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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Occupy Recycling!

The 1% are trying to steal recycling from the rest of us. We can't let them have it.

First, they took the word. The 1% are pushing for a legal definition that would include burning (using throw-away products and packaging as fuel) rather than turning them into new products and packaging. We in the 99% know that recycling is really all about slowing down entropic flow, not speeding it up.

Next, they are taking the community economic development and the consciousness raising opportunities. The 1% are pushing our communities to adopt single stream recycling, where consumers don't have to think and machines do the work instead of people, and the materials are suited only to nourish dirty industry in China instead of potential clean industries right here in our communities.

But the 99% are fighting back. Wastepickers of Colombia, we celebrate your victory! We will work with you to take back our vision of recycling.

We demand access to the resources that the 1% of Big Garbage, Big Oil and Big Brands have stolen from the earth. We will not stand by as they try to blow them up into the atmosphere in the name of "recycling" and "Extended Producer Responsibility."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pele-Mele -- fast and sloppy

After 6 weeks of intensive French language training here in Montreal, I'm now spending my days reading in French about the way waste is done here.
The bad news is that I can't recycle. The municipal collection system serving this city is a Single-Stream recycling program. They market it as "collecte selective pele-mele." This certainly captures the sanctioned carelessness of it all.
Green boxes sit in the slush, overflowing with everything that somebody thinks "ought" to be able to be recycled. It gets pitched into the back of a packer truck. You can hear the glass shattering.
I have not put out our box yet. I am returning glass beer bottles to the Depanneur where we buy them. Meanwhile, I'm saving up paper. I'm stuffing it into the paper bags that my flour comes in. My hope is that when I eventually have to put the box out to be hauled away, the paper will stay bundled when it lands on the tipping floor at the centre de tri and end up in a paper bale. They claim to have a market for milk cartons, so I put them in there too.
However the two daily French language free papers (24 Heures and Metro) are stacked in the pantry. I tear out sheets to wrap the compostable food scraps from the kitchen that I have no choice but to set out in a mandatory black plastic bag on the curb.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Let's give our recyclers resources instead of garbage

Last week I joined a small group of Port Moody citizens on a tour of Emterra, a local company that sorts the materials collected in single-stream" recycling programs. It was a very sad experience.
The people at Emterra were really nice.
Nevil and Mohamed took us through the entire process, from the "tipping floor" to the bales of plastic and paper that the plant ships off to manufacturers. They let us take photos (very unusual!). They answered all our questions.
They are proud of what they do. They freely admit there are challenges, but they are working hard and "thinking innovatively" to find solutions.
But I think they've been dealt an impossible hand.
Emterra's problem is that they have two customers they have to please, and the needs of these customers are totally contradictory.
One customer is cities. The Mayors of cities like Port Moody, Surrey, Langley and Port Coquitlam -- and hosts of others across Canada and the US -- are insisting that recycling must be "convenient." They tell their citizens not to bother to recycle materials -- and demand that Emterra transform their waste into resources.
The other customer is manufacturers. Paper mills don't have much latitude when it comes to the quality of materials they can use. They can tolerate very small percentages of "out-throws" (the wrong kind of paper) and only a tiny percentage of "prohibitives" (like plastic bags and lettuce boxes) in the paper they use. Paper making equipment is expensive. Downtime to fix it is expensive. Our paper mills are already suffering because of the recession. That's why most of Emterra's dirty paper is going overseas.
Where is the fix? Manufacturers have very little latitude. How hard is it for us to recycle paper and containers separately?
The most successful recycling program in North America is the beverage container deposit program that keeps containers separate. Despite the hassle of separating containers, deposits recycle twice as many containers as curbside recycling programs -- and keep the materials in good condition.
A cash refund trumps "convenience" every time. If we're serious about building a strong recycling industry, let's give the industry resources instead of waste.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Campaign for Real Recycling - let's start with milk containers

Yesterday we launched phase one of a Campaign for Real Recycling.

We're fighting back against companies that are trying to hijack recycling by passing off dumbed-down recycling as the real thing.

Worse, they're calling it EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility).

We've been tracking the spread of dumbed-down recycling on this blog (read these past posts from the bottom up).

