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3 Things I Bet You Didn’t Know About Our Waste – From Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Conference

September 23rd, 2014 · No Comments

zwcLogoAs a sustainability marketer, I attend a variety of events that wouldn’t get most people off their couch. To be honest, I thought the Metro Vancouver Zero Waste Conference 2014 might be one of those, as I pictured a room full of trash academics debating diversion rates. But it turned out to be a lot more big-picture visionary than I had anticipated, and I left quite motivated. Here are a few of the high points of the day’s pile of information. Hope you dig them.

1. Waste is Food.

Here’s a brutal stat: More than 30% of our food is wasted before reaching the consumer. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to repurpose all that wasted nutrition? Enterra Feeds is a BC company that takes discarded food, and turns it into sustainable protein and oils, (to feed fish and livestock), and a natural organic fertilizer. It does this with the help of the Soldier Fly larva – a big greasy pupa that eats the food and converts it into oils. Gross? Heck, yeah. But not to the larva, to animals that ultimately get the feed, or to investors.

That’s just one example. A big part of the conference agenda was devoted to the Circular Economy (which is actually more of a butterfly shape, as the chart illustrates – find out more on the Metro Van blog here). This is the ‘new’ way of thinking, actually pioneered by billions of years of evolving species before us, that says there really is no such thing as waste. Every output from one system should be nutrients for another. The only thing disposable is the concept of disposability itself.

That’s why for Metro Vancouver, banning organics from the landfill and getting people to divert their food scraps is a major priority.

The Macarthur Foundation

The Macarthur Foundation

2. Vancouver is shipping garbage to the US – and People Don’t Like Incinerators.

OK, that’s two things. But the fact that they have been lumped together is part of the problem, so please bear with me. During a networking break, I spoke with Paul Henderson, General Manager of Solid Waste Services at Metro Vancouver. He filled me in on how private waste haulers are bypassing municipal recycling and disposal regulations by shipping their trash out of the region. A recent Vancouver Sun article describes how haulers are fined here for banned items in their loads, and as a result, find it cheaper to truck trash up the valley, greenhouse gasses and all. In response, Metro is pushing the BC Minister of Environment to approve bylaw 280, which would require that garbage generated in Metro Vancouver be processed at regional facilities – a plan supported by many local recycling companies and organizations.

Meanwhile, Metro Vancouver is also looking at constructing a larger waste-to energy incineration facility, a move that received expressions of broad disapproval by almost everyone at the conference.

Now, opponents of bylaw 280 are linking the two issues, using ‘Stop the Incinerator’ initiatives to put pressure on government to reject the bylaw, so they can continue to ship waste and avoid the fines.

Paul Henderson says the incinerator is not a done deal, but that we need the bylaw to support our common goals. I fully support the bylaw, but methinks they are going to have to publicly de-couple those two issues.

Metro Vancouver Current WTE Facility

Metro Vancouver Current WTE Facility


3. Plastic is everywhere. Yet most people know nothing about it.

Could you pick polypropylene out of a pile of ABS? Which is better for recycling, PET or expanded polystyrene? According to presenter Mike Biddle, from MBA Polymers, humans now produce an consume more plastics than steel. Yet the reuse rate of plastics is only about 8%. And that’s largely a sorting problem.


Mike took us through some of the sophisticated ‘processes’ used in the developing world to sort and recycle plastic, such as burning it and smelling the fumes. Then he showed everyone pictures of his big, shiny, global plastics recycling facilities where the job is done more effectively. Several of the audience speculated on how nice it would be to have a facility that that here in BC.

Biddle, though no market interventionist, stated that to do that, society and governments would need to ‘prime the pump’ to help encourage the use of recycled plastics in product design and production.

Seems to me like we need to start with a little Plastic Literacy first. Maybe that would be a future communications goal for the Metro Vancouver team.

All in all, there was a lot more information and future envisioning at Zero Waste 2014 than I could encapsulate here. So watch their website, they are planning to host some video recaps of the presentations.

In the meantime, keep on separating that waste and recycling. Currently, about 55% of our garbage is recycled. Metro is aiming for 70% by 2015, and 80% by 2020.


Tags: Environment · Events · Green Points of View · Green Politics · Uncategorized

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