Taking the ‘Zero Waste Challenge’

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.

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 www.metrovancouver.ca and let Metro Vancouver know where you stand on this issue.

Fin Donnelly

Fin Donnelly is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.

4 comments

  1. I also think it's important for people to do it themselves on a personal level, regardless of where the regional or municipal governments are standing at any given moment. But great post, Fin.

  2. In Europe I believe they are called Resource Recovery Parks because much of the material diverted is a resource. I think in the future we will be mining our landfills, for the resources we have put there. Much more can be recovered and diverted as Fin says and preferable to go that route, because it also gets us thinking about what we purchase to start with. Reducing packaging, plastic bags, bottled water are all ways to reduce waste too. If it all just goes up in smoke, or is whisked off to a landfill too easily, then we are less likely stop the problem at the source.

  3. Keep up the good work, Fin!

    Jen, there’s a problem that keeps us from doing what we “should” do on a personal level.

    Metro and our cities make it rediculously easy to be wasteful. Think weekly collection of anything we don’t want any more, no questions asked. Think street litter bins. We spend millions of tax dollars helping people be wasteful!

    There are millions of dollars worth of materials going to our landfills because people don’t know what to do with them. Craig’s list is a start… cities can build the momentum by zoning and promoting big new “Discard Malls” where folks can browse for stuff they need instead of going out and buying new.

    We need to change our culture and create opportunities as a community as well as “on the personal level.”

  4. Please, show us your example…

    How many bag a week does your household bring to the curb ?

    Do you have a compost bin ?

    What are you doing, other then talk, to bring about this change in society ?

    I was at the Walmart a couple months ago when a stock boy was replenishing the 'black and decker' paint brushes. First, he opened a long rectangular box, and in that box was 4 smaller boxes. Each smaller box contained 2 paint brushes rapped in plastic ready to rack.

    Who really has the problem ?

    Now we wouldn't want a cardboard box manufacture to go under would we?

    Wasn't this Zero Waste challenge canceled anyways for the stupid nonsensical name ?

    Meaningless rhetoric.

    N.W.

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