Campbell River Environmental Committee lists its current top priorities

Campbell River Environmental Committee lists its current top priorities

The BC Ministry of Mines continues to market the Quinsam Coal mine site after its bankruptcy in 2019  |  Submitted photo

Campbell River Environmental Committee lists its current top priorities


Given the number and variety of government and commercial projects with the potential for negative environmental impacts these days, it’s difficult for any individual to stay informed.

But for the last 40 years, the Campbell River Environmental Committee has taken on the burden of informing the public about current and future environmental risks. And it has promoted environmental awareness among businesses, local government and the general public to make informed decisions.

The CREC’s current priorities include siting of a compost facility near residences, the hazards of biosolids, changes at a gravel pit that may impact Campbell River’s drinking water, provincial marketing of the defunct Quinsam Coal mine whose waste pollutes the Quinsam and Campbell rivers.

They are also concerned about tailings from the Myra Falls mine flowing into Buttle Lake and new activities on the former pulp and paper mill property.




The Comox Valley Regional District has applied to the Ministry of Environment (MOE) to construct a compost facility on land next to the Campbell River Landfill. The application falls under the authority of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management Board (CSWMB). The facility will take organics from the municipalities. BC government guidelines for compost facilities suggest setbacks from residences at 400 to 1000 meters from a residence. The CSWMB considered two sites, one 500 meters from residences and the other less than 300 meters from a residence. The CSWMB made the decision to construct this new facility where a home and family are within 300 meters.

Staff and their consultants are confident that odour (which carries airborne emissions including Volatile Organic Compounds) will be contained. CREC’s research of compost facilities existing in other locations has odour complaints from homeowners living 350 to 500 meters from composting operations.

Another issue in the composting process is possible fires. At this site beside the Campbell River Landfill, the absence of hydrants and a sprinkler system is a concern for fire suppression. This is a heavily forested area. Should a fire reach the crowns of the large trees, it could head to the neighbours or burn northeast to Elk Falls Park. Interesting to note there will be a fee on property taxes for the compost service to homeowners of Courtenay, Comox, Cumberland and Campbell River. Tell your local government and the MOE what you think.




CREC is concerned about the practice of spreading biosolids on forestry lands and for closure cover of mines and landfills. Important to note – the disposal of this end product from the municipal sewage system has many applications including to Agricultural Land Reserve farm land and in general is regarded as a fertilizer and a soil builder.

We are especially concerned about the lack of testing for substances found in biosolids such as pharmaceuticals, steroids, hormones and PFAS (Per-and Polyfluorinated Alkyl substances), also known as the “Forever Chemicals”, as documented in the November 15, 2018 EPA study titled, “Office of Inspector General-EPA Unable to Assess the Impact of Hundreds of Unregulated Pollutants in Land-Applied Biosolids on Human Health and the Environment.”

If you walk through a hardware store be aware that every liquid on their shelves could potentially find its way into the sewer system and therefore show up in biosolids. A similar walk-through any drugstore will remind you that pharmaceuticals and chemicals sold there might also become a part of biosolids.

When applied to fields and gardens, biosolids can show up in our food supply, water supply and in some cases become airborne.

CREC has been researching biosolids for the past year and has learned from numerous university and government agencies studies that biosolids can be hazardous to humans, the environment and wildlife.




It is safe to say nearly every community has or will have to deal with an exhausted porous gravel pit. The options are limited; face the costly closure and reclamation or, the most popular option for the owner, fill it with waste and collect landfill tipping fees. The Ministry of Environment permitted a landfill in the gravel pit adjacent to McIvor Lake (which flows to Campbell River’s drinking water intake).

At this point, the City of Campbell River retains zoning control of the site. However, Upland submitted a new mine application to the Ministry of Mines and – if the mine plan is approved- the City’s zoning may cease to apply to the site.

