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Are we all ready to enter the brave new world of intensive garbage sorting? I’m not so sure I am

April 16th, 2013 · 39 Comments

Every time my niece comes over for a family dinner, she watches in some disbelief as I scrape food scraps into a bucket, peel the labels off tin cans and drop the component parts into the paper recycling bag and the tin/glass/plastics box respectively, and generally act like I’m at a sorting centre.

She thinks I’m a terminal hippie but, of course, I’m just a lapsed Catholic Canadian who can be guilted into some pretty amazing behaviours by someone in authority just telling me the world will be a better place if I do X or Y. In spite of my efforts, I still feel like an environmental failure, especially when I am confronted with the rows of waste containers at super-progressive places (the folk festival, Langara College) and I can’t for the life of me figure what to put in which container. I’ve spent some hours of my life peering through the plastic trying to figure out if I can put the fork made of corn particles and the recycled-cardboard container in the same trash bag.

And now, I and all of you, gentle readers, are about to be tested further as Vancouver, at last, bringing up the rear of the pack, starts rolling out the food-scraps recycling program starting May 1. Over 10 weeks, all neighbourhoods will be inducted into The Plan, which will mean we get our food scraps and yard waste picked up every week, but the other bin with supposedly only the plastics and unsalvageable-in-any-way stuff will only get picked up every two weeks.

My story on this was here with the basic details. What it doesn’t describe is the anguish that is about to amp up in every household as one person, the environmental invigilator of the domicile, harangues the others about banana peels or mouldy cream cheese or ham bones that are chucked by persons lower down on the social-conscience ladder into the regular garbage. It has already started: “If you keep doing that, we’ll run out of room.” “If you don’t learn to put things in the right place, we’re going to have food stuff stinking up the back yard for two weeks.” Etc etc etboringcetera.

Still traumatized, by the way, that there appears to be no place that is the right place to put cat poo-poo, which our two cats produce at amazing volumes.

Other than all that, yay, recycling. Here I come. Yeah.

(Globe story pasted below, as always)

The big garbage revolution will hit Vancouver on May 1, as the city switches to picking up food scraps once a week but regular garbage only once every two weeks.

It’s part of a push to recycle all organics in Metro Vancouver by 2015, a move that is supposed to result in 70 per cent of the region’s garbage being recycled. Vancouver is the last major municipality to put a new system in place.

“We expect it’s going to be a bit of a mindset shift,” deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston said Thursday, as he and Mayor Gregor Robertson showed off the small green plastic food-scrap buckets, labels and instruction booklets that Vancouver’s 90,000 households will receive shortly to alert residents to the new plan.

It will be more than a mindset shift. It will also mean a shift in dollars, facilities and feeder businesses as residents and the city handle 21,000 more tonnes of organic waste a year that will go into green bins and composting facilities, instead of regular garbage and landfills – nearly double what it collected last year.

The city will be spending $5.4-million for a new food-scrap facility at its current transfer station in south Vancouver in order to handle the additional organic material. That new facility will hold organic material until it can be transferred to Harvest Power in Richmond, one of the regional operations for processing food scraps into compost.

The building cost will be paid for through an additional tax of $16 this year and $30 next year.

The new facility will be just a couple of blocks away from hundreds of new condos under construction at Cambie and Marine. But Mr. Johnston said the city is expecting bidders for the new facility to come up with odour-control systems that will ensure Vancouver doesn’t end up with the kinds of complaints about smells that have plagued Harvest Power. Metro Vancouver identified more than 100 odour complaints from residents near Harvest Power as of last fall.

Besides the cost and the holding facility, residents will also be dealing with the particular challenges that come with loading all organics into one bin. Mr. Johnson said there shouldn’t be any problems, since no one is creating more garbage – it’s just the same waste sorted into different bins.

But a new Vancouver company that has sprung up to handle the messes that food-scrap bins produce says that’s not quite true.

“It’s basically concentrating all the food waste in one area and no bags are permitted in the green-waste bin. Elsewhere, paper soaks up some of the organics, but here that doesn’t happen. And when people get maggots, they run screaming,” said Colin Bell. He started VIP Bin Cleaning Vancouver last year, a company he describes as an inevitable part of the “weird and wonderful green economy.”

Mr. Bell’s company provides a washing and disinfecting service on a weekly or monthly basis. He said he’s serving about 200 homes in the Lower Mainland so far, along with a contract with the City of Surrey to clean out returned bins and other contracts with various hotels to clean their food-scrap bins.

Metro Vancouver is banning all food scraps from the landfill as of 2015, which means businesses will have to figure out a system by then, as will cities for their multi-family housing.

Figuring out how to separate and collect food scraps from apartments is sure to be more challenging because of the difficulty residents will have in storing containers of rotting food scraps in small units or large buildings with no systems in place. Mr. Johnston said the city is still working on a plan for that part of food-scraps recycling.

The regional district estimates 200,000 tonnes of organic material can be diverted from landfill each year once the ban is in place.




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