Special to the Westerly
Amidst the ongoing threat of COVID-19, SonBird Refuse and Recycling continues to operate curbside recycling collection and depot drop off for West Coast residents on behalf of the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD).
The global pandemic has shifted how cities across Canada and the United States manage their waste collection. However, companies like Sonbird have been able to continue regular service thanks to their open-air recycling depot and updated regulations.
With the increase in recycling generated during COVID-19, recycling services have become even more essential for ensuring the safety of terrestrial and marine ecosystems vulnerable to damage by mismanaged materials.
In addition to bi-weekly curbside recycling pickup, depots in Tofino and Ucluelet are open to the public to recycle plastic bags and overwraps, glass containers and foam packaging that cannot be placed curbside.
The reason they have been able to stay open, depot manager Robin Jackson states, is that unlike recycling depots in other municipalities across the country, SonBird features open air space. Large industrial sized garage doors on either end of the depot allow outside air to flow freely through the space. Furthermore, to continue to support the community and ensure the safety of the public and their team, a new workplace COVID-19 response plan has been put in place.
Newly introduced rules of engagement allow the facility to operate safely, maintain social distancing and to protect the health of workers and the public.
The updated regulations will only allow two people inside the depot at a time, requiring a minimum distance of six feet apart. Visitors unload their recyclable items into trays and are guided through the sorting process in the spirit of keeping like-materials together.
The virus has an exponential decay in virus titer—numerical expression of the quantity of the virus—across all recycled material surfaces.
Based on recommendations from research by the New England Journal of Medicine, SonBird’s sorted materials are left untouched for the determined number of days it will take the SARS-CoV-2 to lose stability on given surfaces. Research shows that the virus is more stable on plastic than any other material. In order for plastics to surpass their possible contamination date, they are left untouched for five days to ensure there is no viable virus present when being handled.
When asked about the current volume of recycling generated by residents and commercial sectors in the Pacific Rim, Jackson stated that the amount has not gone down since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Curbside pickup has increased due to the amount of people shopping online and eating from home, while public drop off has remained constant.
The depot acts as a transfer station where recycling is sorted into categories based on materials, packed down into ‘bails’ by a compressing machine, and shipped out to Nanaimo where it is then distributed for further processing.
Approximately 30,000 pounds of material are collected, sorted, packed and bailed every week to be shipped out.
If recycling services on the West Coast had ceased to operate during COVID-19, every week, this significant volume of materials would diminish the lifespan of the West Coast Landfill and threaten the ecological integrity of surrounding terrestrial and marine environments.
Nicole Holman is the staff intern at Surfrider Pacific Rim. This Surfrider Pacific Rim column was written to support our transparent waste education program for the ACRD which has the goal of increasing proper waste management practices across the coast and diverting waste streams from the landfill.