Small question of trash bin size has a big impact

There is a lot happening on the trash front right now.

The New Westminster Environmental Partners have been talking a lot of trash this year, as solid waste and it’s reduction, is one of our key initiatives for 2010. Trash is timely right now, with all the recent talk of Cache Creek Landfill limits, waste-to-energy plants, and Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Challenge.

Right here in New Westminster, the City is preparing to roll out its automated trash collection system. With the trucks on order, and the crews ready, the City is now about to make the one decision that will likely have the biggest impact on waste reduction goals in the City over the next 15-20 years: what size of bins to buy?

There is lots of info over at the NWEP website about what the City does now, what some other Cities have done, and where the New West is going. However, that hastily gathered info is already out of date. At Wednesday’s Environmental Advisory Committee meeting, City staff introduced the report that will be going to council on Monday, and it shows that Staff recognize that we don’t need bigger bins than we have now, and that moving to larger bins does not reflect our commitments to waste reduction. This is a good sign; and let’s hope Council is on the same page as Staff about this.

The NWEP still have some concerns about the plan. For example, the 240L Green Waste bins seem ridiculously large for anyone who composts in their back yard. Apparently, this report is going to council on Monday, and some NWEP members will be going as well to speak to several waste reduction issues. Stay tuned!

Taking the ‘Zero Waste Challenge’

This is a guest post by Coquitlam City Councillor Fin Donnelly, a member of the Metro Vancouver Waste Management Committee, Executive Director of the Rivershed Society of British Columbia and a candidate for NDP Member of Parliament in New Westminster-Coquitlam-Port Moody.

Photo: Proggie
Though garbage is far from glamorous - it's one of the most important issues we can be talking about right now. Photo: Proggie

“If we know TODAY that it’s possible to divert up to 82% of Metro Vancouver’s solid waste then shouldn’t we be aiming for that NOW, and then to 90% and eventually 100% diversion?”

That was the question I put forward at a recent Metro Vancouver Waste Forum where the debate significantly focused on whether to burn or bury our garbage.

With nearly 3.5 million metric tonnes of garbage being produced in Metro Vancouver every year, waste management is one of the largest environmental concerns facing the Lower Mainland and a political hot potato that many politicians would rather transfer to a neighbouring municipality (or nation) than face head on.

Currently, Metro Vancouver recycles just over half of the waste created in the region each year. This means about 1.8 million tonnes is recycled and about 1.6 million tonnes is sent to landfills in Vancouver and Cache Creek or burnt in the Burnaby incinerator.

In 2006, as a (then) Greater Vancouver Regional District (now Metro Vancouver) Director, I put forward a ‘Zero Waste’ motion, which passed unanimously and developed into the Zero Waste Challenge; which now aims to divert 70% of the regions waste by 2015 (currently we recycle 52% of our waste).

Metro Vancouver staff has identified 18% of material, currently in the waste stream (e.g. paper, paperboard, cardboard, food & other organic waste, and wood), that could be fairly easily diverted (recycling this material would get us to 70%). Metro staff has identified a further 12% of recyclable material in the waste stream that could be diverted, although they claim a significant investment in tax dollars would be needed to change the system and people’s habitat to divert this amount of material. However, if we were able to remove this material from the waste stream, we’d move to 82% and be among the world leaders in waste diversion and recycling.

Though garbage is far from glamorous – it’s one of the most important issues we can be talking about right now. We have a choice to make with our waste: Invest in increased recycling and green jobs, or continue with the more traditional methods of burn and bury.

I say, instead of introducing 3-6 waste-to-energy incinerators in the Lower Mainland, let’s create 3-6 recycling centers or Eco-Parks. This would create many local, green jobs, reduce impacts to our climate and air quality, and put us on the path of becoming world leaders in waste diversion – which is pretty exciting – at least as far as garbage goes!

As a final thought, I leave you with my initial question: if we know TODAY that it’s possible to divert up to 82% of Metro Vancouver’s solid waste – shouldn’t we be aiming for that NOW and then to 90% and eventually 100% diversion?

Visit and let Metro Vancouver know where you stand on this issue.

Curbside compost pickup could come to New West in 2010

Mechanized arm lifting a cart (Photo: City of New Westminster)
Photo: City of New Westminster

Change is a-comin’ for New West’s garbage pickup. Sadly, it’s not text-message reminders on garbage day (I always forget!). Starting next year, New Westminster will begin replacing our aging fleet of garbage trucks with automated trash pickup – and potentially also begin integrating a kitchen waste collection program.

