Multi-family recycling numbers can no longer be ignored

This is a guest post by Matt Lorenzi. Matt is a New Westminster resident. He volunteers with the New Westminster Environmental Partners and sits on his building’s strata council.

Garbage in a BFI truck. Photo: Matt Lorenzi
Garbage in a BFI truck. Photo: Matt Lorenzi

The issue of garbage and recycling rates in multi-family dwellings is finally being addressed by Metro Vancouver.

The region’s Zero Waste targets are for 70% trash diversion by 2015. Single family homes are well on their way with 55% diversion, but multi-family lags far behind with an estimated 16% diversion.

So why such a disparity from multi-family to single-family? A number of New Westminster residents gathered at City Hall a few weeks ago to tackle this very issue. The results of the evening’s findings were numerous; everything from garbage chutes, poor signage, lack of containers, and language barriers were touted as reasons hindering recycling.

Municipalities and Metro Vancouver share some blame in these low participation rates. In many municipalities the collection of waste and recyclables from multi-family dwellings has been offloaded to private operators. While this in itself is not the problem, it does make it fairly easy to pass the burden of education and enforcement onto strata councils, building managers and the private haulers.

It appears the industry is starting to take matters into their own hands. One of the larger haulers is soon to install cameras on their trucks which will allow them to audit the garbage at the point of pickup. If the load is contaminated with too large a number of banned items, the resulting fine can be billed back to the building from where it was picked up. This same company stated that they incurred $600,000 in fines from Metro Vancouver due to contaminated waste. Clearly they are not interested in absorbing this cost alone. The result will be more responsibility for each building and in turn for each resident.

So what are the barriers to getting better participation in multi-family buildings? One of them main complaints is a lack of space. It takes a certain amount of commitment to put aside space in your suite to sort and collect. Buildings also have to make it easier and more convenient to participate. Many recycling rooms are out of the way and once you get there the bins are often full. There are some creative solutions being looked at; for example collection could be handled on each floor or in front of each suite using individual sized blue bins.

One of the greatest challenges living in a multi-family building is personal accountability. While costs for garbage removal is gathered through strata fees, individual behaviour is not factored into the equation. There is nothing stopping me from creating as much waste, or using as much hot water as I wish. The challenge is bringing everyone on board and having everyone behave in a similar manner. Barring a change in the way personal accountability is handled, education and behavoir change is the best bet in improving results.

The bottom line is that every year the cost of disposing garbage at a Metro Vancouver transfer station is expected to go up. This cost will be handed back to whomever produced it; be that a business, single-family home, or multi-family building. The days of cheap garbage removal are behind us and a more proactive, equitable approach to dealing with it is the only way forward.

Trash talk at Green Drinks this Wednesday

Green Drinks is an informal monthly meeting of people interested in the environment and sustainability issues, held on the first Wednesday of  every month. This months’ get-together is on July 7th, starting around  6:00pm, in the “Back Room” of the Heritage Grill, 447 Columbia Street.
Green Drinks is an informal monthly meeting of people interested in the environment and sustainability issues, held on the first Wednesday of every month. This months’ get-together is on July 7th, starting around 6:00pm, in the “Back Room” of the Heritage Grill, 447 Columbia Street.

On the first Wednesday of every month New Westminster Environmental Partners hosts ‘Green Drinks’ at the Heritage Grill in New Westminster. I’ve never been able to make it down because of the kids, but I think it’s an awesome idea.

Green Drinks is a monthly meeting of people interested in sustainability and the environment, and is usually free of themes or agendas.  This week, however, there’s a special focus on Metro Vancouver’s ‘Zero Waste Challenge.’

A short panel discussion featuring local Zero Waste Challenge participants, including a community group in Glenbrook North who recently completed a 3-month “Neighbourhood Zero Waste Challenge,” will kick off the event. The Glenbrook neighbours who took the challenged significantly reduced their garbage output, and inspired a group in Sapperton to build upon this success over the summer. Here’s hoping the idea spreads to other New West neighbourhoods too!

According to the “Code” of the International Green Drinks movement, the emphasis is mingling and sharing insights, inspiration, and ideas in a very social setting. The mixed crowd of environmental professionals, politicos, community activists and general rabble-rousers ensure lively conversations.

NWEP is hoping the example of our local Zero Waste champions can inspire others to look at alternatives to expanded landfills and building trash incinerators, as Metro Vancouver is finalizing its longer-term plan for managing the region’s trash problem.

However, true to the Green Drinks Code, the panel will only be the conversation starter. With so many environmental issues jostling for attention right now, from Gulf oil spills to collapsing wild salmon populations, there will be no lack of topics for discussion.

Green Drinks is an informal monthly meeting of people interested in the environment and sustainability issues, held on the first Wednesday of every month. This month’s get-together is on July 7th, starting around 6:00pm, in the “Back Room” of the Heritage Grill, 447 Columbia Street. For info: or

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!