CREC’s focus of concern at this site is the possible effect of the proposed landfill leachate on Campbell River’s drinking water and the associated aquifers. Those aquifers feed local streams including Cold Creek which is the source of the Quinsam River Hatchery’s groundwater for Salmonid incubation. Our second focus is finding a reason for the unexplained higher-than-normal heavy metal concentrations sampled from the bottom of Rico Lake, which flows into McIvor Lake, and is adjacent to the permitted landfill and the mine application.




The Quinsam Coal Mine (QC) opened in 1986. Following an extensive public inquiry, the inquiry chairman declared that “the Quinsam River and its watershed are very sensitive to environmental damage” and “A properly designed and implemented mining plan should virtually assure the prevention of the formation of acid waters.”

Operations went from an open pit to an underground coal mine in the early 1990’s. After QC reported elevated sulphate levels in Long Lake, CREC enlisted the expertise of Dr. William Cullen of the Canadian Watershed Network. His research found high levels of arsenic and other metals in the sediment of Long Lake due to seepage from the companies underground 2 South Mine.

As a result, QC was required to collect and treat the seepage.

Acid rock drainage which generates acid leachate enters the groundwater: this leachate problem has no end date. QC declared bankruptcy in 2019. Nearly two years later, the Ministry of Mines continues to market this mine site. The water from this mine site flows into the Quinsam River to the Campbell River. Both rivers are jewels of the community and have high value as commercial and recreational assets.

After 14 years of annual meetings, the public annual Environmental Technical Review Committee meeting for 2020 was canceled by the Ministry of Mines, despite the ease and availability to meet electronically. A skeleton crew remains at the mine, sampling and producing reports which CREC receives.




The Myra Falls polymetallic mine is “Of interest” to the CREC as it is the only mine in British Columbia situated in a Provincial Park.

With the mine operation start up in 1966, the tailings were dumped directly into Buttle Lake at the mouth of Myra Creek. This practice was halted in 1984. Subsequent mine tailings were stored behind a berm in a tailings pond.

As of January 2021, the berm of this tailing pond was 43 meters high (142 ft or 14 stories in height). The rise (or increase) for the 2021 season April – September will be 5 meters. The plan for this tailings pond is a maximum height of 57 meters (188 ft). At this planned maximum height this berm will be the physical barrier for 1.5 million cubic meters of tailings.

CREC has been advised that the tailings pond is well constructed to safely contain 1.7 million cubic meters. In comparison, the 2014 Mount Polley mine tailings pond breach devastated Hazeltine Creek with 25 million cubic meters flowing into Quesnel Lake. A concern unique to the Myra Falls location is the excessive amount of water flowing off the mountain above the mine; this flow must be controlled and managed.

A high priority and ongoing challenge at this mine is the management of the volume and the quality of water Trafigura (the operators) release into Buttle Lake. An aside – in 1988, a second mine was proposed for Strathcona Park; this time a silver mine at Cream Lake. In response, residents of both Campbell River and Comox Valley formed a blockade and 64 people were arrested. This was the first time in Canadian history anyone was jailed for protecting a park.




Discovery Park occupies the site of the former Catalyst pulp and paper mill. The owners of this site, Rockyview Resources, are looking for income-generating opportunities. The Ministry of Environment approved an expansion to the landfill in 2018.

The recent extensive improvements to Discovery Park’s leachate capture, monitoring wells and treatment system makes this industrial site suitable for an expansion to their existing landfill. This has been an industrial site since 1952 when the pulp and paper mill started. Based on the science and the fact that the drainage is away from residences, CREC does not oppose the application currently before the City for landfill zoning.









CREC is a non-profit society, which began in the early 1970s, working on environmental issues in the Campbell River area. Our mandate is to collaborate with governments, organizations and the public for the best environmental outcome. Our focus is the water, especially the protection, security and safety of drinking water. Our approach is science-based, factual research. We make effort to leave the emotional content at the door – and work with the best science.

CREC members contribute to community committees providing oversight, advice and planning. CREC is a member of the BC Mining Law Reform Network. In community service, we become involved in a broad range of activities: site visits to industrial operations; writing letters and reports; meeting with all levels of government; working with hydrologists, geoscientists, and forestry professionals.

