April 28, 2010

Waste initiatives show strong community spirit

As published by The Erin Advocate

They may seem to have little in common, but Erin Auto Recyclers and East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) have a natural sort of partnership when it comes to making the best re-use of valuable materials.

EWCS is primarily a social service agency, but it raises money by recycling clothing at its New To You and Bookends stores. These provide affordable options for people who need to make their money go further. Erin Auto Recyclers deals in scrap metal, but also sells used auto parts, an essential service to help people keep older vehicles on the road.

The two already work together through the Auto Angel program. People can donate cars and trucks to EWCS for a tax receipt. Erin Auto Recyclers takes possession of the vehicle, determines its value and makes a cash donation to EWCS.

With the final closing of the Hillsburgh Transfer Station this weekend, and the lack of a County facility in Erin for large usable goods and bulky waste, EWCS is planning to open a re-use centre.

EWCS can proceed knowing it has strong public support. It would be best if the County provides funding to get the project started, but Executive Director Glenyis Betts is confident that funding will be found.

The re-use centre will enable residents will drive their donations of household items right into the building, to be inspected by EWCS volunteers.

"If we don't want them, we'll send people over to Rob," said Betts.

Rob Smith, owner of Erin Auto Recyclers, has offered his site just down the road as an alternative drop-off point for some material that will normally have to be driven to the Belwood Waste Facility. His staff are already qualified to handle hazardous material like freon, motor oil, antifreeze and batteries.

He will accept appliances, electronics and all sorts of metal. It is mainly an extension of his regular business, but there is an element of community service as well. There will be more traffic, and more items to handle and store – not all of them profitable.

"When you're doing the right thing, it pays dividends," said Smith. He is willing to cooperate with the County if they want to take advantage of his site.

Since buying the business four years ago, he has worked to improve its public image, with a new roof over the open storage area, a better parking area and a computerized parts inventory. The timing is good, as the public takes more interest in environmental issues. "It's a great time to be in the recycling business," he said.

The company was recognized by the Clean Air Foundation as the first in Canada to recover mercury switches from ABS brakes, removing a harmful neurotoxin from the waste stream.

Smith said that land he owns next to the auto recycling yard could be used for a permanent re-use/recycling centre, if and when EWCS is ready to make that move. This would provide convenience to the public, while ensuring that any household hazardous wastes could be stored on the auto yard, which is licensed for them.

How this centre would be financed and operated has not been determined. Ideally, such facilities should be publicly owned, and on a larger scale. A partnership with a private business could be a benefit for Erin residents, though, if the County is not able to provide local service.

Councillor Lou Maieron points to the Bolton Recycling Centre as an ideal type of small-scale transfer station. It handles a wide variety of material, including excess household garbage, as a supplement to curbside pick-up. According to a Wellington County consultant, the Bolton facility was built in 1997 for about $2 million and costs $1.2 million a year to run. Caledon Community Services has a ReUstore on site, selling everything from jewelry to antiques. The agency leases its building for about $25,000 a year – 10 per cent of the store's annual net revenue.

Peel Region was forced to take serious action on waste diversion when it ran out of landfill space and had to start paying to ship trash to Michigan. Wellington County still has landfill space, but it will not last forever, and the Province may not approve any more in this area. Perhaps it will soon be in Wellington's financial interest to start investing in a better network of waste diversion facilities.

April 21, 2010

Computers should not be buried with the garbage

As published in The Erin Advocate

It's finally time to get rid of my Windows 98 PC. No tears will be shed when I bring it to the Electronics Recycling Day this Saturday in Erin at Centre 2000. Only memories will remain, mostly about hours spent dealing with viruses, unloadable software, malfunctioning peripherals, glacial processing, and of course, dial-up internet.

I am not ready, however, to part with my pre-internet Macintosh. It is resting comfortably in the crawl space, primarily as an antique for the benefit of future generations, an amusing relic of simpler times.

Our family has a reluctance to discard electronics that still work. I still have the black and white Zenith TV I bought with my first summer job paycheque in 1971.

Then there is the Nikon digital camera that cost $999 in 2002. It hit the ground during a hike last week, disabling the auto-focus. Now I have a choice: buy a used one of the same model on e-Bay for $49, buy a new camera that is three times more powerful for $99, or get the broken one repaired for $349.

The E-Waste Recycling Day hosted by Wellington County starts at 9 am and ends promptly at 3 pm this Saturday. There is no charge, but residents are encouraged to make a donation of food or cash to the East Wellington Community Services food bank.

Bring your computer equipment, answering machines, cameras, phones of all types, TVs, stereos, MP3 players and electronic typewriters. Not accepted: tools, games, toys, fluorescent tubes and appliances like microwaves and toasters. For more details, go to www.wellington.ca.

