Vancouver calls its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan a “road map to becoming the greenest city in the world” in the next eight years, an aim that the city believes is “ambitious, necessary and possible”.

The plan includes targets for green transport, green buildings and green jobs, but effective waste management will be vital to achieving the 2020 goal. This will mean challenging existing behaviours, the city acknowledges, and “nurturing a zero waste culture” through a combination of education and enforcement.

One major target is to reduce the amount of solid waste going to landfill or incinerator by a further 50% from 2008 levels. Among the actions identified as “highest priority” are the introduction of tougher producer responsibility programmes for packaging, developing a building deconstruction programme – which will see wood and other materials salvaged rather than sent to landfill or incinerator as is usually the case in demolition – and programmes to remove recyclables from the waste stream.

While these build on existing regulations for metals, glass, paper and some plastics, the city is also expanding its food scraps recycling scheme for residents to reduce the amount of organic waste that goes to landfill.

Introduced in April 2010, residents living in houses and duplexes (two-floor) apartments are now able to put uncooked fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags and eggshells into green bins for recycling into compost and soil.

A pilot project rolled out in parts of the city in September 2011 saw the programme expanded to include meat, dairy products and bread, as well as food-soiled paper such as napkins, paper plates and pizza boxes.

A year later this was introduced city-wide. Now people in single-family houses and duplexes – around 90,000 residences in total – can put all types of food scraps in their green bins, including items like bones and fish that could not be composted at home.

Residents can wrap the food scraps in newspaper or put them in paper bag liners, but plastic bags – even those labelled biodegradable or compostable – are not allowed, and are rejected by the compost processing facility.

The city’s aim to impose a complete ban on organics going to landfill and incinerator in 2015 will mean that all compostable items will also have to be collected from apartment blocks, businesses and institutions. The city council is preparing to approve a plan that will require businesses and apartment buildings to have food scraps recycling services in place.

At the moment, standard rubbish and recycling collections are weekly, with the green bins for food and yard waste – such as leaves, weeds, plants and grass cuttings – collected every other week.

However, the final phase of the scheme, scheduled for next spring, will see rubbish collection scaled back to a fortnightly service, and weekly collections for food and yard waste.

Because almost 40% of the material sent to landfill is made up of food and other naturally compostable materials, the city estimates that removing all food scraps and compostable material from landfill will achieve huge gains in terms of greenhouse gas reduction.

“Expanding food scraps recycling is a big step towards meeting our greenest city goals and will substantially cut back the amount of garbage disposed of at the landfill,” says Mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson.

“If we remove all food scraps and compostables from Vancouver’s landfill, it reduces pollution by the same amount as taking 10,000 cars off the road.”

David Gilliver is a freelance writer

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