The issue is urgent right now in British Columbia because producers of throw-away packaging have organized themselves into a lobby group that is proposing "EPR for packaging" that is classic dumbed-down recycling.

"Multi-Materials BC" is seeking the provincial government's approval to set up a single, province-wide dumbed-down recycling program that they will control. A growing number of us who are paying attention are really worried.

The first local meeting to "consult with the public" about all this is at 10:00 am on Thursday, October 13th.

Multi-Materials BC is proposing a "multi-material" recycling program that allows you to mix different kinds of materials together. Once the materials have left your curb (and been counted as "recycled"), they are crushed together in a truck, dumped on a cement floor, shoved around with a front-end-loader and dumped on a moving conveyor belt. Workers grab things that might be recognizable as recyclable commodities (though they are degraded by being mixed with other materials) and what they don't grab (amounting to as much as 40% of the mix) falls off the conveyor into the garbage.

This approach is favoured by producers of stuff that is hard to recycle, because their stuff gets credit for being recycled even though it ends up in the landfill or incinerator.

It is favoured by producers of stuff that is easy to recycle, because most of these companies are more interested in selling new stuff than taking care of their old stuff.

It is favoured by garbage companies, because it allows them to do what they've always done: haul large loads of worthless stuff and get paid for it.

It is even favoured by many of our well-intentioned local governments, because they are trying to save up-front municipal costs and simplify things for citizens.

It is based on the demeaning view that people are lazy and won't bother to do recycling right so you have to give them a program that is all about "convenience" rather than doing things right.

But we have one program here in BC that proves them wrong. The deposit system for beverage containers contradicts all the rules of dumbed down recycling.

It keeps materials separate, so they can be recycled into the highest-value markets. It exposes the hard-to-recycle materials and puts pressure on producers to improve their products (remember the old HDPE base cups on 2-litre PET pop bottles? Gone, because they made it hard to recycle.)

It proves that *incentives* work better than convenience to motivate people to recycle.

Deposits get up to 95% of targeted containers back -- double or triple the rate of "convenient" dumbed-down recycling services.

That's why we're calling for refundable deposits on milk containers.

Not only will putting milk in the deposit system get back more containers, in better condition, than any dumbed down recycling program.

It will deprive dumbed-down recycling of a victory. One hundred and forty million milk containers that are sold each year in BC wil create jobs, provide income supplements, and offer kids fundraising opportunities in our communities before going to high-value recycling markets -- all at no expense to the taxpayer.

Who could be against that? Sign on and lend your voice to the campaign against dumbed-down recycling.

Pic: The Campaign for Real Recycling,
Read about our launch on News1130.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Arab Spring and Wastepickers

This amazing story is making the rounds among incinerator fighters world-wide.

Photo: Goldman Fund

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ontario OKs huge incinerator

The incinerator industry is gloating after wearing down public opposition to a huge, quarter-billion dollar garbage burning plant that is now going to be built in the small community of Clarington. Ontario.

It's a zero-risk venture for the incineration industry giant Covanta energy.

The project is going to be "funded and owned" by the citizens of the York and Durham regions. This deal means guaranteed earnings for Covanta, with all the risk and cost borne by the public.

This is the same path that Metro Vancouver has chosen in its solid waste plan that got the green light from the provincial government last month. But the story isn't over yet.

We do things differently in BC.

Incineration is a natural component of the traditional "integrated waste management" system that still flourishes in Ontario and other jurisdictions. Integrated waste management combines garbage and recycling programs under the umbrella of muncipal services.

Cities operate recycling trucks alongside garbage trucks, recycling plants alongside landfills and incinerators. It all falls on the municipality's shoulders to sort it out and dispose of it responsibly.

It's an end-0f-pipe treatment system that ensures waste doesn't pile up in the streets. But it has failed to make any dent on the overproduction and overconsumption of throw-away products and packaging that is driving global warming and depleting natural resources.

Incinerators are just a more efficient system for detroying the evidence of our overconsumption.

But there is a revolution happening in BC. We are making producers responsible for taking back their throw-away products and packaging.

We won't need big municipal incinerators any more.

Unless we are foolish enough to spend public money and incur public risk to provide producers with an easy way to get rid the stuff they take back from us.

