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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Farmers’ Market Set to Kick Off

Admittedly, I’m a little biased. I was recently appointed as the market manager for the Royal City Farmers’ Market, but I am so excited about the market’s reopening coming up!

The second incarnation of the Royal City Farmers’ Market is about to kick off June 25th with a special “Welcome to Summer Vacation” market, featuring kids’ activities including toys and crafts, a magician, face painting, and a special appearance by Mayor Wayne Wright who will start the market season off with a bang! The market runs June 25 to October 8 and is on Thursdays from 3-7pm in Tipperary Park, which has got to be one of the nicest urban parks around.

The market had it’s first year last year after a 25 year hiatus in New Westminster and it was so successful that registered vendors for this year have almost doubled. Farmers’ markets are an essential part of your local economy and by shopping at the market, you are supporting the “little guys” and you know you are getting fresh goods. You’ll also reduce your carbon footprint by buying goods produced / grown / made here in BC (most are from the Lower Mainland).

Aside from the shopping, the Royal City Farmers’ Market encourages you to bring a blanket and hang out in the park. The market isn’t just about shopping, it’s also a great place to meet up and socialize with your friends and family. What better way to spend a summer night?

RC Farmers Market 02

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Community Garden Initiative Gathers Steam

Some time ago, I was part of meetings in the library, at pubs and shops in town and in the Parks office on 8th street, all with the common purpose of establishing an operating Community Garden project and society for the “mainland” of New Westminster. While Queensborough has had a successful garden operating for a few years now, the many gardeners in New Westminster that would like to get that soil under the nails feeling and yet they have no space available for their work. With one of the highest rental rates in the province and our explosive growth in condo and apartment tower suites, a couple of places to hoe a row would be more than welcome.

Well the group I was in all those many months ago was never very big and over the cold months we petered put, me included, to our daily lives as the good earth slept and rejuvenated itself for another season…. and another crop of community gardeners!

Now is the time to get together with the New Westminster Community Garden Initiative and help form the critical mass that is required to get this project off the ground. There will be much work to do.. a society to form, a site or sites to select, the city to finagle, water and materials, sponsorships, administration, it is a pretty long list! The first thing to do though is to come together as citizens and decide to work together for our collective long term benefit. This is one of those examples where the health of a community can be positively impacted by the work of a small group of determined citizens.

Next Thursday Tuesday June 16th, in the New Westminster Library auditorium, at 7:00pm, come and meet with your fellow gardeners and your fellow citizens. Organised by David Maidman, the evening is sponsored and endorsed by the New West Environmental Partners, the New West Community Food Action Committee, Royal City Farmer’s Market and by our humble outlet, the Tenth to the Fraser Blog. I will be there with a draw for two lovely books: The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by B.Pleasant and D.L. Martin and also Garden Anywhere by Alys Fowler.

The Garden Song

Dave Mallet (Popularized by Peter Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, John Denver, Charlotte Diamond and Kermit The Frog)

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground
Inch by inch, row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
‘Til the rain comes tumbling down

Pulling weeds and pickin’ stones
Man is made from dreams and bones
Feel the need to grow my own
‘Cause the time is close at hand
Grain for grain, sun and rain
Find my way in nature’s chain
To my body and my brain
To the music from the land

Plant your rows straight and long
Thicker than with pray’r and song
Mother Earth will make you strong
If you give her love and care
Old crow watchin’ hungrily
From his perch in yonder tree
In my garden I’m as free

As that feathered thief up there

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Garden Nerd Series: Seed Bombs

The Garden Nerd series will look at gardening issues in New Westminster. Suggestions for topics, guest submissions, and questions are all welcome. We’ll try and address it all! You can find other posts, as they are added, by clicking here.

This past week I popped out to my favourite seed store, West Coast Seeds, and picked up 225,000 mixed seeds in a blend called “Pacific Northwest”. It contains a mix of 17 different annuals and perennials, and all of the plants are indigenious to BC and our zone. They are also low-to-no care once sprouted. I like saying I picked up 225,000 seeds, but really, it’s a teeny paper bag with 225 grams of seeds, about the size of a healthy Rice Krispie treat. I bought this wee little bag of gold in preparation of making seed bombs.

Seeds bombs are a little act of green terrorism, also known as “Guerrilla Gardening”. The idea is that you make this little packet (recipe below) and you toss them into empty lots or in little green spaces not being tended to increase the green in your community. Great targets are those closed down gas stations with horrifically boring fences around them for years at a time, or perhaps property being held for future development by offshore owners. I also like traffic circles not being looked after, orphaned pieces of civic property… the possibilities are endless. 

Here’s my disclaimer: guerrilla gardening is technically illegal.  But you don’t need to trespass to plant a seed bomb – you just chuck them over a fence. But if you decide to make some bombs, and for whatever reason you get arrested, you did so on your own accord. But as I said to one friend, what are they going to do? Charge me with selflessly beautifying my community? The act is not one of defiance, rather, it is one of beautification.

There are lots of recipes out there, and lots of activists out there, too. This is the one I am going to use:

  • 1 part seeds
  • 1 part really good high quality compost
  • 5 parts clay – some use terra cotta, some use the grey stuff. You can use premade or powdered. 

