retailers, waste haulers and local governments who are looking at creative and innovative ways to reduce over stretched budgets.

A New Strategy

The idea behind Resource Recycling is that it uses concepts that process as little waste as possible coming out the other end. The idea is to think as if you were running discards through a pipe. Typical waste systems or ideas push 100 percent through the pipe with almost 100 percent coming out the other end. Landfill diversion is not part of that model and thus the literal version of “garbage in … garbage out” is what this is. However, what if the discard streams were mined or treated in such a way that the waste stream was segregated or source separated? It can be very simple. If organic food waste was kept away from the other dry waste, most communities would recognize an immediate 40 to 50 percent diversion. This nitrogen rich feedstock can now be used for composting. The dry residuals now can be picked through or scavenged through. Disposable diapers can also be handled separately and there are systems and technologies in place that can deal with these items. The same goes for pet waste. So, the leftovers have incredible value if treated as a resource. And the whole concept of Zero Waste starts to take on a whole different perspective.

The term Zero Waste can create a “deer in the headlights look” in some people. However, it is really a way of looking at waste from the bottom up and top down. Those who make our consumables might find that they may have to be responsible for products and packaging through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs. EPR programs exist in many countries such as Canada where refundable deposits are on most drink and beverage containers. As well, many items such as electronics, tires, car batteries, etc. have an EPR fee built into the price that funds the disposal, recycling and or handling of these materials.

Citizens have a role to play as well. Many communities are close to bankrupting themselves because of the cost of disposal and hauling waste. If we all chipped in, maybe consumed a little less (reduce) and looked at Resource Recovery for reuse and repair, the discard stream can be mined to capture the value stored up in the items we toss away. This creates local opportunities from the discard stream so that less comes out of the pipe and more stays in our communities creating local jobs.

The Change from Waste to Recovery

If a community is to make the change from waste to recovery, the first step is to identify the major streams through a simple waste audit. Every community is different. In the Pacific Northwest there is a lot of wood waste. Assuming this is feedstock for incinerators has often been the only option explored Hogging and chipping for composting is a booming industry and helps take care of our organics from curbside collection. Other regions with different industries may have different waste/feedstock.

Once the streams have been identified, the list of equipment and technologies are endless on how to deal with any specific stream. Glass can be turned into an aggregate. For example, in Alpine, TX recyclers have turned their waste glass into landscaping material and feedstock for artisans and glass blowers by using a machine that turns glass into a usable aggregate. Recycling Styrofoam is also possible and the landfill diversion totals can be significant. Again this is an opportunity to generate extra revenue while recovering the value embedded in EPS which then can be reused again. Technology also exists for recycling all the parts of a mattress and boxsprings, the wood, metal, textiles and foam all have value. New jobs are created by the deconstruction of these discarded items—when looked at, glass, Styrofoam and mattresses all take up valuable landfill space. These are just but a few examples of how to get started look past just simple recycling and into resource recovery, reuse and repair.

Method Implementation

Ridding or moving discards “away” can be the prime focus of community solid waste plans. The cheapest method for moving discards out of the community to landfills or incineration is often the main consideration. The “away” requires transporting discards to far-off communities with this wasting formula relying on cheap oil. But are there other costs to the community? If North America’s recyclables are shipped overseas, what is the cost of doing that? What of the jobs lost here to other countries that are more then willing to use our discards for their own feedstock to make new items and goods to sell back to us? If we kept those jobs here, we would generate new taxes from those new jobs created. Other factors to consider are whole and complete cost accounting, carbon footprint, the energy consumed to destroy materials that other countries covet, the new energy needed to create the materials destroyed, infrastructure costs for landfills and incineration, etc. If you look at Resource Recovery as kind of a reverse shopping center or a “one-stop-drop” where discards are picked through to extract the value embedded in the discards. Recovery starts to become the way discards are treated by maximizing the efforts not to be so quick to move stuff through the pipe but to extract the value from what is being tossed. In the end, when costs are measured for wasting and waste handling and Resource Recovery side by side, Resource Recovery need few if any subsidies (e.g., oil). Wasting often means most of a communities’ discard stream needs to be taken away. This is not an inexpensive process. If we handled our discards locally whenever possible by treating materials in the waste stream as something that has value (a resource), the opportunity exists to salvage, repair and reuse. Eventually, we have to move past recycling and landfilling towards making better products that can be repaired or have interchangeable parts and components. And curbside collection will be about recovering the value embedded in what we throw away. And by taking organics and food scraps out of the waste stream, we now have an opportunity for making compost in every community, turning food waste back into the soil to grow food with fewer chemicals.

