P.E.I.’s Waste Watch program celebrates 20th anniversary

Those involved in setting up program recall the rough early days

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on July 5, 2014

Ralph MacDonald of Borden-Carleton was one of the biggest opponents of Waste Watch when it was launched in the early 1990s in East Prince. Now, he’s one of the program’s biggest advocates.

Dennis Hopping was threatened, had garbage carts dumped in his yard and was verbally accosted on the street countless times.

But looking back 20 years, the then chairman of the East Prince Waste Management Commission, said it was all worth it in helping bring Waste Watch to Prince Edward Island.

Sorting garbage into green bins, black bins and blue bags has since become a way of life for Islanders.

“It was worth every heartache, every loss of night’s sleep. I just took it on as a challenge,’’ Hopping says.

“This Waste Watch program is, by far, the best program in North America. There isn’t another community in North America that has this type of a program. We’re it. It has served our province well.’’

By December 1994, all businesses and households in East Prince were on the new Waste Watch system. It encompassed 10,000 households, 1,000 businesses and 1,000 seasonal dwellings.

The East Prince Waste Management Facility opened in Wellington at the same time and still operates today as the province’s only landfill site.

By March 2002, the entire province was on the new system, closing 65 separate landfill sites across P.E.I. Since 1994, more than 276,000 truckloads of material have been diverted from landfills through Waste Watch.

Hopping’s vice-chairman was Dean Baglole, who says in the end introducing Waste Watch was the right thing to do.

“I’m just pleased to have just been a little part of it,’’ Baglole said. “I think we have an excellent program.’’

Hopping said there were a number of residents he “went to war with’’ over bringing Waste Watch in. There is one person he remembers more than everyone else.

Ralph MacDonald, a resident of Borden-Carleton, had proclaimed himself president of the Anti-Waste Watch Committee.

“Oh, I remember those days vividly. Those were fighting days,’’ MacDonald says today.

“I was vehemently against Waste Watch because of the way it was imposed on us. There was no previous information given out. They just dropped all the green and black carts on our lawns without permission, without any notification at all.’’

MacDonald said he had many fights by phone and email with Hopping. MacDonald even spoke out against it at town hall meetings.

Today, MacDonald says he was wrong.

“I eat crow now because I can see where Waste Watch has been advantageous to the whole province. I adjusted pretty well.’’

MacDonald remembers growing up on the shores of Miramichi in New Brunswick. Garbage was dumped next to where people swam and raked oysters. It was accepted practice at the time but times have changed.

“It was a terrible thing. We had no idea that garbage was hurting the environment, no education. I think we have come a long way and I’m glad we have it now.’’

Barry Hicken was the provincial minister of environmental resources when Waste Watch was launched in East Prince. He says then premier Catherine Callbeck called him into her office, appointed him minister and asked him to start Waste Watch.

“At that time landfill sites were getting filled up and we made a decision that we were not going to establish any more landfill sites,’’ Hicken says.

“I remember we were the first, I think, in the country to implement any type of recycling and reusing. I think it was something that was (always) in the works but no one was bold enough to take it on.’’

Hicken said the goal back in the 1980s among environment ministers across Canada was to reduce solid waste by 50 per cent by 2000. Waste Watch in western P.E.I. reduced it by 68 per cent in 1994-95 alone.

“It was quite an accomplishment. You have to change peoples minds and something new always creates lots of discussion and lots of reasons why you should and shouldn’t do it. Looking back today, it was certainly a successful program.’’

Callbeck said her goal when she took office in 1993 was to reduce the deficit but it quickly became clear the environment was a big issue, too.

“There was a lot of concern on the Island about the P.E.I. groundwater and the effect all of these dumps were having on them,’’ Callbeck said.

“The bottom line is that we felt that we had to proceed (with Waste Watch), that it was the responsible thing to do. I think Islanders realize that it was the right thing to do for the P.E.I. environment and government had to do something.’’

The Waste Watch system is more than just sorting garbage into the green and black bins.

Gerry Moore, the current CEO of Island Waste Management Corporation, says a number of enhancements have been made over the years, such as launching the electronics recycling program in 2010, expanding the spring and fall cleanup initiative to two collections and accepting metal items like bicycles, barbecues, lawnmowers and lawn chairs as part of the monthly blue bag program.

Moore says the challenge with the program comes down to money. Some people want their green carts collected weekly while others struggle to fill their carts monthly, much less bi-weekly.

IWMC doesn’t recycle Styrofoam, for example, because the volume of blue bags would go up, there would likely need to be more collections and the cost to truck it to a recycling plant would be expensive.

Moore says there are always improvements that can be made and, regardless of any weaknesses in the system, it’s better than the alternative.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to do it right and this material isn’t going into a hole in the ground somewhere, taking up space that your children’s children are going to have to look after.’’

For Hopping, putting up with all those threats was worth it.

“In my opinion, it was the best decision ever made,’’ Hopping said.