Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: Landfills may soon be relics of the past

I remember when rats were common at landfills, which were just called dumps in those days.

I remember when rats were common at landfills, which were just called dumps in those days.

The tractors that were used to move the garbage around the dump close to where I grew up would have the driver’s compartment covered in mesh to keep the rodents, which were as big as cats in some cases due to the abundance of food waste, away from the operator while he was working.

I thought the tractor drivers had the worst jobs in the world.

People that visited that dump to drop off garbage and other disposable materials would typically do it in the middle of the day when the vermin were less active to avoid confrontations with the large and frightening rats.

That’s because dumps were just that; dumping grounds for anything and everything that we considered garbage, ranging from food waste to discarded couches.

There was no distinction between different types of garbage and it was all just dumped together and covered over, so these unsightly places became magnets for rats, seagulls and even bears in some locations.

Those days have certainly changed.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a rat in any modern landfill, and I’ve been to a quite a few over the years as I watched and reported on the metamorphosis of these sites from vermin-infested eyesores to clean and well organized facilities.

The latest was the transformation of the old municipal waste incinerator on Youbou Road into the new $5.5-million Meade Creek Recycling Centre that was opened in July by the Cowichan Valley Regional District, with financial assistance from senior levels of government.

The state-of-the-art facility provides recycling options for more than 650 products, as well as a Free Store where residents can pick up gently used items for free.

The Meade Creek Recycling Centre is a prime example in the Valley of the many changes in landfill thinking that is taking place around the world.

Food waste is no longer just dumped into the landfills, but usually separated and composted into soil and other uses, while recyclable materials find their way back into the system to be used again rather than just discarded after one use.

Less and less “garbage” is heading to landfills as people are educated and encouraged to separate the materials at home to ensure they end up in the right disposal and/or recyclable streams.

It was interesting to recently meet the Cowichan Valley’s Helmut Blanken, owner of Duncan’s HBHE Consulting which specializes in waste management and waste-water treatment.

The company is the local agent for the German-based Waste Tec GmbH, a provider of advanced waste-treatment technology for all waste streams from organic, garden, municipal and commercial waste.

He told me that his company’s ultimate goal is to get rid of landfills entirely by using the latest technologies to deal with waste in a way that will reduce the need for them.

Blanken said he came to the Valley from Germany, which has a much higher population density than this part of the world, and there is simply no room to waste on landfills.

He’s confident that with continuing education on waste disposal and recycling, mixed with the growing technology to reduce waste, his dream of ending landfills will become a reality.

Some things are changing for the better.

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