For the past 7 years I’ve had the opportunity to work and hone one of my skills on the island, as a support worker, specifically for GIFTS (the Gulf Island Families Together Society), working one to one with young adults who have special needs.
One of GIFTS’ mandates, is to help young adults who have recently graduated from high school integrate into their community. One approach towards this goal, is to support these young adults in finding work.
About 8 months ago, I started working with a young adult fresh out of high school and began the task of looking for suitable employment on the island. I knew of John Quesnel and the plight of his Salt Spring scrap Metal Recycling business (who doesn’t if you read the local paper), and thinking myself that recycling in any form is not only good business, but makes good sense, especially on an island, I decided to ask john if we might be able to volunteer some time at his facility, to gain some work experience and see if this might be a good fit for the young adult in question.
I must admit, I partly had a secret agenda of my own in all of this.
I’ve always been shall we say ‘a collector of stuff.’ And being this close to a lot of stuff that people are simply “throwing away,” and being first on the scene to possibly scoop up and save some special cast away treasure from obscurity, is always a great thrill for someone with my particular interests. Spend anytime at the Blackburn Mall (which I have also been fortunate to do as part of my work), and you will see that I am far from alone in this pirate’s adventure. Nevertheless, I knew there was a lot to learn in this metal fantasy wasteland, for me and the young adult who I was working with.
Fast forward 6 months of working two, three hour days/week, rain or shine, and we have both learned much.
There is much to learn. But what I did not anticipate in this “fantasy job” was how impressed I would be with what john does with his little recycling facility, and how much he continues to do each and every week.
What working in this facility has provided me with, is a fly on the wall perspective of a business which is for the vast majority of us; a dark secret, a place of innuendo, a questionable character, all of which we really know nothing, if little about.
What I have acquired, from this point of priviledge each week, is witness to our island’s really dirty secret. The seemingly endless supply of discarded; cars, vans, campers, dishwashers, stoves, hot water tanks, propane tanks, computers, pvrs, dvd players, aluminum siding, electrical wiring, exercise equipment, long discarded farming equipment, etc., etc., etc., much of which is picked up for free from various ‘environmentally sensitive dumping grounds’ on our island of paradise and brought by john or Heath (John’s only full time staff), to the facility for recycling.
What I have also been witness to, is the care in which much of this material is treated while on premises. Every single discarded vehicle is; drained of it’s gasoline, oil and brake fluid, removed of it’s rims, tires, battery, catalytic converter, and mercury switches, all of which is then independently recycled. In addition, all of the metal that comes in to this facility is sorted into its appropriate category, whether it is; copper, aluminum, zinc, lead, or other non-ferrous materials, which is all eventually carted off the island by John or Heath for further processing.
What I was aware of before I started working here, is how much controversy this little business has elicited. I also knew, that John is one of those few dying breeds, a native Salt Springer, one of a small percentage of kids who has stayed behind to work and raise a family in the place that he was born and raised.
What I didn’t know is how much work John does. Not only does he attempt to keep abreast of all the latest recycling technologies, but he is continually upgrading his own little facility.
In the short time I’ve been there (while continually fighting the right to carry on a family business), he has; consulted and had a walk around the property with an eco-business consultant in order to create an environmental management plan for the site, had a sound engineer estimate the sound levels and frequencies that his business currently generates, replaced soil & gravel work areas with impervious concrete, installed a water collection run off system to separate run off oil from water, and is in the midst of installing a septic treatment field with a sand filtration system. All towards the aim of environmentally upgrading his facility and keeping his neighbours happy.
What I also have gleaned, from this humble guy who happens to be the vice president of our local Chamber of Commerce, is that as an activist and concerned citizen, he has taken on, not only BC Hydro, but the Islands Trust on many fronts; including; breaking the news to fellow islanders regarding the ramifications of implementing RAR (Raparian Area Regulation), taking a local Chamber of Commerce delegation to the Island Trust council on budget expenditures (specifically regarding the doubling of Trustee renumerations), and instigating and ultimately establishing the right to video tape Local Trust Commitee (LTC) meetings, making the meetings accessible to anyone with an internet connection, all while developing an organic farm on his own homestead.
Even more importantly, what I have learned from both John and Heath, is what it would look like, should this little facility cease to exist on our little chunk o’paradise. Firstly, what it would mean, is paying for multiple trucks on and off the island every day, carting off the junk that John and Heath now go around the island collecting for free. Since the on island recycling facility allows for compacting the metal into large storage bins, trucking the material (an estimated 50,000 lbs of scrap metal weekly), is condensed into one trip per week, as opposed to an estimated three times per day! Think of the added ferry congestion alone, with an additional three flatbed trucks per day on and off the island, not to mention the added fuel costs. And you can be quite certain, that an off island company would not be picking up those additional ferry costs, not to mention picking up your junk for free.
So, if for reasons of inadequate industrial zoning (which by the way, john has already spent his own time and energy working on a industrial rezoning plan), this recycling facility be deemed to be in the wrong vicinity, then we as a community should be doing everything we can to find the right place for this facility, so that it can continue to carry on, and improve upon, an already established and much needed island service (Does this sound vaguely familiar? Think Salt Spring Roasting Company).
As for you NIMBY naysayers who don’t want such a business on our little idyllic island, next time one of your trade’s person fills up his or her half ton with your scrap metal junk, or you happen to see the Salt Spring Metal Recycling flatbed strapped down and filled to the brim with relics from our technological past, follow them and see where they go. Take a little trip down Rainbow Road, and see what exactly Salt Spring scrap Metal recycling facility is doing with your unwanted stuff. You might be pleasantly surprised. You may even learn something. I know we are.