January 24, 2002 Vol . 23, No. 2

A commitment to conservation

By Diane Luckow

Wally Erickson (above) loves to fish – so much so, in fact, that he owns a commercial fishing boat and has plans to sell his salmon catch at the False Creek fishermens’ wharf during weekends and vacations.

Erickson’s lifetime passion for fishing and the outdoors has led to a long commitment to environmental conservation. The manager of SFU’s central stores, Erickson initiated a trial recycling program in 1989 and established the current program in 1991. It is now one of the longest-running and most successful university recycling programs in Canada.

While many other Canadian universities are only now considering how to go green, SFU has already diverted about 6,000 metric tonnes of waste from landfill sites in the past 12 years, generating a cost savings of $500,000.

Using a global approach, Erickson rolls some of these savings back into recycling. He has used the money derived from sales of recycled materials to buy seven compactors, nine cardboard bailers and B.C.’s first all-fiber compactor, which eliminates the need to separate newsprint, cardboard and other fibers. The savings also help to dispose of more difficult and costly items, such as fluorescent tubes, batteries, and toner cartridges.

Everything possible is recycled – including all metal office furniture and fixtures, which are sold for scrap metal. “Even a discarded three-hole punch,” says Erickson. “It’s almost non-existent to find office equipment like that in garbage containers.”

Successful recycling, however, still relies on the commitment of staff, faculty and students to use the many recycling facilities provided. Preliminary results of a recent waste audit at the Burnaby campus revealed no serious contamination from toxic waste, scrap metal or other significant recyclables in campus waste containers, although Erickson says, “We could do better still with paper and deposit containers.” Overall, waste per full-time equivalent student now stands at just 58 kilograms, down from 109 kilograms 12 years ago.

“The only other thing we could do now is composting,” says Erickson. “That’s a lot more costly and more difficult.” Still, he is toying with the idea of putting a test compost site behind Strand Hall for the Mackenzie cafeteria in the east academic concourse. Waste would be pumped from a garburetor in the cafeteria into a slurry tank, then taken to North Vancouver Biotech, a firm that turns compost into fertilizer.

“It costs about the same as to dispose of garbage but we’d be doing something for the environment at the same time.” Erickson has also examined how to compost university tree clippings on site for our own use but can’t justify the cost.

Erickson’s interest in the environment doesn’t stop with SFU. He is also the volunteer president of the Delta Recycling Society. Aboard his boat, Joy II, Erickson is careful to recycle when and where he can, even when moored in isolated communities. Recently, he purchased an $800 waterless shaft seal so that his boat no longer pumps oily bilge water into the ocean.

While Erickson says he sees less garbage afloat in the ocean these days, he’s keenly aware that there are also less salmon. Ten years ago, he caught 6,000 salmon during the fishing season. Last year, he caught 70 in a three-day opening.

“We need to minimize environmental degradation,” he says, “and recover the salmon streams.”

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