Saturday, December 26, 2009

From the Local Newspaper...


By Peter Rusland - Cowichan News Leader Pictorial

Published: December 24, 2009 6:00 AM

Styrofoam is perhaps the only waste Cowichan’s successful recycling program doesn’t handle.

But Cowichan Recyclists owners Katie Harris and Aaron Bichard are tapping the Styrofoam market as locals face a Christmas mountain of the petroleum-based plastic that doesn’t fully break down.

“We’ve actually been offering to take customers’ No. 6 Styrofoam for past few months and they’re taking advantage of it,” Bichard said.

Customers pre-arrange for foam pick up, or a drop-off place.

“We only want white, block Styrofoam found around fridges and other appliances, stereos, and toys, so no meat or cookie trays, or Styrofoam with labels on it.

“Our municipalities and the regional district don’t have a way of recycling it because it was cost-prohibitive, but we have an option,” he said.

Recyclists have partnered with local EcoSIP Industries to have the lightweight waste shipped to a mainland plant where it’s turned back into Styrofoam as insulation panels and more.

“It’s 100 per cent recyclable,” stated Bichard.

Folks should call the Recyclists, not eco-housing builder EcoSIP.

“EcoSIP allows us to piggyback our collection with their truck returning to the plant, where the polystyrene will be recycled.”

The Styro-service is part of the Recyclists’ goal to help Cowichan reach zero waste instead of continuing to pay $3 million annually for shipping trash stateside or to the mainland.

Bichard’s optimistic about the local Styro-stream market.

“Already we’ve had a dozen calls from people saying they’ve saved Styrofoam for years and now there’s an option.”

The couple has also approached business-supply giant Staples about taking customers’ No. 6 foam.

Still, ferry and fuel costs remain, and there’s no government dough for disposal costs.

“There are no tax dollars at work here — this is independent of the Cowichan Valley Regional District and municipalities,” Bichard explained.

That’s likely because island Styro-recycling facilities don’t exist, he said, coupled with low public pressure for politicians to ship and recycle it.

For more, call Cowichan Recyclists at 250-732-3619, or visit

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cowichan Climate Change Vigil

On Dec. 12 more than one hundred people gathered in Duncan city square to hold a candlelight vigil, the goal being to bring awareness to the importance of action around climate change.

This song is about Solar Energy with a bit of a holiday flavour.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

How's this for a morning commute?

A little exercise, a little socializing, and a little liquid cheer to brighten your day before work...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Livin' Life by the Multiplyin' Drop

The Cowichan Valley has been a soupy mess of late, thanks to a barrage of buckets being dumped from above. (Yes, that's some poor recyling bag drowned in the sewage-riddled stew.)
A too-high tide, coupled with the non-stop rain has made for numerous road closures, more than 300 home evacuations and a world of discomfort for many residents.

Cowichan Recyclists took to the paved waterways to survey the damage and, of course, recycle.

Here's some of what we saw.

Quamichan Middle School

Residents sandbagged their homes but many found it was too little too late.

The driving range became nothing but a water hazard.

The Cowichan River exploded its banks, butting up against the dyke in McAdam Park in Duncan. The measuring stick shows the water has risen half-a-meter since overflowing the river's edge.

Because of all the wetness, our main route to Cowichan Bay was closed, forcing us to take a more vertical approach.
Going down into Cowichan Bay along Bench Road was easy. Coming back up, not so much. This photo on the right is taken at the bottom looking about a third of the way up the incline, and the video below is taken about three-quarters of the way up the hill.

After this, I'm sure no-one will question us if we trade our bikes for camels and move to sandier, more arid climes...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Late is better than never...

We came across this story done by local star reporter Sarah Simpson while perusing the Cowichan Green Community webpage.

Thought it was worth a (com)post to the blog. We've now diverted a heckuva lot more organics and a curbside program is still yet to appear.

