Feature - Wasted in Whistler 

Centralized composting facility is one step in the move from a linear to a cyclical approach to waste

The private detective hired by your ex-wife/Revenue Canada/( insert random enemy here ) to get the dirt on you is going to start in one place. And it’s not delving into your credit card records or your computer’s hard drive. It’s your trash, where all your secrets are easily decrypted. Take a look through the plastic bag and like a tracker, chart your path through the day – grinds from the morning coffee, flayed-wide skin of banana, crusty evidence of last night’s pizza that made for a satisfying breakfast, sweeping of dog hair, envelopes and paid bills and Visa statements, a roach or two, the tissues that reveal the ongoing dregs of a cold.… You can tell a lot about a person from their waste. And you’d be surprised at who’s going through yours. Scavengers and secret hunters and students of refuse.

It’s 11 p.m. Under cover of darkness, I pull into the Alpine Waste Centre. Slide towards the compactor in neutral. Flush up against it, lights glow from the cab of an RV. Housing is desperate, I think, if fifth wheels are squatting next to the dumpster. I rummage through my trash, a last minute sorting: glass, plastic, paper. The RV’s owner emerges with a wave and asks if I have a jumper cable. Helps me unload my trash, sidelines the bottles and empties – he says he’s going to take them for the refund. My trash, his treasure – it’s all relative.

Down in Squamish, eight hours later, six staff are at their stations in the recycling centre, hand-sorting the igloos’ loads. All recyclables in Whistler go to the Whistler transfer station at the landfill and are packaged down to Squamish or Vancouver to market. In Squamish, the recyclables go into a sorting chain and are resorted by staff, who, according to Owen Carney, proprietor of Carney’s Waste Systems, "maybe remove less than 5 per cent, as trash, as not recyclable. Maybe it’s contaminated, or half full of food waste. But it’s really not very much."

I’ve wondered, diligently sorting my life’s by-products, what actually happens once I wipe my hands clean. Is it a great conspiracy, as Michael Moore has suggested, to lull consumers into a sense of righteous complacency, to free their consciences to shop a little more, when the "recyclables" are in fact simply diverted back into landfill?

Carney, who has operated waste disposal services in the corridor since 1965 and in Whistler since 1970, reassures me. "The sorted recyclables are packaged and exported: pulp mills use all the paper products, plastics go to Merlins plastics or are baled to ship to the Orient, tin and aluminium go locally to Squamish Scrap Metals, the glass is crushed in Whistler and goes to contractors who use it under slabs and houses," he says. "The depositables go back to Oncor. Four-hundred tonnes a month of recyclables are collected at the Squamish plant from throughout the corridor. Whistler, the whole corridor actually, is very good at recycling.


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