(Maple Ridge Museum photo)                                The original Cottonwood depot with a truck filled with cardboard bales bound for New Westminster. These trucks were obtained by the Recycling Council of B.C. and distributed to member groups.

(Maple Ridge Museum photo) The original Cottonwood depot with a truck filled with cardboard bales bound for New Westminster. These trucks were obtained by the Recycling Council of B.C. and distributed to member groups.

Looking back: A recycling way of life

One of the roles of Ridge recycling depot is as a supported workplace.

The Ridge Meadows Recycling Society has donated its early records to the community archives, perhaps in part to keep them from being accidentally recycled – a modern threat to the paper we actually want to keep.

The records and the accompanying collection of over 650 photographs tell a story of the passion and perseverance of little more than a handful of people.

Some of those people, like the Koehn family – Dave, Julie, Kaari, and Leanne – were there at the beginning and are still involved.

Other early volunteers and prime movers were John Dressler, the Merkley family, Rachel Sibbald, Bob Cordoni, Beryl Cunningham, and Bill Archibald.

Cordoni attended an Earth Day conference in 1970 and returned fired up with enthusiasm that drove the creation of a local recycling group by 1972.

The passion and hard-working attitudes of members proved contagious and they soon drew in a number of others, including Candace Gordon, Linda King, Kelli Speirs, James Thorhaug and Vicki Bentzen McLeod.

In early 1977, the local SPEC chapter [Society Promoting Environmental Conservation], led by Ed Widmer, approached Maple Ridge council for an endorsement of their Canada Works application.

Their project would be a study of the existing garbage dump at Cottonwood and the types of material being hauled there, and would start a process of gathering recyclables brought to the disposal area.

This would be in addition to the recycling advocacy they were already doing around town.

Widmer asked that council get involved in the project by providing crews and equipment, but that was refused.

It was agreed that for a period of a year, SPEC could have the salvage income from the recyclables they collected.

Endorsement in hand and with a small income, the project began.

By 1979, there was a modest recycling depot at Cottonwood that intercepted those heading for the dump. A small baler for unruly cardboard was obtained and the Recycling Council of B.C. gave the fledgling organization a truck to take the bales to New Westminster.

In 1980, the society got its first truck that could do curbside pickups.

One image in the collection shows this first truck with “Ridge Meadows SPEC Recycling” ready to participate in the Santa Claus parade. The truck is “dressed” as a ribbon-wrapped gift and standing beside it is the Koehn family.

Leanne Koehn, who now works for the Ridge Meadows Recycling Society, is about four years old in the picture.

The Ridge Meadows Recycling Society was born in 1981, when it was seen to be time to separate from SPEC.

The society has never looked back and has won a series of awards for being well ahead of the pack in educating its community about recycling.

The closing of the Cottonwood Landfill was pivotal for the society, which lobbied the city and GVRD for space at the new transfer station, resulting in our modern facility that conducts the most comprehensive recycling operation in B.C.

One of the roles of our recycling depot is as a supported workplace. Young adults with a variety of developmental and other challenges are given satisfying work in an environment of encouragement and support.

As I’ve gone through all 650 photographs, so many have been of birthdays and other celebrations with the supported crew. This crew does important work and people who would otherwise go without jobs or colleagues, have them.

If we ever get to thinking that a small group of people of modest means can’t accomplish anything, we just need to think of our pioneer recyclers.

Val Patenaude is director of

the Maple Ridge

Museum.