Poll shows 'lukewarm' support for organics collection

Sarah Simpson, The Citizen

Published: Wednesday, June 03, 2009

When polling firm Ipsos Reid questioned 400 Cowichan Valley residents in March of this year, one of the questions asked was whether citizens were willing to pay an additional fee for an expanded curbside recycling program in which all food waste would be picked up regularly and commercially composted.

Despite the continually progressive nature of the Cowichan Valley, and further poll results that show the environment and recycling is of increasing importance, "I would call lukewarm support for that idea," said Ipsos Reid spokesman Kyle Baird on Wednesday evening. "Only four in 10 residents said they would be willing to pay an additional fee."

The numbers shocked Cowichan Green Community's Judy Stafford.

She thought the green-minded people of the Cowichan Valley would be more willing.

"That is surprisingly low," she said Thursday afternoon. "I wonder if it just comes down to people in general feeling a bit of a pinch and maybe at a different time they would have said yes?"

Stafford said people would likely be more receptive to the program if they didn't have to pay for it.

"These are public services," she said. "You look at European countries and these things are just part of life in so many other countries. It should be just a service that is standard. It should just be a part of life."

Stafford suggested implementing the service without a cost to the taxpayer in order to gauge interest and overall costs before asking the community to foot the bill.

"This is something we need to do as a community for the environment and we need to make it easy for people to make that change," she said. "People need to do it. This shouldn't be an optional thing anymore."

For the past three months Cowichan Recyclists has been offering a commercial and residential food waste pickup program in the region.

In the short time and with only a handful of customers, the service has diverted nearly 10 tonnes of material from the long journey to the landfill in Washington State.

Co-owners Katie Harris and Aaron Bichard are disappointed but not surprised at the results of the poll.

"The businesses and residents we have had sign up are the ones who do it because they know it's the right thing to do and they want to reduce their waste," said Bichard. "An organics collection program is an added service, so there will be an added cost, but if you're a business you will see a reduction in your garbage volume and that means reduced garbage fees.

"Many people don't understand that food waste is a valuable resource and can be used instead of buried in a landfill."

Bichard said the Craig Street Brew Pub and Just Jake's restaurant have reduced their garbage by nearly 50 per cent since signing up with the Cowichan Recyclists, and have found the change to be affordable.

"Creating a sustainable community requires individuals to step up and make changes, and separating food waste is a big part of taking this step," Bichard said. "The municipalities can take the lead, but it's up to the individuals to actually make the difference."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Nope. Double-A Train! Aaron pulls both trailers on a day other duties took Katie away.

Tony of Tony's Trailers designed a very functional hitch to tire our legs even faster.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bottles, Bottles Everywhere...

...and not a drop to drink. (sigh)

There's no denying recycling by bicycle is thirsty work, but please believe us when we tell you we did not empty every bottle in this photo.

Once or twice a month the bottles we inevitably collect get to be too much for our small storage space so we load the trailers and take a ride up to the Cowichan Valley Bottle Depot.

We'd likely go more regularly if it wasn't uphill.

Since the Terry Fox run we've been dedicating the proceeds of the refundables we collect to the Terry Fox Foundation for cancer research.

So keep on tilting them back, folks. It's going to a great cause.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pedal to Petal

We want to tell you about these guys, these bike-lovin', earth-savin' compost folk spreading the word on dirt in Victoria.

Like us, they pick up food scraps from residences for compost and, like us, they use bikes and trailers.

And their name is pretty fantastic...

Check out their blog here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

This is How We Move It

At the beginning of October, the Cowichan Green Community were slated to move to a larger office. The creators of Fruit Save, Grow A Row, Cowichan Car Share Co-op and numerous other enviro-initiatives have grown too big for their hemp-sewn britches and needed more space.

Given that the staff there are eco-warriors and their new office space is about two blocks away (181 Station Street), they decided to do a zero carbon move.

What does that even mean, you say?

Well, they used Cowichan Recyclists' bike trailers — two from the Recyclists and two from the soon to be implemented Cowichan Community Trailer Project — and a bunch of volunteer muscle.

