Compost joins the new garbage era in Metro Vancouver

What’s the new attraction of garbage? A Metro Vancouver Zero Waste Challenge conference on March 10 was sold out, with a long waiting list. One of their earlier public breakfasts, on composting, attracted a standing-room-only crowd to BCIT downtown, more than showed up a few weeks later to talk about affordable housing.

It could be that a lot of people have seen the crunch that’s coming: landfilling garbage is on the way out; new uses for old stuff are on their way in. But no one is quite sure where all that stuff will go, or how to make the numbers add up. All we know for sure is that Metro Vancouver is determined to divert 70% of our garbage—up from 55%—out of the landfill by 2015.

Some of this is easy. Many of us who live in detached homes have figured out how to put our kitchen scraps into a compost bin and right away reduce our curbside garbage by 40%, growing nice piles of compost for the garden.

But for the increasing percentage of residents who live in multi-family buildings, it’s not that easy—only 16% of their garbage gets recycled. That was the topic for keynote speaker Robert Lange, director of the City of New York’s Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling at the March 10 conference.

“Convenience is the overriding factor,” he said, citing landlord-tenant distrust and lack of individual tenant accountability as the biggest barriers to sorting and recycling waste in multi-tenant buildings. Even after spending $6 million on public education and hiring 71 recycling police (with guns!), New York still hasn’t figured this one out. They have found that a key ingredient for success is recruiting a volunteer resident recycling champion who has a good relationship with the landlord.

“Recycling isn’t easy,” Lange said. “It’s a myth that recycling will ever pay for itself.”

Payback depends a lot on tipping fees—the cost of taking stuff to the dump. In Metro Vancouver, those fees have been steadily rising, with each increase creating a new business niche for alternative uses of the so-called “waste.”

Economics takes a back seat when the region decides to ban something from the landfill. That’s what’s happening to residential food scraps in 2012, and all organic waste by 2015, which has a lot of restaurants, food stores, hospitals and other organic waste producers looking for someone to take care of their waste. A huge new market is opening up as the region comes to grip with finding new places to process 265,000 more tonnes of organic waste, compared to only 50,000 tonnes being processed today, mostly at Fraser Richmond Soil and Fibre. That ban includes 188,000 tonnes of food scraps, all of which will have to be turned into compost or biofuels by 2015.

A ban is also looming for wood waste, the biggest contributor to the 1.2 million tones of construction waste now clogging our landfills. Wood recycling is about to be mandated at construction sites, coupled with more wood recycling depots, all aimed at getting 155,000 tonnes of wood out of the waste stream by 2015. This is generating a new industry of companies like Urban Wood Waste Recyclers, whose business, unlike traditional construction companies, is based on deconstructing. Some companies like Home Depot are attracting new customers by testing pilot wood recycling depots in their parking lots.

The biggest source of unrecycled waste in the region comes from Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (IC&I) sources, in spite of a innovative recycling programs from organizations like the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA).

It’s a new era for garbage. For business, it means scrambling to get ahead of the new regulations, and jumping into new markets opening up. The good news is that customers, employees, carbon reduction policies and sustainability plans are all aligned on this.

Now if we can only make economic sense out of it.

 

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About Urban Food Revolution

Peter Ladner is a former Vancouver city councilor, Metro Vancouver vice-chair and business owner who is currently a weekly columnist at Business in Vancouver newspaper and a regular contributor to crosscut.com, a Seattle-based online news service. He is the author of The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way we Feed Cities, published by New Society in November, 2011. For the past two years he has been a Fellow at the SFU Centre for Dialogue researching, teaching and organizing public events around the theme Planning Cities as if Food Matters. He was first elected to Vancouver City Council in 2002, was re-elected in 2005 and ran for mayor in 2008. He is a former member of the TransLink Board, and was vice chair of the Metro Vancouver Board. Peter has been the publisher, president and part owner of the Business in Vancouver Media Group, which he co-founded in 1989. He has a lifelong interest in growing food. As a city councilor, he worked with the Vancouver Food Policy Council in initiating the city’s program to add 2010 food-producing community garden plots by 2010. He is vice-chair of the The Natural Step Canada, part of an international organization that advances sustainability in communities and corporations. He has a B.A. from UBC and did graduate work at the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning. He and his wife Erica have four adult children.
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