The flow of garbage has risen in the Nanaimo region during the COVID-19 pandemic, says local government and stakeholders.
The City of Nanaimo reports it saw 18 per cent more curbside waste material collected in 2020 compared to 2019, according to numbers presented during 2021 budget deliberations. Recyclables collected in 2020 totalled 3,917 tonnes, compared to 3,592 tonnes in 2019. Compostable material collected in 2020 increased to 8,537 tonnes from 7,059 the previous year. Landfill-destined garbage rose to 6,633 tonnes in 2020, up from 5,467 tonnes in 2019.
The Regional District of Nanaimo, which encompasses the area between Cassidy and Deep Bay, saw a direct correlation between lockdown measures and waste being generated within the area, said Larry Gardner, RDN manager of solid waste services.
During the early stages of the pandemic, garbage generated by businesses, institutions and schools in RDN boundaries decreased because of closures, but concurrently, as people spent more time at home, residential self-hauling and curbside collection volumes increased proportionally, Gardner said.
“Despite the easing of restrictions, residential self-haul volumes remained higher than normal, and was up five per cent for the year. Also, curbside collection was up approximately eight per cent for the RDN and about 12 per cent for the City of Nanaimo,” Gardner said. “This, along with the construction market, suggests that the current economy is strong, despite the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic.”
Lockdown measures eased going into the summer months, with businesses and schools re-opening, at which time garbage “began to flow to the commercial sector” again, and as the economy adjusted to “the new normal,” a strong construction market in the region led to a rise of volume of commercial waste, Gardner said.
It is hard to quantify the amount of COVID-19-related waste, such as personal protective equipment, gloves and masks, Gardner said, as “most material is bagged upon arrival” at the landfill, but as bagged material is sorted, there is evidence of “an increase in all disposable PPE, over historic norms.”
“In 2021, the same trend with residential material has continued, and although a return to historic norms has begun, it is highly susceptible to market conditions brought on by the pandemic, i.e. further lockdowns and public health orders,” said Gardner.
The non-profit Nanaimo Recycling Exchange conducted waste audits before and during the pandemic, and Jan Hastings, executive director, said there is no hard data in relation to PPE and COVID-19-related waste. However, based on anecdotal information, some organizations are throwing away more as a “protective response,” she said.
“If you have a larger institution or business [where] somebody can sort plastic from paper or cardboard or whatever, well now people don’t want to touch things and so they’re throwing away 30-50 per cent more recyclable material into the garbage,” said Hastings.
There seems to be more plastic going to the landfill, according to Hastings, and more paper as well.
“I’m not sure of the reason for that. I just think generally people are treating everything as though it’s contaminated,” said Hastings.
Ben Geselbracht, Nanaimo city councillor, RDN director and solid waste select committee chairperson, said the pandemic has caused habits to shift with increased online shopping and takeout food service delivery, which could be leading to increased waste. It makes solid waste management plan work the RDN is undertaking all the more important, he said.
“I think it’s just really important that we stay focused on the big picture of developing a circular economy and I think it’s a really important time for governments at all levels to really help support the community and put in place the regulation systems and support business to provide services that are focused on waste reduction and reuse,” he said.