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

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Zero waste businesses in bin cleaning

Today my email Inbox brought an example of how an environmental problems can stimulate economic opportunities.

The environmental problem in this morning's email was smelly food waste bins. "You already know that the City of Vancouver has rolled out changes in the frequency of garbage pickup to every other week beginning May 1st," wrote my correspondent.

"This may result in more odour, bacteria, and pests in the summer months, and can be an excuse for residents not to participate in the Green Bin Program."

So what's the solution? A new bin cleaning service provided by VIP Bin Cleaning. A customer signs up for service online  and provides an address. VIP's mobile machine arrives once a month on the day of bin pickup. The bin is cleaned in 2-3 minutes. The basic subscription service works out to $8 a month.

Turns out VIP Bin Cleaning is "a global bin-cleaning franchise" that originated in the UK in 1997. The franchisor "cleans over 2 million bins across seven countries annually."

Somebody looking for an economic opportunity in bin cleaning could just get a bucket and a brush. But the benefits to getting into the business as a franchisee are spelled out on the parent company website. The VIP people have developed equipment that makes the job easier and conserves water, for instance.

Turns out there are a number of bin cleaning franchises out there, including GreenCleen (also in the UK). There's even one available on Kijiji in Guelph ON.

Surely this is the beginning of a green wave...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Waste management industry in disarray

They were lined up in the Metro Vancouver Boardroom today, over a dozen speakers (one an avowed "lobbyist") waiting to tell Metro Vancouver politicians to butt out of waste management and let free enterprise solve the problem. They were members of the Waste Management Association of BC, delivering in person the message they published in the full-page ad that ran in the Vancouver Sun yesterday.

The issue on the table was a proposal by Metro to impose "flow control" on garbage. This would be a regulation, in Metro's own words, that "would require residential and commercial garbage to be delivered to Regional Facilities.

The Metro website backgrounder emphasizes that this is about the flow of garbage, not recyclable materials. It says: "Source-separated recyclable materials and materials like construction or demolition waste would be exempted."

The speakers today were all goin on about how flow control would destroy recycling.

But Metro says that regulating the flow of garbage will encourage recycling! The places haulers are taking our waste to are not as responsible as we are. They don't have disposal bans on recyclable materials the way we do. Their lower disposal charges encourage wasting.

Frances Bula approached me after the meeting and asked if I didn't think it was a good idea for Metro to cut off the flow of waste to other places.

But garbage isn't that simple.

The real intent behind Metro's proposal is to make sure that the new incinerator they're planning to build doesn't run out of fuel.

In a veiled way, the website acknowledges this: "Metro Vancouver is developing a strategy [i.e. a half-billion dollar incinerator] to manage the disposal of residential and ICI waste generated within the Region. Metro Vancouver’s proposed approach is requiring that residential and commercial waste generated in the region be disposed at Regional Facilities."

Metro should not be regulating the market in order to feed its own incinerator. Rather, as a few of the more public-minded speakers argued today, Metro should be using its regulatory authority and its resources to promote recycling. For instance, they should police their own disposal facilities and enforce their own existing regulations against throwing away recyclable materials. (Currently, Metro neither publicizes nor enforces their bans: it's like there were a law requiring us to stop at intersections but no signs and no police. One speaker noted that only 10% of the loads at regional facilities are checked for banned materials.)

Should we explore whether Metro has the authority to regulate recycling facilities? One of the speakers presented a promotional video of a "dirty MRF" (a facility that sorts raw garbage -- as opposed to a regular MRF that sorts materials that were set out for recycling). He entreated Metro politicians to give his company a chance to build a dirty MRF in Vancouver. A later speaker -- also a member of the waste association -- said history had shown dirty MRFs were a failure. Who speaks for the Waste Management Association of BC?

Maybe we don't need regulation of MRFs. The market may decide. China is certainly sending a strong signal.

FACT: The "waste management industry" includes our local governments. They have been in the garbage business for a hundred years. It's been an uneasy relationship between the public and private sectors of the waste industry. Local governments are the clients of the waste industry, and also competitors, especially in BC where disposal facilities are almost all publicly owned and many cities even have their own trucks and crews.

When our local governments try to beat the competition through the use of regulation, things get dirty and the industry gets mad. Seagulls squabbling over the garbage.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

And by the way...

We'll be there tomorrow when the Metro Waste Committee holds its monthly meeting (12 - 4 pm, second floor Boardroom 4330 Kingsway). We'll be holding signs that remind them that not everyone out there supports the idea of spending half a billion dollars on incinerators. The fact is, we're beginning to get organized. Zero Waste has spread beyond Vancouver... to BC... to Canada. We're part of a world-wide movement of organizations making the link between waste and social injustice.

There is another way. We won't get there by building incinerators. Or by letting the garbage industry set our public policy.

Will China drive FAKE RECYCLING off the rails? & Should waste haulers set public policy?

Two important stories broke in the Vancouver Sun today.

First, we learned that China is blocking the flow of poor quality plastics from Vancouver and other communities that can't be bothered to manage them appropriately. This could spell the end of Single Stream Recycling -- maybe the end of collecting anything but paper at curbside. This is the beginning of the new China that will not need us any more - they'll have plenty of plastic of their own to recycle.

In the same edition of the Vancouver Sun, a group calling itself the Waste Management Association of BC (WMABC) ran a full page ad urging citizens to complain to their elected officials for meddling in the way waste is handled in the Metro Vancouver region. The ad warned readers that these matters are way to technical and complex for mere politicians to understand and they should mind their own business.

Now, these guys are the self-same companies that can't keep our plastics clean enough to sell to China. True, the politicians were gullible enough to hire them, but I'll defend to the death the right of my political representatives to make the rules for the garbage industry.