On the community side, CREC meets with multiple stakeholders in the stewardship and the protection of our watersheds.

We are a non-profit, 100 percent volunteer Society. We are always looking for like-minded individuals to join us in the stewardship of our watersheds. When you have the time or the sudden urge to join us, find CREC online on Facebook or at our website. Or, we can be reach via email at:



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BC forest march: Tell Premier Horgan to implement Old-Growth Review Panel advice

BC forest march: Tell Premier Horgan to implement Old-Growth Review Panel advice

Old-growth logging in the Caycuse region  |  Photo courtesy of the Anciet Forest Alliance

BC forest march: Tell Premier Horgan to implement Old-Growth Review Panel advice

By Guest Writer

About 100 people from Campbell River and Courtenay joined a province-wide
Forest March BC day of action on March 19 to call on Premier Horgan to honour his commitment to fully implement the recommendations of the Old Growth Review Panel.

The Review Panel found that since BC has allowed 97 percent of BC’s ancient forests to be logged, we are reaching a wide spread biodiversity crisis and we must make a fundamental change in the way we manage forests. The panel said it should be a prime mandate to protect ecosystems and to shift to sustainable second-growth forestry management with support for affected forestry workers.

Under the heading, “Immediate Response”, the Review Panel recommended that within six months, or “until a new strategy is implemented, defer development in old forests where ecosystems are at very high and near-term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss.”

But the six months have passed and BC Forestry Minister Conroy say the province has to keep logging Old Growth while the government puts management plans in place.

“It’s now or never” for old-growth forests

“But the whole point of the Panel’s recommendation to halt Old Growth logging was so there would be something left to protect under the new management plans,” Gillian Anderson told Decafnation. Anderson is the spokesperson for the Forest March organizing group.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs has also called on the province to immediately defer logging in all threatened Old Growth forests and to implement all Panel recommendations.

But, despite these actions, the province has scheduled logging of Fairy Creek, the last unprotected watershed valley in southern Vancouver Island, and defenders who have endured months of winter on a blockade there now face possible arrest

The Review Panel also called for support for forest workers and Indigenous communities as they adapt from Old Growth logging to a sustainable second-growth forestry industry.

“The government is only just now working on these transition plans, yet John Horgan has had four years to put such recommended management plans into place after his pledge in 2017 to bring in sustainable forestry management,” Anderson said. “Instead he went on to log a million acres of old-growth forests even as BC lost six forestry jobs a day.”

Anderson added that Forest Minister Conroy’s much-vaunted ‘deferment’ of logging in 353,000 hectares turned out to be under closer scrutiny only 3800 hectares of actual at-risk Old Growth.

“Premier Horgan wants the credit for creating an Old Growth Review Panel and the credit for promising to abide by its recommendations – even as he continues to allow logging of the remnants of this once mighty ecosystem against the Panel’s specific and urgent recommendation,” she said.

Virtually none of the recommended funding has been dedicated for the transition to sustainable, second-growth forestry or for conservation set-asides.

Meanwhile, BC taxpayers continue to subsidize the forestry industry (cutting publicly owned trees including old growth) by $365 million annually, according to the Forest March BC Rally team. They say Old Growth forests are worth more standing than a one-time stumpage fee, as they support sustainable economic, cultural and recreational opportunities including fisheries, tourism, carbon offset projects and non-timber forest products.

Friday’s rally participants urged people to call the premier’s office to implement the Old Growth Review Panel recommendations for the immediate moratorium on Old Growth logging (250-387-1715 or

“With so little of B.C. iconic Ancient Forests left, it’s truly now or never,” Anderson said.



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Blowing smoke: Campaign to overturn wood stove bylaws called misleading, ineffective

Blowing smoke: Campaign to overturn wood stove bylaws called misleading, ineffective

Burning wood has a romantic aura about it for some, but for others, the smoke causes multiple, serious health hazards  |  George Le Masurier photo

Blowing smoke: Campaign to overturn wood stove bylaws called misleading, ineffective


This article has been updated.

