Mayor's Report - February 2010

Metro Vancouver's Draft Solid Waste Management Plan

Mayor Ralph Drew

In 2009 our region produced 3.5 million tonnes of solid waste, and to manage such a huge volume of solid waste Metro Vancouver has been developing a new (draft) Solid Waste Management Plan (PowerPoint) with four goals:

  • minimize waste generation;
  • maximize reuse, recycling and material recovery;
  • recovery energy from waste after recycling;
  • dispose of any remaining waste in landfills.
  • Metro Vancouver achieved a 50% waste diversion rate in 1998, and today the region is at approximately 55% waste diversion, largely through the introduction of initiatives such as comprehensive recycling, green waste collection, and expanded Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs augmented by material disposal bans. A graphic depiction of the current 55% diversion rate, with energy recovery and landfill components included, is illustrated below:

    2007 Metro Vancouver Waste Generation

    And here is where Metro Vancouver wants to be in 2015:

    2015 Metro Vancouver Waste Generation

    The new Solid Waste Management Plan (Draft Document) has to manage an increase in both population and waste generation, but at a much higher diversion rate. These graphics clearly show an emphasis on diversion, and an expanded role for energy recovery versus landfilling of the waste that remains after diversion.

    The Zero Waste Challenge is captured in the first two goals of the draft Solid Waste Management Plan and is central to Metro Vancouver's Sustainability Framework:

  • It visualizes a 'zero waste region' -- no waste, only resources;
  • While the Zero Waste Challenge comprises all five "R's", it is focused on 'reduce, reuse, recycle';
  • In 2009 Metro Vancouver adopted a new, aggressive diversion target of 70% by 2015.
  • Metro Vancouver has identified opportunities for waste diversion in a number of areas that can be achieved through policy changes, such as building permit processes and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs, expanded disposal bans, and enhanced recycling programs. In total, Metro Vancouver estimates that an incremental 600,000 tonnes of waste can be diverted from the waste stream in the region.

    In 2009, Metro Vancouver undertook a number of activities, including some very exciting pilot projects with community partners, designed to help change consumer behaviour and ultimately achieve the new diversion target. At Swangard Stadium, Metro Vancouver implemented a pilot project that was based on Metro Vancouver's draft guidelines for waste reduction at stadiums and arenas. The project was hugely successful -- in 2008, the stadium achieved a diversion rate of approximately 10%, but working with Metro Vancouver to implement sustainable purchasing practices and 15 zero waste stations at games as part of the pilot, that figure shot-up to 70%.

    Metro Vancouver also initiated a pilot partnership in the summer of 2009 with Home Depot, Urban Impact Recyclers, and Urban Wood Waste that helped divert 320 tonnes of consumer and small commercial woodwaste over a 60-day period which was recycled into paper, mulched for compost, and ground for biofuel.

    Organics collection represents a huge potential source of diverted waste, and in Port Coquitlam a very successful residential program has been implemented that has been well received by residents. However, this requires a significant change to consumer behaviour, and presents other challenges as well:

  • Residential and business participation poses problems related to space and collection logistics;
  • Special efforts are required regarding wildlife conflicts;
  • New facilities and new sites mean increased costs;
  • A high quality product must be maintained, which means careful handling of potential contaminants; and
  • New markets need to be sourced.
  • Metro Vancouver also completed a 'Request For Proposals' process in 2009 for regional food waste composting that will facilitate the annual diversion of 60,000 tonnes of food waste. There already is a collection system in place in Port Coquitlam, and there are pilot projects in four other municipalities in the region. Metro Vancouver is now looking for other partners to get another facility up and running, and take advantage of this opportunity for diverting food waste in the region.

    Future Metro Vancouver waste reduction initiatives include the move from a few waste transfer stations to many distributed 'Eco-Centres'. The goal is to minimize the use of waste-focused transfer stations, where only residuals are handled, to recycling-focused 'Eco Centres', where recycling is the key activity. Metro Vancouver is looking to establish a system of one-stop eco-centres that are convenient for the public, feature a number of bins to separate recyclable materials, and link with EPR programs and private recyclers. These eco-centres would mean increased costs for residents and business, but they also could incorporate residential waste drop-off.

    Another future initiative for Metro Vancouver is bio-fuel facilities, and Metro Vancouver is just in the planning stages of two significant proposals on that front. These facilities will transform organic wastes into fuel for buses or other applications.

    Metro Vancouver's commitment to a zero waste region poses a significant logistical challenge. As more and more people move to one of the most desirable places to live, there naturally will be increased waste generation. Canadian society therefore needs to take a very serious look at shifting from a "linear economy" that moves from resource extraction to waste disposal in more or less a straight line, to a "zero waste economy" that represents a closed loop. That will entail a number of imperatives: greater producer responsibility for product lifecycles that will require a deliberate environment designs and a product cost that accounts for environmental impact, expanded EPR programs that encourage waste reduction and place all costs on producer and consumer, and increased consumer responsibility.

    The elephant in the room is that Metro Vancouver cannot do this alone -- in fact, it will take a concerted national and international effort to achieve a truly "zero waste economy". We will all have to work together to advocate and influence senior levels of government -- and international bodies -- if we are going to make significant progress toward a true "zero waste society".


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