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.