The days when Comox Valley people burned wood for cooking and heating out of necessity have long gone. But the romantic notion of chopping and stacking firewood to burn in fireplaces and woodstoves over damp West Coast winters has lingered on in the Comox Valley. The Village of Cumberland even celebrates woodstove culture with an annual festival.

But what was once a means of survival is now regarded as a health hazard.

Smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces is the largest driver of the Comox Valley’s air pollution, creating winter air quality that is at times some of the worst in the province. Temperature inversions, the shape of the Comox Valley and periods of calm air in winter all contribute to the problem, according to the regional district.

And it is this resulting haze that is linked to a litany of health problems.

Ultrafine particles – called PM 2.5 – penetrate deep into lung tissue and can trigger heart attacks, strokes, worsen asthma, and diminish lung function. Long-term exposure to wood smoke can cause emphysema, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and chronic bronchitis, and heighten the risk of dementia and cancer.

“We are not going backwards” — Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird

Children are particularly affected. The ultrafine particulates in wood smoke have been shown to lower birth weights, increase infant mortality and stunt lung development and function.

To cap this harmful pollution, Comox, Courtenay and Cumberland have all passed bylaws since 2018 banning wood stove installations in new homes. Courtenay and Comox bylaws go further, prohibiting wood stoves in renovations as well.

That’s raised the hackles of the Hearth Patio & Barbeque Association of Canada (HPBAC). The Ontario-based trade group, with members in the Comox Valley, recently launched a media campaign to have Comox Valley’s wood stove bans overturned.

On a new website and in radio and print advertising, the HPBAC says the bans unfairly prohibit residents from installing new “clean burning” wood stoves certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The “Overturn the Ban” campaign website also stresses the economy of wood heat, claims local wood stove businesses will “suffer unnecessarily” under a ban, and declares that “Burning wood is a way of life.”

The HPBAC did not respond to an interview request by the publication deadline.

Smoke from woodstoves is the top cause of poor air quality during Comox Valley winters | Ravi Pinisetti photo, Unsplash



Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells has called the woodstove industry’s campaign misleading.

“The majority of emails I’ve received from the public on this topic are from people who assume the City of Courtenay is banning all wood stoves, based on the ad campaign that’s been running in the Comox Valley,” Wells told Decafnation.

But in fact, Courtenay City Council has updated its Building Bylaw to prohibit the installation of wood stoves in new construction and requires a building permit to fix or replace an existing wood-burning appliance to ensure that the new appliance meets CSA standards.

“Council will not revisit this decision,” Wells said.

And he has requested the industry association to alter their campaign to remove the claim that local governments do not allow upgrades.

Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird said the industry campaign to overturn the local bans on wood stoves in new construction “is not sending the right message to residents.”

“Each council (Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland) did their due diligence in making their decision,” she told Decafnation. “I am not reconsidering my position and I will not ask Council to reconsider our decision.”

Baird said Cumberland councillors listened to Public Health Officials about the adverse effects of woodsmoke, including the latest reports and studies on the cost to the BC healthcare system.

“How many years did it take for citizens to realize the effects of cigarettes on our health?” she said. “This is the same issue.”

Comox Mayor Russ Arnott refused to comment for this story.

Comox Valley Regional District Chair Jesse Ketler said that regional directors reviewed scientific studies and local air quality testing results before making their decision to offer rebates for replacing five-year-old or more woodstoves used for home heating with a cleaner fuel source, such as gas, pellet, propane or electric heat pump devices.

“As local government, we care about our airshed and have taken steps to reduce local air pollution. These are science-based decisions that are not likely to be reversed but could be improved with further input from our regional Airshed Roundtable,” Ketler said.



“Newer wood stoves meet stringent EPA emission standards,” said the industry’s Overturn The Ban website, that fall “well within or below acceptable particulate emissions standards per hour.”

But that’s not so, according to a landmark report published in March by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), a coalition of eight U.S. state air quality regulators.