Who would win then?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Let's talk about paper!

Here is an interesting take on paper that helps to explain why recycling makes so much sense. Let's learn more about paper, so we can take better care of it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

We have to ask the producers the tough questions we haven't asked our cities

This summer the producers responsible for throw-away packaging are trooping around BC, setting up meetings with local government waste managers, dangling bags of money, and saying they'll cover 100 percent of the cost of their local recycling programs.

When this opportunity is announced in a Staff Report to Council next September, now many Mayors and Councillors are going to ask their staff:

  • Will we have to track the amount of materials that come in, so the producers can submit that info in reports to the province as required under the law?

  • Are they providing the data-management system and training to do this? How many FTEs are they providing to do this ?

  • How many different kinds of packaging are we going to be tracking? The province will want to know about the performance of all the different kinds of packaging. They'll want to know which packaging is pulling its weight in the program and which is not, so we can put pressure on the producers of poorly performing packaging to choose a more environmentally friendly design. That's the point of EPR, right?

  • Will this program require us to build a MRF (sorting plant)? Upgrade the one we have so it can sort more materials? Will there be restrictions on the percent of "residuals" that the MRF produces -- the stuff that gets thrown away because is not actually recyclable? (And by the way, how many residuals are coming from our municipal program right now?)

We are organizing a Campaign for Real Recycling for September. It is going to hold producers to even higher standards of transparency and performance than we have held our own cities. It's no longer good enough to tell us to put it out on the curb and not know what the real recycling achievements are.

We want to know where everything is going and what is being done with it. And how much it's costing us as consumers.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

composting bags - the new Scotties?

Imagine a world without rolled toilet paper.

The advent of indoor toilets gave rise to a whole grocery aisle full of toilet paper of all colours, patterns and grades. And toilet paper rollers to match every decor...

Here we are at a similar moment of human history: the advent of municipal food scraps composting. This is going to open the door to a flood of new consumer products.

The Bag to Earth is made in Ontario.

The patented (US #6,524,667) design makes it "totally biodegradable and compostable" using a material that is locally abundant and renewable: Canadian wood pulp.

Will more Canadian companies recognize an historic opportunity and seize this market before Frankenplastics steal the niche?

Monday, July 11, 2011

GHG accounting - incineration's downfall

Metro Vancouver has hit a snag in its plan to build a garbage incineration empire: provincial regulation of GHG emissions.

In May the Metro Energy Committee learned (Item 5.2 in this agenda) that its existing Burnaby incinerator is the 4th largest emitter of GHG's in the region. Under the provincial cap-and-trade program the emissions from this incinerator alone will cost the region $3 million a year uin 2012 ("equivalent to 30 per cent of revenues," as reported in today's paper.)

This month Metro staff are bringing another report to the Committee ( Item 5.3 in this agenda).

This latest report whines that the province is being unfair to incinerators. Incinerators are subject to cap-and-trade costs while landfills are not. Landfills are covered by a separate piece of legislation. Metro staff admit in the report that they have not been able to bully the provincial officials into giving incinerators a break. Accordingly, the report recommends that the politicians on the Board get involved.

But the province has it right. You can reduce GHG emissions from landfills. All you have to do is keep organic materials out -- something Metro intends to do by 2015. It's rotting organic materials that are the source of landfill GHGs. Once the organics are gone, landfills will be a storage place for materials that potentially will be useful to our grandchildren.

But incinerators can't operate without sending carbon into the atmosphere -- GHG landfills in the sky. They vaporize the resources that future generations will need.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Vancouver moves one step forward on food scraps

Our city staff and elected officials need moral support. They are about to do something scarey -- but wonderful!

It's all in a staff report that will go to Vancouver City Council next week.

The report acknowledges that over one-third of our waste is compostable food scraps and food-soiled paper, that this yucky stuff produces greenhouse gases in the landfill, and that we have to get these materials out of our landfill if we want to meet our GHG reduction targets.

This means we have to change our ways, all of us. At home and at work.

The good news is that everybody I talk to is eager to change. The only complaint I've heard about the first phase of the City's composting program (which began just over a year ago) is that apartments and condos were left out.