Changing Roles

By using the Resource Recovery method, transfer stations would be modified to allow for picking and salvaging. With organics removed this is a much easier task. Technologies already exist to make source separation much easier, including segregated waste bins, source separation at the curb, multi-compartment garbage trucks. Keeping discards clean generates a much higher rate of return when recyclables are sold or when reusables are put into the Share Sheds or Reuse Stores at landfills, transfer stations or as Resource Recovery facilities as stand alones. It is that “paradigm shift” that our forefathers used during the last great depression and World War II; all discards had value and were cherished and coveted. With dwindling natural resources, the high cost for fuel and the desperate need for jobs, why not look at the discard stream as a way to create not only new employment, but also increase the opportunity for the stakeholders who generate the waste to take a second look at how we mindlessly just buy and toss. The shift to recovering the value tied up in the waste stream does not require huge subsidies but a new way we all look at how we consume and how we throw away what we no longer want. Ultimately, this change will lead to making better products, or maybe a revitalized repair industry which creates more jobs that will work in conjunction with the manufacturers who will find that as consumers become more savvy they will find shoppers gravitate to better made products that have lifecycle built into their manufactured goods that replaces cheap consumables. In the end, cheap consumables and discarding are much more costly.

Creating Efficiency from the Bottom Up

Zero Waste as an idea or concept is an all encompassing idea that makes much more common sense then just recycling and hauling waste to transfer stations and landfills. Every community has waste. Therefore, what does it cost to deal with each community’s waste? Every city, county, region, state and province in North America has to deal with waste. The question shouldn’t be “can we afford to do this?” the question should be “can we afford not to?”

Every community has an obligation to take a second look at how we handle our waste streams. Over the years, so much perfectly good material and items are being landfilled and incinerated. Destructive waste management choices really make little or no sense. Compostables back to the soil to grow food in our communities is being practiced in many other parts of the world. Why can’t we do this? Through a Zero Waste lens, discarding takes on a whole different perspective. The complex packaging surrounding our consumables that is almost impossible to recycle should be the responsibility of the manufacturers. The goods we purchase that last less then a year in many cases should also be the responsibility of the people who make the products. Those consumables that ultimately end up causing a burden on the taxpayers and our environment must be looked at from a bottom up, community-by-community perspective.

With Resource Recycling, waste hauling would become more efficient and as markets are maximized or developed, local job opportunities are created. Community funded waste handling and recycling can become an opportunity to salvage and recover. Innovation replaces “make it go away”. Most of North America is rural and spread out. Why ship waste and recyclables gazillions of miles? Why not examine how to extract the value stored up in what we discard locally?

Buddy Boyd is CAO of Gibsons Recycling (Gibsons, BC). Buddy has been in the waste industry for more than 30 years. First as a driver, then owner of Gibsons Disposal and now owner of one of the only resource recovery facilities in British Columbia. He can be reached at [email protected] or visit

Barbara Hetherington is Operations Manager and Environmental Educational Outreach Coordinator for Gibsons Recycling Depot. The business operation is successful because of Barb’s development of the Gibsons Zero Waste Reuse Store and her Cable 11 community access TV show, “Trash Talk” on the Sunshine Coast Magazine. Barb can be reached at [email protected] on Facebook page “Gibsons Recycling Depot

For anyone in the U.S. who are looking at EPR programs, one of the most successful retail take back programs in Canada is London Drugs, who takes back all their packaging from what they sell as well as a full range of EPR items. For more information, visit Choices Markets’ “take back programs” are another example of how to recycle and shop at the same time For more information,

A forward-thinking resource recovery facility in the U.S is Urban Ore, a company that started the first resource recovery facility in Berkley, CA in 1980. For more information, visit


Gibsons Recycling Depot is the first recycling center in British Columbia to recycle Styrofoam. They also separate their waste stream into categories, thus creating less waste by chipping wood waste for composting and separating metals, drywall and recyclables into individual categories, thus creating new revenue streams or reducing landfill costs by reducing the residual streams.

In 2006,the British Columbia (BC) Ferry Corporation mandated that they reduce the amount of waste going to their landfill, thereby reducing their carbon footprint. We are the only disposal company in Gibsons. They previously used a contractor 20 miles away, but found that Gibsons Recycling Depot was only 5 minutes away from the ferry terminal. Therefore, making it a logical decision to hire the company.

Once BC Ferry Corporation decided to use Gibsons’ services, implementing the new sorting system took very little time. By source separating the streams of waste on board, it enabled residuals to be compacted and the recoverables and recyclables to be managed into Gibsons’ 20-foot sea own containers and transported once full.

All of the recyclables produced on BC Ferry Corporation’s ships in Gibsons are now segregated and the amount of waste going to the landfill has been reduced. The cost savings to the corporation is significant and they have also helped the environment by not hauling recyclables great distances to the landfill.

Finally, at the end of the process, the organics will be removed from the residual stream further reducing what is landfilled. Then all discards are separated into separate categories—wood, metal, plastics, fiber, recyclables etc.—picked out and placed into separate containers. Once full they are compacted then they are hauled to separate markets.