After auditing the EPA’s testing and certification regime and re-testing over 250 EPA-certified stoves, the Boston-based organization found a “systemic failure of the entire certification process, including EPA’s oversight and enforcement of its requirements.”

That failure means there is “no confidence” that new EPA-certified stoves spew fewer particulates than the old appliances they are replacing, the report said.

“The unavoidable conclusion of this report is that EPA’s certification program to ensure new wood heaters meet clean air requirements is dysfunctional,” the report reads. “It is easily manipulated by manufacturers and testing laboratories. EPA has done little to no oversight and enforcement.”

“It’s bigger than just paperwork issues,” said Lisa Rector, a policy and program director at NESCAUM and lead author of the report. “There were many things done during the testing to reduce emissions, some of it allowed but not as intended, and other things not allowed.”

To achieve EPA certification, wood-burning appliances move through a Byzantine process involving multiple third parties and potential conflicts of interest. Since instituting emissions standards, the EPA hasn’t conducted a single audit to verify certification results, the report said, in a period of over 30 years.

Now, Rector said states under NESCAUM’s guidance have to figure out how to adapt the policy to accommodate the EPA’s failings until the EPA fixes the problem, which could take years.

The report has direct implications for the Comox Valley: “At its core, EPA’s program as currently run allows the continued sale and installation of high-emitting devices… Once installed, these units will remain in use, emitting pollution for decades to come.”

CVRD is one of two in the province to exclude woodstoves from the BC exchange program | George Le Masurier photo



Jennell Ellis, the spokesperson for the non-profit advocacy group Breathe Clean Air Comox Valley, considers the NESCAUM report’s findings significant enough to refer to as “Woodstovegate,” but said other claims by the HPBAC don’t stand up to scrutiny either.

Namely, that it is unfair to restrict wood stoves because they are an inexpensive source of heat for lower-income residents.

Ellis said that although wood heat is cheap for those getting free wood, in reality, the heat source exacts a dear price from neighbours, communities, and society at large.

“In lower-income neighbourhoods, everyone is breathing the air, while only those who get free wood benefit,” she said.

Health Canada estimates air pollution causes 1,900 premature deaths in BC every year, while total health costs in Canada are pegged at $120 billion annually.

Education campaigns on wood seasoning and best burning practices are no panacea either, Ellis said, because some people refuse to change behaviours and because enforcement is difficult and shouldn’t fall on municipalities anyway.

“In order to get a clean-burning wood device, there are four things you need,” said Rector. “Good technology, good fuel, good installation, good operating practices. Modify any one of those – bad fuel, poor operation, bad technology, bad installation – will turn a device into a high emitting device.”



Finally, the NESCAUM study adds to a body of evidence calling into question the wisdom of subsidizing the change-out of old wood stoves for new ones.

In BC, an exchange program funded by the province and municipalities, and administered by the BC Lung Association, offers rebates for households upgrading from an old wood stove to a pellet stove, natural gas, propane, or electric heat pump. In most jurisdictions, the cost of new, EPA-certified wood stoves is also subsidized by $250-$500.

The Comox Valley Regional District and Sunshine Coast Regional District are the first in BC to exclude replacement wood stoves from the program.

“[The BC Lung Association] think it’s a form of harm reduction,” Ellis said. “We’re lobbying them and trying to convince them that it’s like telling people to smoke light cigarettes.”

A 2015 evaluation of BC’s Woodstove Exchange Program, covering 2008-2014 and commissioned by the Ministry of Environment, found, “there has not yet been a clear reduction in fine particulate matter pollution coming from residential wood stoves in BC.”

The evaluation speculates part of the lingering pollution could be due to a simultaneous increase in the number of households adopting wood heat but concedes poor wood-burning practices persisted despite a “significant effort” in education and outreach to teach clean-burning practices.

Another case study comes from Libby, Montana. The city of nearly 2,800 had over 1,200 non-EPA-certified wood stoves changed out for new units from 2005 to 2008. This was expected to lower the particulate emissions from wood stoves in the town by over three-quarters, but studies later showed an emissions drop of less than a third.



