Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Culture shift: plastic bags a retailer responsibility

Today's surprise announcement by Canada's retail industry that they are rolling out a "comprehensive plan" to cut plastic bag use in BC shows that British Columbia is still the Canadian testing ground for the culture shift that is going to take us, eventually, to Zero Waste.

Canada's four major grocery and drug store retail associations have committed to cut the use of carry-out bags in this province by 50% within the next five years.
Skeptics will scoff that this is a voluntary initiative with no teeth, but I think there is a lot to learn from this move by the industry.

The grocers did not do what they would have done in Ontario ~ chip in a few crumbs of funding and expect the municipal governments to haul away the bags for recycling.
Rather, their plan is to shift the management of bags from local governments to the stores that give them out.

Their plan proposes more than just token recycling bins. They are using the tools of the retail trade ~ incentives, recycling services, and alternatives ~ to woo consumers into helping them meet the goal.

Most important, it includes a commitment to monitor bag use and report out their progress. This is where most voluntary producer programs fail the grade. No one knows what a bad job the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation's "Charge up to Recycle" program is doing because noone is measuring or reporting out. (All they tell you is how many millions of batteries they've collected, not how many tens of millions they have let go to landfills - no targets, no accoutability.)

My sense is that we are about to become "Greenbag Nation" like Australia.

(And I anticipate that, like the wonderful Boomerang Alliance down under, we Zero Wasters can be counted on to hold the retailers' toes to the fire if they don't meet their goal ~ and then move up to a more challenging one.)

Pic: Greenbag nation

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Speak out ~ landfill gas regulation not good enough

Here's a good place to start our campaign to stop methane pollution: tell the province that end-of-pipe solutions are not good enough.

The provincial government is seeking input on a proposed Landfill Gas regulation that would require local governments to install gas capture systems. Problem is: these systems miss most of the gas produced by rotting garbage. More than half the gas slips by the pipes and up to the atmosphere.

A much better approach, chosen by the provincial government of Nova Scotia, is the preventative approach. They simply banned organic wastes from being disposed in landfills. They did this back in 1999. Within months the province's waste had been cut by nearly half (to say nothing of the decline in methane).

In Nova Scotia everyone puts their food waste in Green Bins. Even Tim Horton's provides a special container for half-eaten donuts and coffee cups.

Why stop with half-way measures? Tell our province to follow Nova Scotia's example and use a carrot-and-stick approach to help local communities prevent the methane problem.

Go here for the feedback form (due by September 30). Go here for background info.

Take back the agenda

I'm just back from a conference in Australia. Where the water goes down the drain clockwise, right? Where, more to the point, every toilet is dual-flush. Drought is a subject that everyone has an opinion on, and the opinion is: something is terribly wrong and we have to do something about it.

One thing they're doing is to tackle the methane problem from landfills, one of the drivers of climate change. It's something we don't talk about enough.

Here in Canada, even in Toronto, we're serious about the producer's responsibility to recycle all those throw-away products and packaging. And that's a good thing. Extending the producer's responsibility will give the atmosphere a break by turning the tide on excess consumption.

But if all the throwaway products and packaging were banned from the planet, we would still have a big waste problem.

According to a new waste study from Metro Vancouver each of us sends 163 kilograms of sloppy wet organic wastes to the landfill each year. And that is an understatement, because it doesn't include greasy pizza boxes and a whole range of other organic wastes too awful to mention.

And what do these "biodegradable" wastes do in the landfill? They produce vast quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than the exhaust from our cars.

I came home from Australia determined to mount a mobilization to get every scrap of organics out of our municipal waste. It is something we don't have to wait for the producers to do ~ we are the producers. The problem exists because we let it happen, on our watch, with our municipal infrastructure.

Instead of hiding our food waste problem in a hole in the ground, we can follow the Australians' example. We can close the food production link, sending food waste back to nourish the land it came from. We live in a food-growing region with a lot of animal husbandry, imposing its own burden on the land and the atmosphere. How about if we work with the Fraser Valley to solve our mutual organic waste problems instead of threatening them with incinerator emissions?