Trash, and what to do with it, is of great concern right now in the Lower Mainland as a whole. It’s not just a question of whether to bury it, burn it, or truck it to the United States. It’s a question of how to change people’s everyday behaviour.

The best way to deal with our trash is for each of us to produce less waste. The only way to achieve Metro Vancouver’s worthy goal of ‘Zero Waste‘ is to reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover more waste rather than keep sending it to the landfill. Our existing recycling programs now divert about half of our garbage from the landfill, but we still produce more garbage than we can handle.

To reduce our waste further, the region is targeting new programs and policies that will make it easier for everyday folk to reduce their contribution to the landfill. For example, the metro region recently signed a deal that will allow it to expand curbside yard-waste collection to include kitchen scraps for composting. Port Coquitlam was the first city in Metro Vancouver to implement such a program, diverting an estimated 1,400 tonnes of garbage each year.

Waste audits by Metro Vancouver and other jurisdictions, as well as a pilot study in Port Coquitlam, indicate that 16-26% of our garbage is kitchen waste suitable for composting. In the City’s study in February, participants produced about 2.5 kg of kitchen waste each week, and collection of that waste would reduce their annual garbage weight by 16.5%.

– City of Port Coquitlam website

New Westminster hasn’t yet fully committed to doing the same, but city engineering operations manager Jon McDonald told me via email that the city is “reviewing the opportunity” and could add kitchen compost collection to the ‘clean greens’ pickup as early as spring 2010 (phase one of the new garbage truck rollout).

Unfortunately, kitchen waste pickup would not be available to our city’s many apartment-dwellers and restaurants, however. The city’s website says that no changes are proposed to garbage pickup for residents of townhouses and apartments or commercial pickup. I followed up with Jon on this, and he replied, “Unfortunately, we have no plans at the moment. I agree that multi-family is going to require assistance with composting and we will be tackling that, in some way, after we get the single family residential up and operating. I have a staff position in the 2009 budget that when hired is intended to devote much of their time to these initiatives.

Homeowners can easily compost without the city’s help (or via the $30 backyard composting program). It’s not as easy for condo-dwellers. I’d like to see something for our condo-living neighbours. Perhaps in the interim it could be a program to raise awareness and/or further lower the cost of the worm composting program, which currently costs $35?

To summarize, here are the ‘pros’ of the new system:

  • More efficient – fewer trucks needed to cover same area
  • Fewer workplace injuries as mechanized arms do all heavy lifting
  • Lower staffing costs – only one person needed per truck rather than two (note: there will be no job losses at the city; vacant positions will simply remain unfilled)
  • No need for large garbage bags in bins – or any bag at all for greens & kitchen waste
  • Behavioural engineering: households that produce less waste could pay less (and get smaller trash bins) than households that produce more waste
  • If/when recycling implemented (a potential phase two, likely starting in 2012), it would be a comingled system – means no more sorting paper from plastic! Instead, sorting would be done at the recycling depot.

And the ‘cons’:

  • Slightly higher cost to taxpayers for garbage pickup – about $5-10 more a year than it would cost to continue the current system, plus a possible $130 one-time cost to homeowners to replace old garbage cans with standardized ones to accommodate the machines (note: it looks like the recommended approach is for the city to finance the purchase of the bins and amortize the cost over several years, rather than charging homeowners up front)
  • When recycling included in automated collection (phase two), glass pickup will not be included – people will likely have to bring glass recycling to a central depot. This could reduce glass recycling compliance.

Overall, it looks like this change will introduce administrative efficiencies, however the city must be careful that it keeps supporting programs that make it easier for all New West residents to reduce waste, not just those of us living in houses.

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Metro Vancouver Seeks to Amend Solid Waste Management Plan

In my mailbox today, I got a little piece of paper that appears to be junk mail. Upon further inspection, it was a blurb from the Metro Vancouver letting me know they are seeking to amend their solid waste plan, by exporting our garbage to the United States. The Cache Creek landfill, long one of the Lower Mainland’s dumping grounds, is closing down in 2010 and the powers that be apparently went, “Huh. Well. What are we going to do wih all that garbage?”