The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association appears to be fighting a losing battle. Local government leaders say the industry’s Overturn the Ban campaign hasn’t changed their minds.

Cumberland Mayor Baird said she has “no idea why they have chosen the Comox Valley to launch their campaign. We joined with the Comox Valley Regional District as did Courtenay and Comox to improve the air quality in our areas.”

“We are not going backwards,” she said.

CVRD Chair Ketler and Courtenay Mayor Wells both think the industry has targeted the Comox Valley because all three municipalities have created new bylaws that limit the use of wood stoves in new construction and they fear the precedent this sets for other BC municipalities.

This article was a journalistic collaboration between the Watershed Sentinel and Decafnation





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Enter your favorite tree into Comox Valley Nature’s annual contest by April 1

Enter your favorite tree into Comox Valley Nature’s annual contest by April 1

A portion of Comox Valley Nature’s Tree of the Year contest poster

Enter your favorite tree into Comox Valley Nature’s annual contest by April 1

By George Le Masurier

The deadline for nominating your favourite tree in Comox Valley Nature’s annual Tree of the Year contest is just a few weeks away. People can nominate tree before April using the organization’s online entry form.

Comox Valley Nature (CVN) holds the annual contest to identify and highlight individual trees of significant interest or importance or beauty in the Comox Valley. The goal of the contest is to foster a strong connection with nature, increase awareness of cherished local trees, and raise interest in the value and protection of trees.

Any Comox Valley resident can nominate a tree they love within the Comox Valley Regional District boundaries. To encourage everyone to vote with their feet, CVN will provide possible cycling and walking routes to visit these trees. Typically, the nomination period runs from early January until the end of March.

While our focus is on appreciating all the trees, a winning tree will be chosen by public vote. A small prize is awarded to the nominator of the Tree of the Year, and everyone benefits from learning about these beautiful specimens.

The CVN website suggests that when nominating a tree, a person should consider “their personal attraction to the tree. Is it beautiful or eye-catching? Is it ecologically or economically important? Does it have a unique history, or is it of cultural significance? Whatever your reason for choosing to nominate a particular tree, we invite you to share its story with us!”



The concept began in the Czech Republic over 20 years ago and evolved into the European Tree of the Year Award, organized by the Environmental Partnership Association.  It has since spread to several countries in Europe including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Poland, Bulgaria, Spain, Belgium, Estonia, Lithuania, Germany and Slovakia. The presentation ceremony takes place annually around March 21 which is the International Day of Forests.

CVN’s contest was started through the initiative of member Cathy Storey, with the first set of nominations solicited in 2017 and the first winner announced in early 2018. To the best of our knowledge, our contest is unique in North America.

Cathy passed away in December 2020, but her legacy is carrying on. Our 2021 contest is designated in her honour, and a memento in the form of a painting with a tree theme is being created. In addition to a gift basket, the winner of each year’s contest will have the privilege of enjoying the painting in their home for a year.


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Free webinar lectures on herring and the protection of natural shorelines in the Salish Sea

Free webinar lectures on herring and the protection of natural shorelines in the Salish Sea

Herring fishing near Denman and Hornby island in the 1980s  | Bob Cain photo

Free webinar lectures on herring and the protection of natural shorelines in the Salish Sea

By Guest Writer

The demise of the Salish Sea’s unique population of our resident killer whales confirms what biologists increasingly recognize: that the Salish Sea is “a collapsed ecosystem.”

The food chains that support the chinook salmon populations on which orcas depend have been largely driven to extinction through the destruction of beaches and estuaries that support forage fish on which chinook depend as well as through overfishing.

In keeping with its educational and civic mandate Comox Valley Nature presents a week-long series of five (5) free public lectures on the state, importance and protection of natural green shorelines for herring and forage fish starting Monday, Feb. 22 and ending Friday, Feb. 26 at 10 am.

