People who keep up with the solid waste issue know that Greater Vancouver has a “diversion rate” that is the envy of most major cities in North America. The proportion of refuse that Vancouverites recycle, compost, or otherwise keep pout of the landfill is currently over 55% (my weight). Metro Vancouver’s (unfortunately misnomer-ed) Zero Waste Challenge goal is to bring this number up to 70% by 2015.
There are several challenges to this goal, but one in particular is significant in New Westminster, that is multi-family housing, as New Westminster has one of the highest proportions of people living in multi-family dwellings of any jurisdiction in BC.
Although the uptake on organic waste collection has helped boost already-impressive diversion rates for single-family homes in New Westminster, multi-family lags way behind. Regionally, the diversion rate in multi-family housing is a dismal 16% compared to more than 50% regionally for single-family dwellings.
My personal experience from when we lived in a condo on Royal Ave was frustrating. And I emphasize this was a well cared-for, clean, newer building with a proactive strata council and an on-site caretaker. It was a nice building, a great place to live, but the recycling system was a mess. There was some success with the cardboard bin in the basement, but the blue bin system was a joke. Any attempt to provide a separate receptacle for newspaper, missed paper, and containers was basically ignored. There were pizza boxes and other food-contaminated waste getting into the bins (which quickly lead to a smelly mess), people putting the wrong things in the wrong bins, and some completely random stupidity (I once had to pull a complete upright vacuum cleaner out of the mixed plastics bin).
To introduce organics collection to a broken system like this is to invite disaster.
Metro Vancouver and the City have recognized that Multi-family is a tough nut to crack, but they are really starting to put some effort into it, because the benefits to the overall diversion goals are there to be had.
The New Westminster Environmental Partners have a “TrashTalkers” group that meet regularly (like tonight at 7:00 at the Waves Coffee house at Columbia and Begbie) to work on solid waste issues. They have identified multi-family as an area they are going to put a lot of energy towards this year. Working with the Glenbrooke North ZWC folks, the City, and Metro Vancouver, we are hoping to help launch some pilots in New Westminster to see if we can find some strategies to make multi-family recycling easier and more effective.
At the same time, New Westminster’s indefatigable Environmental Coordinator Jennifer Luckianchuk is launching a program to bring these ideas to the larger community (instead of just ruminating amongst us “greenies”). Right now they are trying to collect baseline data, and it would be great if everyone who cares about recycling and lives in a multi-family unit (townhouse, rental, condo, co-op, whatever!) go there and do the on-line survey, give your City a little help.
Of course, we can talk about doing this out of the goodness of your heart, for the good of the planet, etc. etc., but really, it is about saving you money. Garbage to the landfill and the incinerator costs the taxpayer more money than diverted waste to recycling or composting. With tippage fees likely to double in the next ten years, and the efficiency of the recycling stream, and growing markets for both recycled materials and compost products, wste diversion seems like an economic no-brainer.
If you are really keen, Metro Vancouver will be holding a Zero Waste Conference in March, where people interested in strategies to reduce their own impact, or in working with larger organization to reduce all of our impact, can share ideas, learn, and engage.
No wasted time when you are talking trash.