Wellington's first e-waste days were in other towns last October, with 1,200 vehicles delivering 120,000 lbs of waste. The line-ups were too long for some people.

"The response from the public was incredible,” said Cathy Wiebe, Administration Supervisor for Solid Waste Services. “We are extremely pleased that residents took the opportunity to drop off their old electronics to ensure they go for recycling, instead of taking up space in a landfill site.”

Some environmentalists believe that hazardous e-waste metals like lead, cadmium, beryllium and mercury are a serious problem in landfills. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says they are not a threat to human health if handled properly.

The EPA still promotes e-recycling to reduce environmental impacts and energy demands from mining and manufacturing. It says recycling one million laptops saves enough energy to power 3,657 homes for a year. And circuit boards have far higher concentrations of gold and copper than ore mined from the earth.

Recently I took a printer to the transfer station. The ink cartridges were saved as Household Hazardous Waste (HHW), but the rest went into the regular garbage. The Belwood Waste Facility is set up to handle HHW and re-usable items, but not electronics as a separate waste stream. Addition of that service would be a logical improvement over the once-a-year event.

Staples has just expanded its recycling services. Their stores have offered bins for discarded ink and toner, cell phones, pagers and chargers and batteries, and they now accept TVs, computers and many other products.

Locally, alkaline batteries up to Size D can be dropped off at any library branch. For more options, go to www.dowhatyoucan.ca. Enter your waste item and postal code, and get a list of destinations.

An estimated 100 million cell phones are discarded every year in the US, along with 32 million computers. Millions of tonnes of e-waste are shipped to impoverished areas of China, in violation of a UN treaty. There it is torn apart and melted under appalling working conditions to extract reusable plastics and metals, resulting in severe environmental damage.

The County has contracted Global Electric Electronic Processing (GEEP) to recycle material from its seven e-waste event days, one in each municipality this year. GEEP has locations across Canada and abroad, with ten facilities and 350 employees, diverting 200,000 tonnes of e-waste from landfill annually. Based in Barrie, they boast the "largest, most comprehensive state-of-the-art processing facility for e-waste…globally."

They re-use what they can, including purging and re-imaging hard drives ("If there's any value left in it, we'll find a user for it!"), and the rest is crushed and sorted into salable commodities. In February, GEEP was designated as a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher, allowing them to install Windows XP on recycled computers.

So my PC may live again, but it will have to live somewhere else.

April 14, 2010

Meet the new pro at Try Tennis Day

As published in The Erin Advocate

Smaller racquets, smaller courts and slower balls are some of the innovations planned by Erin's new tennis pro, to help beginners have fun while learning the basics of the game.

As a coach for 35 years, Doug Ing works on both the physical and mental skills that tennis players need in order to meet their goals – whether it is being competitive in a tournament, or simply getting the ball over the net.

Adults and children are invited to attend Try Tennis Day, hosted by the Erin Tennis Club this Saturday, April 17, from 9 am to 1 pm, at the courts behind Centre 2000. It is free and racquets are provided, along with prizes and a barbeque.

A club membership costs $85 for adults, $50 for juniors and $140 for a family. It includes free use of the courts, house league play, a singles ladder, various themed fun nights, tournaments, junior house league on Tuesday mornings (starting July 6), ladies' tennis on Saturday mornings and men's tennis on Sunday mornings.

It also includes four free group lessons, on Monday evenings starting April 26 for the kids, and on Tuesday evenings starting April 27 for adults. For more information on the club, call Brian Gentles at 519-833-9715.

Children as young as five and six are encouraged to learn the game. Special equipment helps beginners of all ages, but it is especially important for the younger ones. The softer balls are less likely to go flying out of control and Ing starts with a mini court, just 36 feet. Students can keep the ball going back and forth, even on their first day, which is almost as fun as winning.

It is called Progressive Tennis, an official coaching initiative of Tennis Canada. There are three training stages: each step brings a livelier ball, longer racquet and larger court size. This helps the player stay in control while they work on proper positioning and stroke technique.

"The idea is to get kids to a secure place, with values like sharing and cooperation," said Ing. "We start with movement, and it's important to understand that everyone learns at their own pace." He offers free assessments to determine the level of each child, so they can be grouped with compatible players.

Tennis is a livelihood for Ing, so members (or non-members) can sign up for lessons at an additional cost. There are also clinics for adults, including Cardio Tennis, Beginners, Doubles Strategy and high-paced drills. Ing can be reached at 519-217-8772.

"I just love coaching," he said. "That's really the drive for me – it's exciting to work with people and develop them."