The report asks Council permission to embark on Phase Two: a cautious pilot program.

Two percent of the houses in Vancouver, along with a small sample of carefully-chosen businesses and apartment houses, will get a chance to set out all their food scraps for composting instead of putting them in the garbage. The City will collect the composting containers every week.

The pilot will start up this fall. Once the 6-month pilot is complete and the City staff have analyzed all the data they intend to collect about the pilot program, they will come back to Council again and ask permission to go City-wide with the new program.

City Council and the cautious engineers who deliver our waste management services need reassuring words from us.

Come to Council Chambers next Thursday, 9:30 am, and let them know you are ready to take this big step.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Public meeting Tuesday night

Zero Waste Vancouver "wasteheads" will gather on Tuesday, June 21st, 7:30 - 9:00 pm. Location: Langara College/Building A. Everybody welcome.

We will talk about "The Perils of Single Stream Recycling" with Louise Schwarz, who has operated a 100% locally-owned waste management company called Recycling Alternative since 1989.

I'll provide an overview of the province's new "EPR" packaging regulation and Zero Waste Vancouver's Bin Doctors composting program.

Composting + EPR = Zero Waste.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Recycle your old bicycle tires

One more reason to celebrate living in BC.

If you've got a tangle of old bike tires and tubes in the garage, you can unload them at a participating bike retailer and they will be recycled as part of our province's tire recycling program.

Twenty years ago BC put a $3 "levy" on new auto and truck tires and the money fuelled the development of a tire recycling industry.

The industry is made up of retailers taking back tires, truckers hauling them, processors preparing the rubber for reuse, and manufacturers taking the crumb rubber and making products with it. Once the industry was on its feet tires became regulated under the BC Recycling Regulation.

Now that we have a tire recycling industry, those levies on tires don't go to the government, but to one of the "stewardship organizations" that have sprung up in BC to handle recycling of particular products and packaging covered under the regulation. For an overview of this "stewardship industry" see this interesting Recycling Handbook.

Now there are tire recycling programs in every province of Canada that are modelled more or less on the BC program. Some programs are still in earlier stages of their evolution. The evolution is from traditional government-run recycling to entirely industry-run recycling where government sets environmental standards. This evolution is happening to everything we buy. It will be as easy to recycle an old tire (or whatever) as it was to buy it in the first place.

Tire retailers are the backbone of the tire return system. What's new this year is that bicycle retailers have joined the system as a pilot to take back bike tires and tubes. For more information see the Tire Stewardship website.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Three reports challenge landfill gas to energy concept

The City of Vancouver -- and all of us citizens -- have a liability to overcome in our pursuit to be the world's Greenest City.

Each year we send nearly a half-million tonnes of mixed garbage to our City-owned landfill in Delta, a practice that produces the potent GHG methane.

To address this vulnerability, the City installed pipes to capture the gas in 1991. The captured gas was "flared" -- burned in an open flame -- so that it emitted CO2 rather than CH4. Then in 2002 the City signed a 20 year agreement with Maxim Power to use the captured gas to produce electricity. The City receives revenues of $200 - 300 thousand per year to offset the cost of maintaining the system. The captured gas produces enough energy each year to power 6,000 homes. (see the 2009 Vancouver Landfill Annual Report and this Solid Waste page from the City's Sustainability website.)

The bad news is the gas that escapes.

Two reports this week call for a policy of methane prevention, rather than end-of-pipe approaches.

The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario's Annual Greenhouse Gas Progress Report slammed the landfill-gas-to-energy concept in an interview, saying that "landfills are inherently leaky" and that the "process of using landfills as digesters is faulty."

Also in the news this week is a report released by North Carolina State University that points to contradictory policies that encourage landfilling of biodegradable materials that break down before the gas capture systems are in place.

Twenty years into effort to control the emission of methane from the Vancouver landfill, we still have no way to measure the amount of gas that escapes. Furthermore, the City report admits that fully one-third of the gas that is captured is not put to "beneficial use" to produce electricity, but simply flared.

In his report looking at the full spectrum of GHG emissions, Gord Miller advised his province: "Given methane's significantly higher short term global warming potential, the prevention of fugitive methane emissions from landfills should become a near-term priority."

