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Credit: Stacked Films

Pete Stamper, general manager of KC Recycling in Trail, checks out electronic scrap arriving at his company, the largest lead-acid battery recycler in the Pacific Northwest

The West Kootenay industrial hub is one of 13 North American efforts cited in a recent federal report promoting the shift to a circular economy

Think COVID-19 has given the environment a breather? Not so much.

Although the pandemic prompted the biggest-ever annual decline in carbon emissions last year, it’s also generated a mountain of garbage, from takeout containers to disposable masks.

From a somewhat unlikely location in B.C., a local economic development effort aims to help change our wasteful ways. In Trail, the Lower Columbia Initiatives Corp. (LCIC) drew national attention for its efforts to tackle the climate crisis by shifting to a circular economic model. LCIC’s Metal Tech Alley is one of 13 case studies highlighted in Circular North America: Accelerating the Transition to a Thriving and Resilient Low-Carbon Economy, a recent report by federal agency Environment and Climate Change Canada.

This public-private partnership, which began in 2017 as a cluster of local technology startups and investment spinoffs from B.C. mining giant Teck Resources’ Trail zinc and lead smelter, has built a thriving circular industrial economy, Metal Tech Alley noted in a release.

“It’s really exciting, because some wouldn’t think that this is happening in rural B.C., but it is,” said LCIC executive director Tim Grouette. “We’re ahead of the curve, and it’s rewarding to get recognition.”

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Credit: Stacked Films

Trail will host the Industrial Circular Economy Conference this June

A virtuous circle

In a circular economy, Grouette explained, waste materials and energy become inputs for other processes, whether it’s as components for industrial use or as regenerative resources. “This minimizes the creation of waste, pollution and carbon emissions.”

For example, Trail-based KC Recycling extracts lead from dead automotive batteries returned by North American manufacturers. KC sends the lead to Teck’s smelter, where it gets turned into high-grade metal before going back to the manufacturers for reuse.

To build out its circular economy, LCIC is considering opening an industrial park and expanding the boundaries of Metal Tech Alley, which includes Trail and several nearby communities. From June 8-10, the organization will host ICE2021, the Industrial Circular Economy Conference.

“When we started in 2017, we were focused on the industrial Internet of Things, clean technology and digital fabrication,” said Jacomien van Tonder, project coordinator for LCIC. “Then we started to look at what we were going to do to make this sustainable. Our goal now is to embrace the circular model, use it and improve the local economy.”