They moved desks, books, shelves, paper, signs, posters, displays, seeds, etc. : all using no oil or fuel.

It was apparently quite a sight for the two hours it took with numerous volunteers traipsing back and forth pushing trailers full of stuff through the streets and alleyways.
Unfortunately, the staff there were so busy not producing carbon they forgot to take photos.

Here are a couple pics from when we moved a book shelf for CGC into their new office a few days earlier using the bike and trailer.

It's great to see some people are walking the walk toward zero carbon, even if it means a bit more planning is involved.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Recyclists' Summer Reading List

Right now, if you were to quickly glimpse into one of Cowichan Recyclists' raindrop-spotted bike mirrors, you'd still be able to discern that the gorgeous beauty with the sunny disposition fading into the distance is, in fact, Summer.
The good weather stayed around for longer than we expected, and we tried our hardest to enjoy it while it was here.
We have to admit, there weren't too many days spent sitting 'round in the apartment, floggin' the ol' blog box, typing updates and sharing stories.
But now that the sun is safely tucked away in the proper West Coast closet, hidden by a fresh order of grey clouds, we can get back to regaling you with recycling rhymes and adventures.

Some of the Summer's best-selling titles and synopses include:

Childe John to the Dark Compost Came

Taking place in the middle of summer, nephew John took some time from his camping trip at Gordon Bay on Cowichan Lake to help uncle Aaron pick up food waste and organics. His muscles and hard work ethic made the job seem like play, and the duo quickly finished to head back to the lake for the rest of the vacation.

Ode to the Greasy Urn

Aaron discovers the slippery nature of buckets full of bacon fat as he unintentionally fills the back of his truck with the goopy soup. Clean-up would be no problem if only his gloves weren't drowning under the freshly tipped bucket of pork slop. Will the skinny, fat-covered Recyclist learn the value of bungee cords or will he repeat his "slip-up" for the remainder of the year? Read on....

The Rime
of the Awkward Styrofoam

Since Cowichan Recyclists began two years ago, it's been a goal of the protagonists to find a solution for recycling Styrofoam here in Cowichan. The pesky plastic product has a recycling symbol stamped right on it but was not accepted in any local recycling program...until now! Join Katie and Aaron as they wrestle the bulky, light, bright, white unsightly blight on all that is right, and find a solution for the packaging pollution.

Monday, April 13, 2009


It's the middle of April and spring might actually be here. It's been above 10 degrees at least twice so far this month - or we've caught Claire Martin twice saying so (yes, we have TV — playoffs are here). As much as we like to hear bleats from baby animals in nearby farm fields, and spot colourful crocuses stirring the soil, and certainly we agree those grad-dress pink blossoms are truly delightful, for us spring brings a different kind of recycling experience.

Last week we dared to leave our long johns in the closet. We look forward to making it official: "no mitt Mondays", "toque-less Tuesdays", and moving those LJ's from a top spot on the closet shelf to a box at the back of the storage space under the stairs — a space upon which we recently bestowed a popular spring tradition. We'd like to clear our pockets of the Kleenex required to curb that continuous winter drip. It's April and we haven't been warm since mid-September last year.

Recycling in rain, wind and snow isn't always unbearable. There was that one cold January day when the white stuff was more friend than foe. Katie was sorting recycling at Steel Pacific when she reached into the bag for the next item and the object slipped (or was dropped) from her grasp. When sorting you don't expect to have your hand covered in a wet, slimy, and yet so aromatic goop. Spaghetti sauce. That glass container must have snuck by the "Clean Recyclables ONLY" sign. If it wasn't for the dirty snow piled around Steel Pacific's yard, Katie might have had a saucy hand all day. A quick dip and wiggle of her hand in the cold snowy pile and she was back in

Also, not having hose access we've come to rely on frequent winter downpours to clean out our totes. Just leave the lids off the bins for a couple of days during winter, let them fill up with rainwater and they're as good as new.

