Hundreds of tonnes of car tires and electronics, and thousands of litres of used oil, will be diverted from landfills in the N.W.T. every year, if the territorial government makes good on a promise to roll out three new waste management programs over the next eight years.
Diep Duong, the director of environment protection and waste management for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources told CBC News the materials were chosen — and recently announced as areas of focus — because of the risks they pose to the environment.
The materials are also already segregated at most landfills in the N.W.T., she said, pointing out that dumps in most communities don't have a liner to prevent harmful pollutants from leaching into the ground.
"They make a lot of sense to not have in the landfill and to recover and recycle them," she said.
An expanded electronics recycling program is the first of the three programs that residents in the N.W.T. can expect to see. Although the territory already has an electronics recycling program, Duong said its scope is limited to items like personal computers and laptops.
The expansion would mean recycling a broader range of materials, she said, including small home appliances, audio visual equipment, electronic gaming equipment and power tools, within the next three years.
"Some of those items contain things like lead and mercury, and if we just landfill them straight, what happens is there's those heavy metal components that could leach into the soil and into the water," said Duong.
A pilot program to collect these items will be launched in some communities in the fall, she said.
Once a full program is up and running, it could prevent about 133 tonnes of electronics and electrical appliances from ending up in the landfill every year. Duong said that's equivalent to about 10 53-foot trailers' worth of material.
Duong said electronics are currently segregated in the landfill — but not recycled — in seven communities.
48 transport trucks full of tires
Car tires take up a staggering amount of space in landfill.
Duong estimates about 484 tonnes of tires could be diverted from landfills around the territory every year. That's the equivalent of filling about 48 53-foot trailers, she said.
In the event of a landfill fire, like one that burned for nearly a month in Hay River, N.W.T., in 2019, Duong said tires would "burn for a very very long time and create toxic chemicals."
Right now, tires are segregated in 22 communities throughout the territory.
Duong said the material can be repurposed into things like playground mats, but it will still be a few years before a program to recycle them is implemented.
The waste management strategy gives the territory until 2029 to implement three to five new waste reduction programs — and the recycling of car tires and used oil are the more distant goals.
The environment and natural resources department needs to do "more research" when it comes to recycling used oil. Duong said it's burned in used oil burners by some industries and businesses.
She estimates the territory could divert 480,000 litres of used oil per year — the equivalent of filling 40 per cent of the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool in Yellowknife.
It's too early to know how much the programs will cost, but Duong said the money to research and develop them would come from the Environment Fund under the Waste Reduction Recovery Act.
"We will put together a program that will be N.W.T.-wide and communities will participate, but essentially, the program will pay for itself rather than the onus being on the municipalities," she said.