Although overfishing is an important current public concern, shoreline armouring is no less responsible, even though it is politically overlooked. The state of Washington has recently passed very progressive laws that place the responsibility squarely on landowners, industries and municipalities to reduce and even remove hard armouring detrimental to fish habitat.

To restore BC’s fisheries to a semblance of their original productivity BC must take similar steps. The University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre recently published an important report: “Saving Orcas by Protecting Fish-Spawning Beaches”. The report explores legal avenues to enable similar legislation within Canadian law.

Dr. John Nielson (DFO) will kick things off with an overview of the state of herring off Cape Lazo. That will be followed on Tuesday by the UVic Environmental Law Centre presentation.

On Wednesday, Feb. 24 internationally Dr Ignacio Vilchis from San Diego Zoo who is internationally recognized for his work on the negative impacts of hard shores on seabird populations will present “Assessing seabird ecological correlates to inform conservation.”

On Thursday, Feb. 25, Dr Robert Rangeley from the non-profit “Oceana” will present a report on Canadian Fisheries and the importance of forage fish in “Rebuilding fisheries: unlocking Canada’s potential for abundant oceans .

The series will close with Salish Sea Herring Archaeology, an eye-opening overview of the state of herring before contact, as revealed from archaeological reconstructions, by UVic’s Dr Iain McKechnie.

The series is hosted for Comox Valley Nature by the Canadian Society of Environmental Biologists. The webinars are free and open to the public. URL’s for registration is can be found at the CVN website under the heading “CSEB Webinars”,

CVN is a non-profit always welcomes new members. Inquiries should be directed to Dr L. Maingon (250 331 0143). Parties interested in the status of herring in the Salish Sea are encouraged to also sign up for the Hornby Island Herringfest.


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Did you know: We drink Canadian beer out of American cans, where’s the logic in that?

Did you know: We drink Canadian beer out of American cans, where’s the logic in that?

Photo Caption

Did you know: We drink Canadian beer out of American cans, where’s the logic in that?


During the recent aluminium tariff “trade war” between the US and Canada, the lowly beer can became a sign of the entire debacle. It began on August 6 when the US announced a ten per cent tariff on aluminium from Canada, to take effect August 16.

This was the second time in three years that such a tariff had been imposed by the US, with the Trump administration claiming that Canada had unfairly increased its exports and become a “threat to US national security.”

On August 28, the owner of a small Ottawa brewery told CBC Radio’s “As It Happens” that the tariff was costing his company an extra two cents for every can because no beer cans are manufactured in Canada. Statistics Canada data from 2018 shows that Canada imports more than two billion beer cans annually.

So we brew our own beer, we smelt the aluminium, but we import the beer cans. It’s hard to see the logic in that.

Indeed, after the US tariff announcement, Jean Simard, the president and CEO of the Aluminium Association of Canada, told the New York Times (August 6) that he would be pushing the Canadian government to retaliate by applying tariffs on American-made aluminium products. “We can drink Canadian beer out of Canadian cans,” Simard said.

But on September 15, just hours before Canada was set to impose its own aluminium tariffs, the US government-backed down and removed its tariffs. Mr. Simard then seemed to have lost his resolve about beer cans and instead was quoted as saying that “you can’t manage trade on a commodity like aluminium.” Simard did not respond to requests for an interview.

For her part, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland declared, after tariffs were dropped, that “common sense has prevailed.”

But a closer look at the aluminium situation suggests that common sense has little to do with it. In fact, like most globalized businesses, the aluminium industry looks more like a Rube Goldberg-style absurdity machine than a model of “common sense.”

A century ago, financiers from the US and UK selected Quebec as the site for aluminium production because of its hydropower potential and set about erecting dams to power a smelter complex throughout the Saguenay River Valley. The Inuit and Cree communities had little say in the process that displaced them for the sake of a North American aluminium industry.