And if it weren’t for the experiences acquired on the winter streets we wouldn't have been able to pass on a practical fashion tip to friends. John and Sandra from Vancouver were visiting other friends in Victoria, so we joined them and our pal, Tasha for brunch one Sunday. City people do brunch. Sandra is extraordinarily urban: stylish, a producer for a TV station, she takes the bus to work (although being born and bred in the 'burbs she does own a car). You'll never catch her in a tent unless she's part of a National Geographic tour of Bhutan and there are lotus petals dotting the pathway to her tent. She attends art class where she sips red wine from a Juliet balcony while painting a picture of Buddha. Sandra and Tasha had spent the previous day shopping: Sandra needed new boots - the winter's heavy snow had totally trashed her black leather (insert name brand here. We missed that part, or else didn't understand what language she was speaking). Katie was able to offer a tip to save her friend a few bucks for next year: Canadian Tire black rubber gumboots for $12.99 will last a lifetime. (Note: this is not an official store guarantee).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Recyclists earn Best New Business Award

Much to our shock and surprise, on April 8 Cowichan Recyclists were recognized at the Duncan Business Improvement Association Society's AGM for the Best New Business of 2009.

President Garry Macgregor of Volume One Bookstore presented the award following an extremely kind speech about our service.

We're fortunate to have such amazing support from the business community we work with, and have been continuously amazed at the attention and success our service has had in the eyes of the community.

It's encouraging to know that we can have success by not comprising our values and are able to provide a service that is apparently appreciated by those we are aiming to help.

Congratulations as well to Susan and Nicolette at the Community Farm Store and Corfield Cafe for earning the award for Best Business of 2009.

Also congrats to landlord Geoff Maxwell for earning the Community Spirit award for his commitment to making downtown a more vibrant place.

Thanks everyone for your support.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cowichan Carbon Busters coverage gets national recognition

Two articles published in the News Leader Pictorial last year were judged the best of their kind in Canada.

Peter Rusland and Aaron Bichard received gold in Best Environmental Writing, Circulation 10,000 and Over in the annual Canadian Community Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Awards.

Rusland penned a series of stories covering the formation of the Cowichan Carbon Busters and their efforts in reducing their personal carbon footprint and that of their community.

Bichard — a former News Leader Pictorial reporter turned Carbon Buster — capped the series off with an opinion piece talking about the effort first-hand.

Meanwhile, John McKinley was awarded gold in the category Local Editorial, Circulation 12,500 and Over for a piece he wrote about the battle surrounding Buckley the mini-horse.

McKinley took silver in the same category the previous year.

The News Leader Pictorial also received a Blue Ribbon — signifying overall general excellence — from the awards program, which honours the best work of the CCNA’s more than 600 member newspapers from across the country.

The paper is also a five-time nominee in the separately judged B.C./Yukon Community Newspaper Association Ma Murray Awards, which will be presented next weekend in Vancouver.

** Note: Peter Rusland was also named a top-three finalist in the B.C./ Yukon Community Newspaper Association Ma Murray awards for his coverage of Cowichan Carbon Busters. **

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What? You bought a truck????

'tis true. 'tis true.

We, of the bike-ridin', outdoor-lovin', clean-air breathin' ilk, went out and bought a (gasp) truck.
Not just any truck. A North American built Chevy.

But, it's the imports that are leading the charge in fuel consumption, you say.
And it's the Fords, the Dodges, the Chevys that are plaguing the roads with monster trucks, sucking the earth dry of oil, you say.

Well, it turns out back in the early 80s, Chevrolet put out a small pick-up truck with a 2.2 litre Isuzu diesel engine. Only and handful were made for a couple a years, and we fortunately stumbled upon one.

So now we have a diesel truck running off locally made B100 Bio-Diesel made from waste vegetable oil collected from local restaurants.
It's kind of like completing, or at least complimenting, the circle of waste.

We pick up organics from restaurants like the Craig St. Brew Pub — who are also doing their part for the environment by brewing local beer, allowing folks like us to do our part for the environment by drinking it. The oil that comes from their restaurants powers our truck to keep their food waste out of the landfill, which in in turn is used to grow more food, which they can, in turn, cook in oil. Phew!
The foot-bone is connected to the head-bone, or so they say.

