Until the beginning of June, the Nitinaht community, located northwest of Lake Cowichan, had only one option for its community waste: send it to the landfill.
Kaila Pidwerbeski, originally from Kelowna, has been working as a teacher at Ditidaht Community School for two years.
Growing up with access to the typical blue-bin recycling program, she saw an opportunity for the school to lead a community project and get a recycling program up and running for the 200 residents.
To get things rolling, Pidwerbeski reached out to Victoria-based non-profit Synergy Foundation for help.
Since September, Synergy has been working with Pidwerbeski and the Grade 8 to 12 students (all 14 of them) to bring this recycling depot to fruition.
Thanks to services provided by Indigenous Service Canada and Recycle BC, it was determined possible to launch a recycling program for this remote First Nations community.
Community members can now drop off their recyclable materials twice a week at the student-run recycling depot located on school property.
With many locals never having access to a recycling program before, the students are there to answer questions and provide tips on best practices.
For elders in the community, they have the option to opt into the pickup program, in which a student will come to their home to collect their recyclable materials and take it back to the depot.
“The process of planning a recycling depot and then making it a reality has been an incredible journey,” says Pidwerbeski.
“As students learned about over-consumption on a mass scale, throw-away culture, and the detrimental effects of such on the environment, I could literally see the concern growing in their eyes. I think it is important that, when teaching such subject matter, students are not left in a state of doom and gloom. Arming students with a consciousness of their ability to make positive change is tremendously powerful and probably the best chance we have at truly turning things around for the better.”
Tina Joseph, a member of the Ditidaht Nation, said “the recycling initiative is a great way to lead by example.’
“Our Ditidaht ancestors, and our neighbours, took care of the land before us, and this is a modern example of Ditidaht people continuing that work today,” she said.
Synergy Foundation has received funding from Vancity Credit Union to support other remote Indigenous communities on Vancouver Island establish their own recycling depots and programs.
Synergy Foundation encourages any Indigenous communities on the island that do not have access to a recycling program and would like to set something up for their own community to reach out directly to them.