So they have two proposals they want the public’s input on:  

One proposal will see part of our garbage delivered via truck to a Surrey facility, where it will be transferred to rail, and will then go through Surrey, Delta, and White Rock, and eventually make its way to the Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Washington State. Another part of our garbage in loaded containers will be transported along Highway 1 via truck and will head south to the US along Highway 11 in Abbotsford, and then to Sumas, Washington, where it will be transferred to rail.

The other proposal will see part of the garbage delivered to an Annacis Island facility, where it will be transferred to rail, and it will go via train through New Westminster, Surrey, Delta, White Rock, and then cross the border. The other part will be delivered via truck along Highway 1 to Chilliwack, and then transferred to rail, where it will head south through Abbotsford and finally into the United States, eventually ending at either a landfill in Oregon or a landfill in Washington. 

Here’s a wee map of the proposals, courtesy of the Metro Vancouver, although I find it slightly alarming that once the proposed garbage routes hit the United States they apparently disappear into the ether and cease to exist:

Here’s where I get all ranty. I have two beefs with these “plans”.

One: why aren’t they teaching people how to reduce waste instead of just trucking it off to somewhere unseen? Recycling compliance is, to be blunt, terrible. People still throw away items that are perfectly recyclable or reusable (and I am guilty too) and worse, there are many recyclable items that you can’t even put into the municipal curbside collection bins. Here at Chez Arbo, we’ve made a point of hanging onto all of our packaging from items we buy at London Drugs, since they claim they will take back all packaging from items purchased at their store but it’s a cosmic pain in the butt to have to find a place to store bulky items like styrofoam until our next trip to the store. We also make the effort and take  certain items, like code 6 or 7 plastics, to the municipal recycle centre at Canada Games Pool because we can’t put it into our recycling bins in the waste room.  But we can’t compost in our multi-family housing complex and so all those green scraps go straight into the landfill. The Vancouver Sun reported in late 2008 that recycling in multi-family housing is pathetic, at best. Citizens aren’t able to put a lot of items into any of the recycling depots – curbside or not – because facilties don’t exist. You know those Tim Horton’s and Starbucks’ cups? NOT RECYCLABLE. Seriously. The corrugated paper jackets are. The cups and lids are not. 

While I can understand that an immediate solution needs to be found, where are the educational initiatives? There is a Zero Waste Challenge initiative at a regional level, and that’s great, but why isn’t there some sort of Green Action Team all over the local media, conducting educational seminars, talking to children at schools and teaching new residents and homeowners what they can do? Why aren’t they approaching groups like The BC Apartment Owners and Managers Association to try and get more people on board with recycling? Where are the municipalities standing up and being leaders in green initiatives and lowering waste? Why is the town of Leaf Rapids, Manitoba (no offense, Leaf Rapidians) beating us to the punch banning plastic bags? Aren’t we known in BC as the Greenie Weenies? Aren’t we supposed to be granola-eating, fleece-wearing, Birkenstock-sporting, hippies in disguise? I mean, come on, Greenpeace was born here. Why is some town in Manitoba taking a more proactive stance that we are? I realize a lot of these are rhetorical questions but I doubt I am the only person asking them. 

Beef Number Two: The old saying “Out of sight, out of mind” really applies here. If people don’t know where their garbage goes, why on earth will they care? Have you been to a transfer station lately? Holy cow! The amount of items being thrown away that can be reused, given to charity, or given away on sites like Freecycle  and Craigslist is ridiculous. Surrey has a great, well-used site called Surrey Reuses – I’d love to see New Westminster come up with a similar site. I’ve got about ten things I’d happily give away for free right now if such a site existed because I’d love to pass on my things to someone who isn’t planning on reselling them – which is what I find happens with most stuff I give away for free on Craigslist and that drives me crazy and is a whole other rant. 

The Metro Vancouver Regional District is looking for the public’s input to the two proposals to deal with solid waste, and with the possibility of garbage being transported through our city (albeit in sealed containers) I would think many New Westminster residents would be interested in attending the public sessions. There are four planned and for all four, registration is from 6:30 – 7:00 p.m. and the meeting is scheduled for 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Make sure your opinions are counted! 

March 25, 2009
Evergreen Hall
9291 Corbould St

March 26, 2009
Abbotsford Banquet Centre
33738 Laurel St.

March 31, 2009
Surrey/Delta/New Westminster
Compass Point Inn
9850 King George Hwy.

April 1, 2009
Surrey/White Rock
Pacific Inn and Conference Centre
1160 King George Hwy.



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