With K's trusty Jetta on its way to becoming a gigantic pop can, the truck has become our only vehicle.

Good thing we don't have many formal affairs to go to, dressed up fancy-like in our purdy gumboots....

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sayulita Recicla

Photos of Sayulita Recycling

Just north of Puerto Vallarta sits a small surfing town named Sayulita. It's a mix of wealthy gringoes, tourists and local fishers, living off the sea.

It's a typical, lazy-yet-exciting, Mexican village with one very atypical characteristic.

The folks in Sayulita have a public recycling program.

At just over a year old and started by a few expats from around the globe, the program has a long way to go before it is used correctly.

Bins line the streets and on any given day in the morning, a gas guzzling truck can be seen careering through the cobbled streets, with shirtless and open-toed show wearing workers spilling the mix of garbage and recyclables into the back.

The program is funded in part by the Punta de Mita Foundation, but most of the operating funds are collected from the sweaty brows of volunteers.

A bodega to sort the recycling has recently been built just outside of town, and now a compactor and scale have been purchased.The program is gaining steam and is something we are very interested in.

When we arrived in Sayulita for a 10-day vacation/recycling research project, we were fortunate to get to know the organizers and workers and discuss ways to help.

Aaron spent a morning riding around picking up recycling with the crew, but the work he did was more for the experience then to help with his labour.

Ramon, the owner of the recycling company, has been very interested in switching his vehicles to bio-diesel, so we facilitated a meeting with our local bio-diesel guru and good friend, Brian, who went to Sayulita a few months later.

The discussion has begun on how we can help bring recycling and bio-diesel to the hamlets of Mexico. Hopefully we will figure something out soon.

Cowichan News Leader Column

This is Aaron's piece that was part of the Best in Environmental Writing win - our trip to Mexico was in December '08.

From where I’m sitting — a sun-soaked patio on a loping hillside dotted with banana trees and coconut palms, a siesta-shrouded town lazily swinging to my right while red-backed tourists frolic in a frenzy of holiday excitement on the pristine beach below — it’s easy to imagine a winter vacation to Mexico is nothing short of positive.

The town of Sayulita, sitting humbly on the Pacific coast just north of Puerto Vallarta seems a dream away from life in Canada, where my focus of late has been on trying to reduce my personal environmental impacts and contribute to a sustainable community to call home.

My partner, Katie Harris, and I spend our days riding our bicycles to pick up recycling from businesses in Cowichan, a service now keeping more than three tonnes of waste out of the landfill per month using emission-free transportation. Building on that success, we have recently begun servicing apartment complexes and stratas, businesses and residences to collect organic materials.

As individuals, a couple months back we joined Cowichan Carbon Busters to examine ways to reduce our personal environmental impacts even further, and have in eight short weeks managed to reduce our carbon footprint by 60 per cent.

Yet here we are in the middle of winter in Mexico, eating tamales off Styrofoam plates, and sipping cervesas from glass bottles we know are destined for the landfill. We’re so fresh off the plane the heavy weight of jet-fuel derived carbon emissions makes it hard for full relaxation to occur.
There’s an environmental cost to everything we do and flying puts us all in debt.

Travel was a big focus of Carbon Bustin’ discussions and no one could agree on what justified flying the friendly skies. Was it to visit a sick mother? Maybe it was a chance to skydive? Or does making your way around the world starting programs to combat climate change mean it’s OK to recline your seat and enjoy a pack or two of pretzels?

The answer, unless we want to get into some serious stone throwing from inside our glass greenhouses, is to leave that choice up to the individual.

It may seem like a conclusion of convenience coming from a sinner with sand between his toes, but laying charges from atop a holier-than-thou pedestal hurts the cause, making eco-novices turn red instead of green, embarrassed to be caught trying the wrong approach.

