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James Steidle: The value of swap sheds

If you grew up on a farm, you learn pretty quick there’s no such thing as garbage. That old leaky garden hose? That could insulate some electric fence.
School District 57 dumps school desks and ping pong table. November 16, 2023 | Photo James Steidle

If you grew up on a farm, you learn pretty quick there’s no such thing as garbage. 

That old leaky garden hose? That could insulate some electric fence.  Better save it!

So every time I go to the Foothills Landfill I’m looking at resources that are going to waste.

A couple years ago an out-of-town construction crew rolled up next to me at one of the bins and started throwing out R40 insulation. It was in perfect condition, apparently a warranty job where a roof leak may have got some of it wet.  Nothing looked wrong with it to me, but mind you my eyes were just about bugged out of my head at the sight of such opportunity.  I diverted that waste straight into the back of my truck faster than the city could blow a million on a roundabout.  So did another guy who pulled up.  We both filled our trucks up.

Throughout the regional district, we have swap sheds.

But not in Prince George. Not anymore. 

The word on the street is some folks were getting a little over-enthusiastic about recycling.  To me that’s a good thing, but apparently it was scaring some of us. There was apparently some fighting or conflict over the bigger scores.  

Another theory I heard was we couldn’t keep track of the waste coming in for planning purposes . 

But talking to the manager of waste diversion at the regional district, Laura Zapotichney, that wasn’t it either.  I guess it was just no longer worth it. It wasn’t diverting much waste and a couple of incidents with people using the swap shed for a bathroom had raised health issues.

There are also several businesses and non-profits in town now where you can drop off clothes, appliances and materials who will resell them, she told me.  And indeed, we do have great stores in town including Christina Wall’s award winning Wall to Wall Recycling at 12B, 1839 1st Avenue.

But not everyone has the time, nor does everyone know about places like Wall to Wall (it’s actually hard to find on google, and it requires a bit of navigation to find it on the Regional District’s Sort Smart website.  You can find it under the Commercial tab).

Apparently not even the school district knows about these alternatives.  Last year I watched in dismay as a district truck started tossing away perfectly good, well, built metal and wood desks in the dump, along with a ping pong table that I guess had some bad wheels.  There wasn’t even an effort to put it in the metal recycling bin. 

Recovering waste makes our region not only richer, but happier- swap sheds are fun, a place of community to bond over a good thing, and you know what, I’m still chuffed about that insulation score!

Our institutions and governments should nurture resourcefulness, creativity, and community. The swap shed sends the old-fashioned signal that it is acceptable and beneficial to recover goods. Maybe instead of closing the swap shed because someone used it as a bathroom, how about they provide us bathrooms at the landfill? There’s been more than once when, after waiting in a long lineup and physical exertion, I personally wish they did.

The regional district is currently doing a major expansion and a natural gas recovery facility for the Foothills landfill.

But no swap shed?

There’s a lot of gold that gets buried. The last thing we should be doing is burying that opportunity in the landfill.


 James Steidle is a Prince George writer.