In January 2010, a report by the Sierra Club called for a shift to methane prevention -- and also pointed to other harmful pollutants in landfill gas.

Zero Waste Vancouver will be pitching in to help the City get more folks composting in their backyards this summer....

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Councillor Cote answers his mail -- good start!

It isn't easy being a city councillor. So many issues to keep track of.

To his credit, New West Councillor Jonathan Cote answers emails from citizens promptly. In response to my concerns about the switch to single stream recycling he said: The main reason I supported the proposal is that it would increase recycling rates and save the city $250,000 a year. Although there would be decreased revenue from recycled materials (because of contamination) but there would be lower cost because of fewer trucks and less staff..."

He asked me to elaborate on my concerns, so I said: my main concern is that we can't build a strong recycling industry with a collection system that degrades the quality of the materials.

As Clarissa Morawski reported in this excellent study of the impacts of single-stream recycling, the savings up front (to municipalities and the garbage companies) are offset by costs to manufacturers.

If cities and the garbage industry want to be part of the industrial system (and I am not at all convinced they belong there!) then they have to think of the health of the entire system, and not just their own costs.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Write to New West Councillor Jonathan Cote: more is not better

New Westminster just became the latest city in the region to switch to single-stream recycling. This is a really dumb decision. It goes against not only common sense but practical realities, and it will come back to haunt the politicians who fall for it.

The staff report that went to New West Council on April 4 recommended abandoning the curbside sort that has kept materials separate. Under the old curbside sort system, materials are collected in good condition and they can be sold for top dollar on the commodities market.

The rationale for abandoning this sensible practice is the assumption that more is always better.

Residents recycle more material, studies have found when they don't have to think. The New West staff report also reported that there would be more "contamination" of materials collected if the city switched to single-stream collection. But it drew the questionable conclusion that higher quantity outweighs the lower quality of the materials.

In a last minute presentation to Council, New West resident (and coordinator of the North Shore recycling program) made the case for keeping the curbside sort, but his advice was ignored. This week papers across the region are chalking up a victory for dumbed-down recycling.

In the recession of 2008 when the bottom fell out of the recycling market, municipalities with single-stream recycling were hardest hit. They were stuck with their huge piles of paper mixed with glass shards and messy yogurt cups, while cities that could offer clean streams of materials that had never been "contaminated" found ready buyers.

Canada's leading recycling magazine reported that single stream recycling is feeding markets in China, while starving our domestic recycling industry.

Wake up, New Westminster! Once a single-stream system is in place, it's a race to the bottom. The quality of the materials is set by the worst performing residents, and the efforts of those ov you who take the trouble to handle materials carefully are in vain. New West residents who want to do good recycling won't have any choice.

New West Councillor Jonathan Cote opined: "If you make it simple, more people will do it." Does he speak for you? Here's where to reach him:

Pic: Oregon Metro pays price for single stream recycling

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Saltspring brings Annie Leonard to speak!

If you can make your way to Saltspring Island the last weekend in May you can meet one of North America's shining lights of Zero Waste. Annie Leonard of Story of Stuff fame will be speaking at a fundraiser for the "Centre for Child Honouring." Here is a link to the poster with details.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

We've moved! Congratulations for finding us!

Our old domain ( was usurped by some nameless poacher within days after we missed our renewal payment... so we are camping out at blogspot while we settle into the new domain that we've staked a claim on (

Our new homestead will have an archive where we'll store the old blog and the broadsheet against Metro Vancouver's incinerators. And there will be lots of big new rooms where visitors and members of the family can get involved in our projects. There is lots of work to do:

  • Bin Doctors ~ what neighbourhood are you in? we'll connect you with your composting support team

  • Bag Project ~ a made-in-Vancouver alternative to those sweatshop reusable bags that we all have too many of...

  • Our Heroes in the community ~ proceeds from our Bag Project will provide targeted support to projects that we think are making a difference

  • The Just Ask Me Page ~ if I don't know the answer to your question about garbage, I'll help you find it

  • Issues that matter right now ~ background and action alerts for busy people. None of us can do it alone - small actions, strategically directed, are how we will make change together

  • Blog ~ commentary on topics close to home and beyond