Ditidaht First Nation’s children launch recycling centre for their community

volunteers at the Ditidaht Community School recycling facility.
Students from the Ditidaht Community School at their community recycling centre. Image from the Ditidaht Community School.

Prior to June of 2021, the Nitinaht community, on the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island, had only one option for its waste: the landfill.

Kaila Pidwerbeski, a teacher at Ditidaht Community School, had grown up with blue bin recycling and saw an opportunity for the school to lead a community project by establishing a recycling program for the 200 residents of Nitinaht.

“I knew I wanted to launch a recycling depot for the community but I had never done anything like that before,” says Pidwerbeski.

In September 2020, Kaila had come across The Synergy Foundation and reached out to see if they would be able to help.

“It sounded like a great initiative for their remote community and it aligned with our mission, so we were more than keen to support,” says Jen Fraser, Manager of Project Development and Communications at Synergy.

The school then brought Synergy on board.

“Ditidaht Community School hired us as consultants to figure out the logistics behind setting up a depot, the operations, and to establish how the recyclables would get from Nitinaht to another recycling facility for further processing,” says Fraser.

Two of Synergy’s team members were able to go to Nitinaht in October to complete a site visit and to connect with Kaila and the grade 8 to 12 students that would be running the depot. 

Synergy Foundation created the plan to layout the logistics and worked with Recycle BC and Indigenous Services Canada to determine a feasible and affordable solution to transport the recyclable materials out of Nitinaht.

Funding for the hauling of recyclables has been provided by Indigenous Services Canada through their First Nations Solid Waste Management Initiative.

“It was great to collaborate with them over the past few months to make this a reality,” says Fraser.

From the planning stages beginning in September, it took a full nine months before the depot was ready to open on June 2.

The students were integrated into the project from start to finish.

“We involved high school students as much as we could, from planning the depot infrastructure, to setting up the interior, to designing and painting murals on the exterior, to community outreach, to actually running the depot during hours of operation,” says Pidwerbeski.

Beginning this week, Ditidaht Lands Department will be employing three high school students to run the depot over the summer.

“This is fantastic because it creates job opportunities and experience for our youth, which can be quite limited in our small community,” Pidwerbeski adds.

The Synergy team found the project rewarding. “Working with Kaila and her students was an absolute joy,” says Fraser. “I think we all worked off the energy and excitement these students had for getting this depot up and running. It was wonderful to see how invested the students were, from showing us around their community and school, to creating informational flyers to educate their neighbours on how it would operate, to helping paint the depot to give it some character, they were part of the process from the very beginning.”

Recycling Facts  

  • The average British Columbia disposes of 505 kg per person, for the Nitinaht Community this means that over 110 tonnes was being sent to the landfill each year 
  • Accepted recyclable materials includes paper and cardboard, mixed containers, glass, soft plastic, foil lined bags and Styrofoam.
  • Not all communities on Vancouver Island have access to recycling programs, a problem Synergy  Foundation hopes to address with more projects like this.
  • Indigenous Services Canada is providing funding to the Nitinaht Community to have the  recyclables transported out of their community to Meade Creek Recycling Centre. The  operations and maintenance costs, in this case hauling, are funded at 100% for the first two years of operation.
  • The solid waste projects are funded by Indigenous Services Canada through the First Nations Solid Waste Management Initiative. The First Nations Solid Waste Management Initiative was initially funded through the Federal 2016 Infrastructure Budget, and was renewed in 2021.

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