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Tougher recycling rules eyed to meet Metro targets

The Vancouver Landfill in Delta: 40 per cent of waste produced in Metro Vancouver is organic and a prime target for diversion as the region aims to improve its recycling rate. - File
The Vancouver Landfill in Delta: 40 per cent of waste produced in Metro Vancouver is organic and a prime target for diversion as the region aims to improve its recycling rate.
— image credit: File

Metro Vancouver plans to toughen enforcement of garbage disposal bans and recycling rules for both residents and businesses to help reach its goal of significantly cutting the waste stream.

Beefed-up regulations on what can't be tossed in the trash and what recycling amenities developers must provide when new buildings go up are big parts of the vision laid out in the region's new Zero Waste Challenge strategy.

The document is Metro's latest road map for reaching its new target of recycling 70 per cent of waste by 2015 – up from 55 per cent now – and 80 per cent by 2020.

Front and centre is the push to get organic waste, including kitchen scraps, out of the garbage and into compost bins.

The region aims to ban organic food waste and soiled papers from disposal by single family homes by the end of 2012, coinciding with the deadline for all Metro cities to introduce curbside pickup of all organics.

In most cities, that will mean cutting garbage collection to every two weeks to save costs and help pay for more frequent weekly pickup of compostable organics.

Metro officials aim to extend the organics ban to businesses and multifamily housing – both considered tougher nuts to crack but major sources of organic waste – in 2015.

Organics account for an estimated 40 per cent of all Metro garbage and diverting 265,000 tonnes of it is expected to get the region half way to the 70 per cent recycling target.

Nobody expects it will be easy.

"We've taken the bulk of the low-hanging fruit and made a great effort at getting 55 per cent," Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said. "From this point on gains are very, very expensive and difficult to attain."

He backs the planned disposal bans and the strategy's emphasis on greater regulation, including more pressure on businesses to comply.

"We need to get on with it, because it's time," added White Rock Coun. Mary-Wade Anderson, who also sits on Metro's waste management committee.

Many recyclables – including everything that can go in a blue box – are already banned from transfer stations. But large amounts still get through.

Increased fines, tightened enforcement at transfer stations and ticketing of garbage ban violators by local cities are all envisioned to ensure better compliance.

Metro will press cities to pass coordinated bylaws requiring new multifamily and commercial buildings have ample space for recycling, along with requirements for improved waste handling by existing buildings, potentially through on-site or neighbourhood composting or collection.

Business licence renewals would require proof of adequate recycling or pickup arrangements for organics and other recyclables by 2013, the paper says.

"We want to bring in the private sector and the multi-family residents or building owners," said Metro waste committee chair Greg Moore, Port Coquitlam's mayor.

"We're in this together. So how can we achieve this together?"

He expects more ideas will emerge at a Zero Waste conference Metro will host March 10 in Burnaby.

Multifamily condos and apartments are a major recycling and composting problem area because most were built without recycling facilities and wasteful sins get anonymized in a common dumpster.

The result: a multifamily recycling rate of just 16 per cent that Metro planners say must go up sharply since such buildings represent a rapidly growing share of households as the region densifies.

So far, Metro is using Fraser Richmond Soil and Fibre as its regional composting facility but the region also expects to award a contract this year to build a regional biofuels processing plant that would also take organics next to Surrey's transfer station.

Much food goes to waste in stores and further back along the supply chain, said Richmond Coun. Harold Steves, adding more must be done to tackle those sources.

He recently found out an entire semi-trailer full of food that was one day past due was being sent to the dump and tried to have it redirected to a food bank instead.

"There's a tremendous amount of stuff wasted out there before it even gets to the consumer," Steves said. "Composting and biofuels is great. But why create that waste in the first place?"

Metro's overall recycling rate of 55 per cent is something of a misnomer.

That's actually elevated by the high recycling rate of the construction and demolition industry, at 76 per cent.

Businesses recycle 44 per cent on average but generate the most waste overall – 1.2 million tonnes per year.

Single-family homes have a 46 per cent recycling rate and generate 800,000 tonnes of garbage.

Metro also hopes to divert large amounts of wood now discarded by the construction and demolition industry by banning wood disposal by 2015.

Metro Vancouver is still awaiting provincial approval of its draft solid waste management plan, which could allow construction of a new waste-to-energy plant in the region.

But the waste-reduction targets in the plan are likely to be enshrined whether or not the province allows Metro to incinerate more garbage.

The region will also continue to press the provincial and federal governments to make product makers and retailers responsible for more takeback programs, along with broader reforms to design products to be recycled, rather than discarded.

"We know to get beyond 70 per cent will be difficult, especially if products are made the way they are made today," Metro spokesman David Hocking said.

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