Tall, colorful recycling bins are a common sight in Vancouver, BC Canada. The Greater Vancouver Regional District (also known as Metro Vancouver, or GVRD), which encompasses more than 20 cities up and down the southern coast of British Columbia, has had an aggressive recycling program in place for more than 15 years. Single family homes, apartment buildings, businesses, hospitals, malls, construction sites and Skytrain facilities throughout the Vancouver area have adopted Metro Vancouver's recycling policies, which ensure that paper, cardboard, plastics and other materials are diverted away from landfills.
In 2011, the metro area took the program to a whole new level, by proposing its Zero Waste Challenge. The program does more than just divert materials away from the landfill. It sets ambitious goals for reducing the actual waste that is generated in the metro by 2020, and in the process, provides opportunities and incentives for new recycling and clean energy industries throughout the Vancouver mainland. It also encourages private residents, businesses and local governments to change their outlook toward what can be recycled or reused.
Metro Vancouver now reduces or reuses or recycles about 55 percent of all the solid waste,” says Glenn Bohn, who serves as Metro Vancouver's communications specialist. The region's recycling rate is approximately double the national average in Canada.
“Our goals are to increase that to 80 percent waste diversion by 2020, and 70 percent by 2015.”
Its first step in accomplishing these goals is to ban organic waste from local landfills by 2015. Studies that Metro Vancouver has conducted show that approximately 40 percent of the region’s landfill waste consists of organic materials from sources private residences, businesses and construction sites.
That means, says Bohn, that organic garbage ‘like the leftovers from the back of your fridge, that used pizza box commingled with all the garden lawn clippings and tree pruning (materials)” will be prohibited at landfills, and instead sent to an industrial-scale facility for processing as compost, biogas and other products.
The ban also refers to wood and discards from demolition and construction sites, which Metro Vancouver estimates amounts to more than 1 million tons of waste each year. The region believes that it can reduce its landfill waste by approximately 155,000 tons a year just by diverting demolition materials such as wood away from local dumps.
Organic processing has actually been in effect in the city of Port Coquitlam (adjacent to the city Vancouver) since 2008. The idea has since caught on in other cities around the Lower Mainland.
“So now we have a pretty robust system,” says Bohn. The idea has caught on in single family homes, where the GVRD’s recycling guidelines have been well received and easy to implement. “We're (now) looking at how to expand that into multi-family homes like apartments and condominiums,” where it has traditionally been harder to introduce and standardize recycling procedures.
Of course, a robust organic processing program and aggressive recycling initiatives require more facilities to handle the diverted waste. Fortunately, there’s been no shortage of companies that are willing to step up to the plate. Harvest Power has been developing a biogas facility in the adjacent city of Richmond that is expected to help with processing organic materials. Two other biogas plants, Earth Renu and Surrey Biofuel, also in the Vancouver area, are expected to come on line in the next couple of years. Surrey Biofuel is expecting to be the largest such facility in Canada, and will be financed in part with a grant from the (federal) government of Canada.
Composting facilities, which include the organic composting facility Enviro-Smart Organics will also be spread across the Metro Vancouver’s 1,111 square-mile area/2,877 square km area, providing a network of facilities to process everything from agriculture waste to discards from industrial food processing plants. Ecowaste Industries will provide a number of services including soil blending for the bioremediation of contaminated soils.
Bohn says that once the various residential and commercial sectors are on line, and single family, multi-family, restaurants, construction and other businesses have recycling practices in place, “then designate an outright ban of foodscraps in the garbage.
At the present time, 16 of the 22 of Metro Vancouver’s municipalities offer food scrap collection, so the region is well on its way to reaching this stage of its Zero Waste challenge. It also puts it on the road to reducing its total waste output by10 percent by the year 2020, something Metro Vancouver says will be essential for western Canada’s burgeoning population center.
Photo of yellow Skytrain recycle bin courtesy of Bill Stilwell.
Photo of blue Vancouver City bins courtesy of Carolyn Coles.
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.