St. Elias Community School – Haines Junction

Cindi Cowie started working at St.Elias Community School, in Haines Junction, four years ago, and has always found recycling and composting to be important. Shortly after she began working at the school, Danny Lewis from Raven Recycling came to Haines Junction and gave a presentation about waste diversion. At the time, the school had a small amount of recycling going on, being lead by Cathy McKinnon, but Cindi was inspired to see how she could expand what was being done.

Through Danny, Cindi was put in touch with David Black at the Yukon Department of Education. David was already working on a recycling pilot project with two schools in Whitehorse and was happy to provide recycling bins for their school; this made things easier for Cindi, since it meant that she wouldn’t have to ask the school for money for the bins. Shortly after that, David and Danny came to the school and gave a presentation about which items went where in the three bins provided: white paper, mixed paper and non-paper items. Each classroom had all three bins, as well as a small compost bin.

At first, it was Cathy and Cindi doing the work of taking all the recyclables to the town’s recycling centre and sorting them. However, over the course of a year they were able to expand the recycling program with the help of the school’s Green Team student members. Ranging from ages 7 to 13, the Green Team’s approximately ten members now go through the school about once a week to collect the bins from all the classrooms and empty them into the larger bins at the main recycling station by the school’s staff room. At the end of the week, a smaller group sorts everything and puts it all in a truck to be taken to the centre.

The Green Team has been going for two years now, and one of the most exciting developments has been that they are now being paid for their recycling and composting efforts. The Department of Education gives them $20 for each compost drop off and $6 for each bag of recycling, which adds up to around $50 every week. Every few months, when the group has approximately $400 collected, they all get together to decide where it should go. They tend to make sure to address any need for funding in the Haines Junction community first, and then will often send some money to groups like the Whitehorse Food Bank and the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter. The group is also supportive of the organization Little Footprints Big Steps, which works with children and youth in Haiti, so some of their money often goes to them as well. At the end of last year, the group also made a donation of $250 to Zero Waste Yukon to support the campaign.

Cindi is impressed by how the program has grown since she first got involved with recycling at the school, and sees waste diversion growing in importance around Haines Junction as well. There are other staff members at the school who support her work, and the principal’s support has really helped the project to continue. As well, the person organizing this year’s Christmas concert is planning a “Green Christmas” with all the props made from re-used materials. Around town, recycling bins are now present at municipal buildings like the skating rink and the community centre; at least one council member is extremely supportive of waste diversion initiatives. Not only that, but the local Champagne Asihik First Nation has just recently started picking up recycling from their member’s houses.

Cindi is looking to the future, and is hoping to bring in a larger bin for cardboard since that is the item that takes up the most space. She also has ambitions for a commercial composter at the school, which could in turn go into a community garden or greenhouse at St. Elias – though she says that it may need to be someone else who takes on that project.

Cindi admits that there’s still a ways to go, but that spreading the word is a good first step. “The whole thing is educating people and getting them to be open to it,” she says, “many people don’t see recycling as an option and it’s a challenge to get people to change their habits.” Fortunately, recycling also has the support of an extremely influential group of people: the town’s kids, who are encouraging their parents to increase their own recycling after seeing it being done at their school.

Yukon College

The best meeting you’ll be invited to is a CRAP one at Yukon College

They gather regularly, usually in the same location, handy to a microwave since the only time they can meet to discuss Composting, Recycling, And other Projects (yes, that acronym is CRAP) is generally at lunch because of hectic, busy schedules.  They are meetings where passion and ideas meet action.

The CRAP committee began in 2008 as a special project, staring with small steps that make a big impact, like swapping out garbage cans in washrooms for composting towels, and setting up compost bins in the Yukon College kitchen so that all kitchen compost could be picked up by City of Whitehorse trucks and contributed to the City compost facility.  Members have come and gone, but there is always a consistent and inventive group of people involved.  Science Instructor Gerald Haase has sat on the committee for four years now with no intention of slowing down.  “It’s really gone from an ad hoc committee to deal with one time purchasing of materials to being defined by a much larger scope of projects, which is why it’s called CRAP in the first place!  We didn’t have to stop at compost and recycling,” and so they haven’t.

In fact, Yukon College is one of almost forty institutions within Canada that have memberships with Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) whose mission is to “empower higher education to lead the sustainability transformation.  We do this by providing resources, professional development, and a network of support to enable institutions of higher education to model and advance sustainability in everything they do, from governance and operations to education and research,” according to the organization’s website,

Already, in the past year, the group has received Special Project and Capital Funding through Yukon College to hire eight students for one week to build Zero Waste Stations, in support of a larger project of partnering with the Yukon Government’s Zero Waste Action Plan.  Discussions were had between Yukon College CRAP Committee members and Kristina Craig, part of the Zero Waste Yukon team. “When we met with Kristina to talk about the Zero Waste Campaign, it was a happy match right from the beginning. The Zero Waste Campaign was going in a direction that Yukon College was already committed to. We’ve been trying to divert materials from the landfill and there are so many better ways of dealing with waste than dumping them or burning them – even for energy. It just makes sense to cut down on waste right from the beginning,” says Haase.

The focus is on students and staff and every year one of the first orders of business is to engage an interested student and have them sit and share in the meetings.  The Yukon College Student Union has agreed to help facilitate picking up the recycling with the Welcome Centre in order for the money made off the bottles to go back to students this year.

Discussions around the table can vary from marketing campaigns that will make an impact, such as coffee cozies having messaging on them encouraging people to buy a sustainable mug; regarding custodial staff duties changing from garbage removal to dealing with some recycling components; and recently, eliminating all garbage cans from all classrooms, and most offices on campus and having about 20 Zero Waste Stations set-up throughout the main areas of the building.

Below are some photos of the shop students building the Zero Waste Stations.

BYTE Yukon

BYTE Yukon has been working with a Zero Waste philosophy for a number of years. In addition to the basics of recycling (paper, plastics, bottles & cans) they have also implemented the following ideas:

  • There are more recycling bins than garbage bins spread about the office to help ensure that people’s first instinct is to recycle
  • All paper products purchased by the office are 100% recycled. This includes printing paper, paper cloths, toilet paper and even our Christmas cards at the end of the year!
  • They have purchased a duplex printer so all printing is automatically double sided.
  •  We only purchase green cleaning supplies for the office.
  • Our photocopier and other power-hungry devices are always switched off when not in use.
  • We have 2 vermicomposting bins to help reduce our waste output.We also have a full Green Office manual to provide guidance on keeping our footprint as small as possible.

They have also created a free store within their office for people to “give and take” from and it’s a big hit!