Avoid the landfill by recycling and repurposing

Image of bulldozer in a landfill

BC Hydro team diverted 90 per cent of waste from the landfill last year

Throughout the province, our system is aging. The infrastructure we depend on to generate electricity and distribute it throughout B.C. was built decades ago and we are currently working on projects to update our system.

Whether we are replacing power lines and poles, or decommissioning entire dams, all that work generates huge amounts of materials that need to be dealt with. That responsibility falls to BC Hydro's investment recovery department, which processed approximately 15 million kilograms of waste materials last year alone. Paul Chilton, manager of materials management, says the team makes "every possible effort to ensure as small percentage as possible ends up in the landfill." Last year, the group was able to divert 90 per cent of the waste from ending up in the garbage.

So what do they do with all that stuff?

As materials reach their end of life, they're brought down to a BC Hydro facility in Surrey and sorted through by the investment recovery department. The team deals with everything from old conductors and wires, hardware, distribution lines, substation and IT equipment, phones, and fleet vehicles. Here, the material is classified and sorted by their component parts and most of the materials, made up of scrap metal, old wood poles, and concrete, are recycled. Materials with a market value, like scrap copper and aluminum, are sold for revenue to contracted service providers, as well as through public sales and auctions. Surplus computers are donated through Computers for Schools, with thousands being donated over the past ten years.

The team does face some challenges, particularly when dealing with anything classified as hazardous waste, such as oil or asbestos. Two million litres of oil from electrical equipment is decontaminated and regenerated each year. Most of it is regenerated to new oil standards and sold back to transformer suppliers to be reused in new transformers.

Reduce, reuse, recycle at home

There are plenty of ways for you to avoid sending waste from your own home to the landfill, and you can start in your kitchen. Food scrap recycling is the easiest approach to reducing organic waste in the landfill. Composting yard trimmings and food scraps is an inexpensive way to create healthy, fertile soil to use in your garden. Not only is the soil rich in nutrients but it also improves soil drainage, and conserves water.

If you don't have any backyard space, try using a worm composter, which fits right under the sink or in a cupboard in the kitchen. The worms work efficiently to turn your food scraps into soil for your potted plants and container gardens. Your municipality might even have their own food scraps recycling program with weekly collection.

Many municipalities are moving to a green bin system, allowing kitchen composting for food scraps in multi-residential buildings like condos and apartments. New Westminster, Vancouver, Coquitlam, Burnaby, Nanaimo, Victoria, Delta and Richmond all have some form of food scraps collection. Prince George encourages residents to generate less waste by reducing fees for those who use smaller garbage bins.

Check your city or municipality's website for more info on recycling and composting programs in your area.

Clear out the clutter and save energy too

Have a few electronic devices collecting dust at home? Recycle your unwanted electronics at one of the Return-It Electronics locations throughout the province free of charge. Electronic devices contain a variety of hazardous materials and Return-It Electronics accepts unwanted televisions, computers, monitors, and toys, and ensures they are handled properly and recycled appropriately. Keeping old electronics plugged in wastes energy too; you could be using more standby power than you think.

Every year more household objects become recyclable. Refer to the Recycling Council of British Columbia Recyclepedia Materials Index for a list of all the different items you can recycle here in B.C. Conveniently, the Recyclepedia will allow you to search for the location closest to you based on what material and item you are trying to recycle.