Greener garbage plan hits Vancouver next month

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson demonstrates the use of a new household green bin used to recycle food scraps in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday April 11, 2013. The small bins are to be used in homes and then emptied into larger bins that will be collected by the city weekly. (Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail)

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.

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“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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