While there’s no doubt those who do nothing are in need of goading and engagement, pointing fingers is divisive and counter-productive.

In Sayulita, a small group of like-minded individuals have for the past year been introducing the concept of recycling, a tall order in a country where taco stands cover their plates with plastic bags to avoid washing them.

I had the chance to help out during one of the pickups and work alongside two extremely passionate guys — Ramon and Octavio — so eager to make a difference they tore open fly-riddled garbage bags to look for cardboard, plastic and aluminum among the dirty diapers and rotting food.

These two have no time to lay judgment or be indignant that storeowners don’t recycle — they are too busy trying to educate and explain the concept in general, something we at home take for granted.

In Canada, we sometimes find ourselves discouraged with the slow moving mechanism of change.

Octavio and Ramon deal with it by forgetting about the actions of others and getting down to action themselves.

If each us do a little bit, we’ll see a difference. It’s a million small accomplishments that will lead to the biggest change.

No, we weren't knocked off our bikes...

...nor lying in a ditch somewhere, nor lost in the blowing sands of Africa, trying to find the much-famed, much-sought after Bicycle Tube of Tutankhamun. (Legend says it was made from the molted skin of a magical serpent of the Nile and can never be punctured.)
Simply put — we've been busy.

And now we're back to bloggin', with reams to report.

To start:

Carbon Bustin':

The Cowichan Carbon Busters finished the course, each member reducing their carbon footprint substantially. Guy Dauncey then got to work revising the program to an eight-week course and has since been trying to gather ten more groups to pilot the new curriculum, with the intent of getting it to the masses after that.

On a side-note, Cowichan News Leader Pictorial reporter Peter Rusland, who had written a series of five stories on the successes and failures of the Carbon Busters was named a top-three finalist in Environmental Writing for his work at the BC Yukon Community Newspaper Association's Ma Murray Awards.
Rusland also entered the series, along with a year-end column on Carbon Bustin' written by reporter-cum-recyclist Aaron, in the national Canadian Community Newspaper Association annual awards and the duo won Gold for Best Environmental Writing.

Recycling, Mexico Style:

Towards the end of December the Recyclists hopped a plane and flew to Sayulita, Mexico, where we took part in the year-old recycling program. Aaron got the chance to cruise around with Ramon and Octavio, the two workers who picked up the recycling on a daily basis. Photos here.
It was a bit of a different experience but one we'd like to continue to be involved in.

We buried (err, crushed) a friend:

After 14 years of good, reliable (oh, how rosy memories can become) companionship, Katie's Jetta decided to pack it in. It is likely now numerous Japanese vaccuum cleaners or maybe a robot. That'd be kick-ass!

We own a B100-runnin', WVO-luvin' truck:

Finally, we have a place to hang our gun rack...oh, wait a second...
It may not be the newest vehicle, nor the quietest, and the way it fills the street with the smell of burnt fries when we fire it up can at times be embarrassing, but it can haul bikes, and organic waste, and gumboots.

Our trailer project landed us in Montreal:

For a whirlwind four-day getaway, we were flown to Montreal to talk Sustainable Transportation and met some incredible people, working on incredible projects. The syrup was flowing, the Habs were scoring, and we realized Duncan may just not be the centre of all things urban as we once thought. There's more to culture, apparently, then the bacteria we throw in our homemade yogurt...who knew?

Black Tie Affair:

In March the Recyclists were recognized in the Cowichan business community with a Black Tie Award for Best Home Based Business. We were shocked, and honoured, and extremely pleased to be involved. We were also proud to be recognized the same evening as our friends and commercial organics clients Lance and Liz of Craig St. Brew Pub who won Business Achievers. Needless to say the celebrations centred around local brew.

Solar Thermal Workshop:

The Carbon Busters organized an information workshop to get the word on Solar Thermal out to the masses. More than 200 people showed up to learn about the technology and 77 signed up to switch their homes to Solar hot water.

From now on, hopefully we will be able to keep a more regular update going.

Please stay tuned.