Canada now has nine primary aluminium smelters – eight in Quebec and one in Kitimat, BC – with three owned by US-based Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), five owned by UK/Australia-based Rio Tinto (which bought Alcan in 2007), and one (Aluminiere Alouette) owned by a consortium that is six per cent owned by Quebec. It’s hard to consider this a “Canadian” industry, but that’s the euphemism that is always applied. These are the members of Jean Simard’s Aluminium Association of Canada. Oddly, the US administration considered a US company (Alcoa) – which owns one-third of the Canadian smelters – to be a part of this “national security threat.”

Aluminium is infinitely recyclable and melting aluminium for recycling uses 95% less energy than using virgin ore.

Bauxite, the ore that is the basis for aluminium, is not mined in Canada, so the smelting companies import the ore from Guyana, Jamaica, Guinea, and Australia. The ore travels thousands of miles to the smelters by fossil fuel-powered vessels, a factor not calculated into the industry’s claims to be a low-carbon venture in Canada (due to the use of hydropower for smelting rather than gas or coal).

Alcoa and Rio Tinto are also the world’s top two bauxite mining companies, owning many of the mines in those countries, where they have been accused of environmental and human rights violations. Rio Tinto is currently under fire for destroying Aboriginal heritage sites in Australia.

These smelters are called “primary” because they only accept “virgin” input (bauxite and/or alumina), not recycled aluminium. In this, they are like the plastics industry, which insists on “virgin” input rather than adapting to utilize the mountains of plastic waste.

Aluminium, however, is infinitely recyclable, and according to, melting aluminium for recycling “uses 95% less energy than using virgin ore” because the temperatures needed are significantly lower than primary smelters.

Light Metal Age magazine states that there are some 42 secondary aluminium producers in Canada (four in BC and most in Ontario and Quebec), which take recycled aluminium for melting – but currently their capacity is paltry compared to the big nine smelters, who send their aluminium ingots, rolls of sheeting, etc. to the US.

Huge companies such as Crown Holdings Inc. (global headquarters in Yardley, Penn.) and Ball Corporation (global headquarters in Broomfield, Co.) manufacture billions of beer cans to sell back to Canadian breweries. Ball Corporation buys some of its aluminium rolls from recycler Novelis.*
Green agenda



A spokesperson for labour union Unifor – which represents smelter workers – told me by phone that they would be in favour of Canada manufacturing its own beer cans on a large scale. “We are in favour of an increase in any sector of manufacturing in Canada,” he said, and added that Unifor is “not opposed” to using recycled aluminium.

Perhaps a lesson can be learned from Canada’s experience with personal protective equipment (PPE) for the pandemic. Initially, Canada was importing all its PPE from other countries. But in March, according to The Energy Mix (Sept. 4), the federal government issued a “call to action” and more than 6,000 Canadian companies offered expertise and capacity to manufacture what was needed, and 1,000 companies retooled to manufacture PPE.

This is an indication that the industry can “turn on a dime” when necessary.

Maybe it’s now time for recycling to turn on a dime. Year after year, Statistics Canada data has shown that our recycling of metal is on a downward trend, with less and less diverted from landfill. Perhaps if there were regional secondary aluminium producers in every province, along with local can manufacturers to supply the more than one thousand small breweries across the country, we would “drink Canadian beer out of Canadian cans.”



Before being bought up by Rio Tinto in 2007, Alcan created the means for turning billions of discarded aluminium cans into new ones. In 1989, it established “melting facilities” for UBCs (used beverage containers) at five locations, including at Berea, Kentucky. By 2001, the Berea plant had become the largest aluminium recycling facility in the world.

In 2005, this part of Alcan was spun off as a company called Novelis and in 2007 it was bought up by the Indian conglomerate Aditya Birla Group. By 2019, Novelis was recycling 60 billion beer cans per year, accounting for 61% of the company’s recycled content. Ironically, the cans are shipped from recycling centres around the world.

Novelis had long touted its “urban mines” rather than geophysical mines, which may be why Rio Tinto showed no interest in Novelis when it purchased Alcan.

Joyce Nelson is a contributor to the Watershed Sentinel and quarterly environmentally focused magazine headquartered in the Comox Valley. Her latest book, “Bypassing Dystopia,” is published by Watershed Sentinel Books.



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