In addition to the free lessons, the Junior Spring After-School Clinics offer eight sessions, at a cost of $80 for members. There is also a Competitive Player Development Program, which includes intensive drills and video analysis.

The Summer Tennis Camps are back, with six one-week sessions, 1-4 pm. The cost is $115 per child, per week. It includes physical exercise, skills training and match play.

With support from the Optimist and Rotary Clubs, the Tennis Club offers up to 3 slots per week for kids that need financial help to attend. Application for these slots can be made through East Wellington Community Services.

The Erin Tennis Club is a self-financing committee of the Town of Erin, which owns the courts. Guests are welcome to play when accompanied by member. The guest fee is $5.

April 07, 2010

Good riddance to the Hillsburgh Transfer Station

As published in The Erin Advocate

I am going to miss the Hillsburgh Transfer Station when it closes next month. I will have to forgo the satisfaction of loading my vehicle with trash and spending 45 minutes on Saturday making the round trip from south Erin. I will have to figure out what to do with the $200 per year I will save on gasoline.

Actually, when rural pickup starts, the main thing I will miss is the ability to deal with my garbage and recycling on my own schedule. Soon, I will have to put them at the end of my driveway early in the morning on every second Thursday. But I will be glad to never again wait in line at "the dump".

Some people are upset about closure of the station, and I do respect their sentiments. There will be new inconveniences, affecting some residents more than others. Urban dwellers will no longer have the option of skipping their pickup and bringing garbage to Hillsburgh for just $1 per large bag. Now both urban and rural residents will have to buy special bags at local stores ($1.75 for large, $1 for small).

Rural pickup every two weeks is not ideal, but it is manageable. Overall, I think the advantages of the new system far outweigh the disadvantages, and there are still opportunities for improvement, especially weekly pickup in the summer.

Environmentally, the benefits are clear. It takes a lot less labour and gasoline to operate garbage trucks than it does to have between 700 and 925 residents making weekly trips to a fully-staffed station. Rural pickup is an economical service that has been unreasonably withheld from us by Wellington County for the past ten years.

The Hillsburgh site has to be closed because it sits on an old garbage dump that is leaking pollutants. Presumably it was a matter of expedience for the Township to put a transfer station on top of a closed landfill site in 1984, but in hindsight, not a good idea. The last day of operation for the Hillsburgh site is set for May 1, but Councillor Lou Maieron is asking the County to postpone closure until the end of May.

The County's strategy, when it took responsibility for the site in 2001, was to propose a new station near Ospringe. There was opposition in Erin, forcing the County to scrap the plan. I thought the environmental risks at Ospringe were minimal, but I knew that if they built a new transfer station, we would never get rural pick-up. Instead of coming up with a new plan, the County studied, and waited.

In its March newsletter, County Solid Waste Services (SWS) brags about being "good custodians" of closed landfill sites. It appears, though, that it was primarily pressure from the Ministry of the Environment that prompted closure of the Hillsburgh site after so many years.

Here is the SWS comment on the Ospringe site controversy, from its newsletter: "Unfortunately, the County was unable to proceed with the development of this facility due to public and political opposition."

Unfortunately? That is like saying: "Unfortunately, democracy worked." Or: "Unfortunately, we had to listen to the taxpayers." What is truly unfortunate is the arrogant attitude that Erin often senses from County officials.

Fortunately, Mayor Rod Finnie and Councillor Maieron have listened well to residents and worked hard to advance Erin's interests at County Council.

Now, Erin residents are upset that they will have to drive to the Belwood Waste Facility to drop off bulky garbage, scrap metal, wood, tires, reusable items and household hazardous waste. The cost of a new comprehensive facility to handle these items for Erin-Rockwood would be far less than that of a full transfer station.

Belwood is not "conveniently located" as the County claims. Councillor Maieron said other areas in Wellington are well-served with convenient transfer stations that have far lower usage than Hillsburgh. He also estimates that garbage bag sales could cover the full cost of Erin garbage collection. "Our taxes are going to subsidize service in other parts of the County," he said.

The Belwood site is 40 minutes one way for me, but I will only have to make the trip three or four times a year. It is about 30 minutes (31 km) from Erin village, and 20 minutes (23 km) from Hillsburgh, taking County Road 22 west, north on the Town Line (Road 26) through Belwood village, then west 2 km on Road 19. The alternate route through Marsville is a bit slower.

Nothing definite yet, but there are ongoing discussions with East Wellington Community Services about creating a reuse store, where people could donate good used bulky items (not garbage), which could be sold to the public at low prices.

"We would like to generate revenue to support our other programs," said Executive Director Glenyis Betts, who hopes a location can be opened soon.