Instructions:

  1. Mix your seeds and compost together. 
  2. In a separate bowl/box/container, mix your clay up, if using powdered.
  3. Pinch off a piece of clay, form a ball about the size of a big walnut, or perhaps a smallish fig. 
  4. Using your finger, make a cavity in the ball, and fill with the seed/compost mix.
  5. Pat the clay together, so that basically, you have a seed/compost filled clay Timbit. Mmmm…. delicious!
  6. Let the balls air dry for a few days. 
  7. Drop the bombs in your targeted area. A good time is just as its starting to rain.  The balls will likely crack, but not totally burst when you toss them, and the rain will weave its way into the seed/compost mixture, providing a nice little semi-together environment for the seeds to germinate and do their thing. 
  8. Secretly enjoy the site when you pass in the future, knowing you are a little green terrorist and you contributed to make your community a nicer place. 
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In praise of the clothesline

Our family is not as green as we’d like to be, but little by little we’re trying to change our habits. We’ve dug up our front garden and filled it with herbs, lettuce, strawberries, brussels sprouts, tomatoes and beans. We try to turn off the lights in empty rooms and don’t run the tap when brushing. We compost and we recycle. And now, we have a clothesline.  

Laundry on the line
Laundry on the line

A few weeks ago, Will came home with a couple of metal poles salvaged from a discarded chain link fence on the other side of the Fraser and announced he was going to build us a clothesline. After another trip to Home Depot to pick up the line and some clothespins, he made good on his word and strung up a line across our backyard. 

In Australia, where my father’s family lives, clotheslines are the usual way to dry clothes, with dryers used only as backup during the rainy season. But we grew up here, Will in New West and me in Port Moody. No one I knew had a clothesline. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but my conscience chides me every time I put another load through our ancient energy-sucking dryer in the basement so I thought I’d give it a go. 

I thought it would be very time-consuming, both to clip the clothes on the line and to dry in the sun. I dreaded hauling a basket of soggy laundry up the steep and narrow staircase. And I expected I’d feel a little embarassed to have our laundry on display for SkyTrain, Stewardson and our neighbours to see. 

What I didn’t expect was how much we’d like it. 

I thought using the clothesline would be a bit like eating Grape Nuts for breakfast. You know it’s good for you, but it’s just not that appetizing. What I found is that it’s more like biting into a loaf of home-baked whole wheat bread when it’s still hot from the oven. Not only is there the thrill of virtue in taking one small step to lighten the planet’s load, but the sensory experience is far better than dumping laundry from washer into dryer.

I was right about it not being fun to lug wet laundry up the basement staircase, but it’s not as bad as all that. Standing out in the sun, putting laundry on the line feels wholesome and even pleasurable. Sunbathing bores me, but I appreciate having an excuse to do something with my hands outside on a sunny day. 

And it gets better. Having spent less time than I expected stringing the laundry on the line (and enjoyed it more), I get an intense feeling of pride seeing Wesley’s tiny shirts flapping in the wind. Surprisingly, most laundry dries more quickly on the line than in our dryer (perhaps because it’s an inefficient old machine), and so it actually takes less time overall. Then comes the folding, which I also do out in the sun. The clothes smell heavenly, nothing like the chemical smell of faux-fresh dryer sheets. 

Finally, we come to the embarassment factor. I don’t dry all my laundry on the line. I machine-dry the skivvies to save our virtue, and usually put the towels through the dryer as well because they can get kind of hard and crusty on the line. The list of exceptions is small, and in the end it works out to running the dryer about 1/3 as often on sunny days. I’m pretty happy with that. 

I tweeted about my love of the line a while ago, and a lot of people responded with envy because their municipalities don’t allow clotheslines. I’m not actually sure what New Westminster’s position is. I tried googling for info on clothesline bylaws, but didn’t find any information at all. In a time when the world appears to be careening towards environmental devastation, it seems to me that clotheslines should be encouraged regardless of past decisions that prioritized snobby sensibilities over good sense. Until we’re told otherwise, we will continue to hang our clothes out on the line as often as we can.

Pattullo Bridge Repaving Project Means Closures

Pattullo Bridge
Image by janusz l via Flickr

New Westminster Residents affected by the closure of the Pattullo Bridge last January will no doubt know what is coming as Translink closed the bridge again this season for a significant overhaul of the paved surfaces. Depending on where in the city you reside, festering traffic jams or placid car free streets resulted from the last bridge shut down, caused by a fire set by a transient, that spread to a wooden flex-brace structure. Areas around 20th st. and Queensborough had a nightmare on their hands while the downtown, uptown and parts of Sapperton found a traffic holiday in effect.

This time, it is far less dramatic and the closures are scheduled to allow daytime traffic a route across the Fraser River. The bridge will be closed from May 31 from 8 p.m.  Fridays through 5 a.m.  on Mondays and after the  work week evening rush from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. While the Pattullo typically sees 80,000 commuters each day, the closures are designed to minimize the impact. No doubt Translink planners have learned from the chaos that resulted from the last event.

On a side note, I have heard the analogy, particularly from BC Green Candidate and NWEP leader Matthew Laird (who I respect) that traffic, like gas, expands to meet the vacuum. I think this is true but the analogy fails. Gas expands to meet a vacuum by becoming much less dense. If there is more space, the congestion is eliminated. In the case of a failed river crossing, the traffic volume must contract to meet the reduced space. This results in congestion, friction and a real city planning problem. I am one of those that reject the notion that building more roads leads to more cars. Zoning more bedrooms in areas with no transit coverage leads to more cars. More or better roads just leads to a given number of cars spending less time in traffic.

So, that aside, the reason for the bridge repair is a complete replacement of the paved bridge deck. A typical resurfacing can not take place as the last work done in 1980 included asbestos and now the whole depth of asphalt must be removed and replaced. Lets hope that while the workers are digging through the pavement mid-span they don’t come across a forgotten cemetery

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