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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Don't accept dumbed-down recycling

We have to cover our left flank in the battle against incineration.

With bad advice from certain consulting firms, the producers who sell us throw-away packaging are organizing to entrench inefficient recycling programs for packaging. The programs will collect everything in one messy heap and send most of it to incinerators.

Our provincial policy, on the other hand, has been to regulate producer responsibility for products one category at a time (beverages, paint, electronics, tires, etc.) rather than lump together a whole bunch of materials ("packaging") in one category creating a non-recyclable mess.

But now, because of the influence of Ontario, which has drunk the OMMRI/CIPSI/CSR koolade and is patterning its EPR system after Europe, the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment is calling for EPR for all "packaging" like they have in Europe.

The BC ministry of environment is poised support this by bringing "packaging" in under our Recycling Regulation within the next 3 months.

This is being pitched as a plan to make producers pay the municipal cost of recycling packaging. But the real impact will be lots of "recycled" materials (if Europe is any guide) going to incinerators that pose as recycling plants.

The packaging will be sent to "MRF"s to be mechanically separated. Huge quantities of non-recyclable material will be left over after the cherry-picking. These leftovers will have no practical value except as "fuel." In the EU, producers get credit for recycling when their packaging goes to incinerators "with energy recovery."

The producers of packaged products are celebrating. The cheapest easiest way for them to get off the hook for their excess packaging is to set up a dumbed-down recycling system that minimizes sorting and doesn't hassle them to change their packaging design.

Also thrilled are the big garbage haulers who are already expanding single stream recycling in one community after another all across North America. This is a garbage hauler's dream: get paid for recycling and produce garbage (in the US, where the industry is more vertically integrated, the haulers profit at every stage).

Here in the Lower Mainland, the Surrey Metro Materials MRF is likely being set up to process all the garbage that comes back from the new packaging "recycling" program ("Thanks, Marvin!"). Covanta and the other incinerator companies are rubbing their hands in anticipation of what comes out the MRF's back door. It's part of Metro's plan. The Municipal Industrial Complex shaping our public policy and our children's options.

ACTION:Please write a letter to Penner.

Ask his ministry to:

  • issue an Intentions Paper on Packaging EPR

  • ask him to explain why we should change from our successful one product-category at a time approach to an approach that will mix all kinds of packaging together in the regulation, making it harder to establish accountability and less likely to foster innovation by producers

  • why not instead pass regulations that target the known "low hanging fruit" in packaging?

  • how about EPR for dairy containers (milk, yogurt, etc.)? or those bulky household detergents jugs & cartons? How about amending the section on consumer electronics to include packaging?

The theory is if they have to take back all that styrofoam, to say nothing of those awful clamshells for software, the industry will probably stop using them.

BOTTOM LINE: our cities and the garbage industry have to get out of the business of chasing after bottles and cans other bulky, low value packaging

It costs us a lot of money to collect containers, and yet it contributes very little to actual diversion - because containers don't actually add up to that much waste despite their bulkiness and annoyingness.

Let our cities get busy instead collecting organics/food waste -- and keep on collecting newspapers (Blue Bag) and mixed papers (Yellow Bag). Think about it: these are easy to understand, easy to collect in our city trucks. They have established markets right here in BC.

And lets go after the producers of products that come in easy-to-recycle packaging. Make them set up a system for doing that, instead of taking a free ride in the Blue Box. They'll figure out how to do it.

Over time, all that will be left in the garbage is those annoying blister packs that can't be recycled. When the easy-to-recycle low hanging fruit is not in the garbage any more, you will be able to see who's causing all the trouble. No brand-owner wants to see its brand on garbage!

Here's Penner's email: "Barry Penner, Minister"

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hey, Campbell Company of Canada!

We consume a lot of Pace Picante Sauce in our household. Great big jars like this one. We go one of these every two weeks. (Black beans and rice is our meat and potatoes.)

We were really glad when the company switched from #7/"Other" plastic to #1/PETE. I am interpreting the move as a sign that Campbell sees the writing on the wall -- pretty soon they will have to take back these bottles, and maybe even give me a cash refund.

Since they're coming back, Campbell probably thought, might as well make them with recyclable plastic that we can make some money on.

But for goodness' sake, look at that neck ring! Not only does it get picante sauce stuck in it (see it there?) -- it is also made of HDPE.

Let's see what they can come up with in Version 3.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Will BIAs lead the revolution in waste management?

A revolution in waste management might be at hand -- and the unlikely group leading it could end up being our local BIAs (Business Improvement Associations). They are the biggest customers of the garbage industry and they could drive needed change in the service mix provided by that industry.

BIAs are beginning to understand that we took a wrong turn a hundred years ago when our waste system became oversimplified, resulting in 20th Century "state of the art" waste management looking like the photo above.
Dumpsters and the monster front-loading trucks that service them are not only a blight to today's gentrifying downtowns. They are the reason that businesses in our region are laggards in recycling. Businesses using dumpsters include the property management companies in apartment buildings as well as small and large local businesses -- to say nothing of the ubiquitous construction companies with dumpsters on worksites. Together they produce 3/4 of the garbage in our region, largely because they use dumpsters instead of separating their wastes.
Five years ago a half-dozen of Vancouver's downtown BIAs tried to fix this problem by working together to get rid of the dumpster. They were following the lead of Seattle and Kelowna, which are already enjoying benefits from going "dumpster free."
Things were progressing well until the recession hit. At that point, the garbage hauler that the BIAs had signed on to deliver the new services presented a revised estimate of the cost. The current economy and failing recycling markets meant a huge jump in cost for recycling. And so the plan was scrapped.
But now there has been a new policy development.
By 2015 all those businesses will be prohibited from putting "compostable organics" in their dumpsters. This could be a total game changer.
Unlike recycling, compost doesn't rely on volatile global commodities markets. Metro Vancouver is busy putting local organics processing facilities in place. There will soon be strong, ongoing, recession-proof local demand for feedstock. There is a whole range of local uses for compostable materials ranging from soil amendments to biogenic fuel.
The requirement for separate organics collection will force the garbage industry to provide businesses with convenient, low-cost alternatives to the dumpster.
Could we see micro-scale solutions that fit with gentrified city alleyways? I'm picturing vast fleets of United We Can bicycles collecting trailerloads of fresh organic wastes from neighbourhood restaurants and produce stores and hauling them to local mini-processing plants that supply soil for the City's 2,010 new community gardens...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The kids are all right

Metro politicians really let us down this summer.

Check out this video and answer this question: will the Metro Board's incinerators help solve our problem? What is going to be left the kid who made this video and the rest of his generation if we burn their inheritance...

It's not over until the Minister signs off -- he's waiting to hear from us: