Homeless in Vancouver: City of Vancouver testing office recycling program

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      The City of Vancouver is about three weeks into testing an office recycling system on its own employees in all city offices, including Vancouver City Hall.

      The city’s pilot program is part of the zero-waste component of the Greenest City 2020 initiative. Simply put, it finally allows people to recycle at their workplace the way they have been able to recycle in their single-family homes or apartments since the late 1990s.

      Replacing the “round file folder” at work

      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      At Vancouver City Hall, for example, wastepaper baskets are out. Every desk jockey now has their very own blue box.

      Everything that can be recycled—office paper, takeaway cups, pop cans, newspapers, banana peels, and so on—goes in the blue box. When their blue box is full, the employee takes it over to the recycling station and sorts the content into the appropriate container:

      • Refundable containers
      • Mixed containers
      • Mixed paper
      • Landfill
      • Food scraps

      Once a day, janitors empty the contents of the recycling station bins and transfer the contents to larger equivalent blue bins.

      In the main, this system duplicates the process people follow at home with a few notable differences.

      The workplace system calls garbage “landfill” and newsprint no longer has its own bin. It goes into “mixed paper.” The system does add a bin just for “refundable containers”, though.

      Either cardboard is also considered mixed paper or the system may completely eschew any kind of bin for cardboard, requiring custodians to bundle it up.

      The presence of professional office cleaners in the system will go a long way to insuring it is better adhered to than the residential system of recycling.

      I’m told that all the new blue bins the recycling station bins are emptied into come equipped with locks.

      So binners won’t be getting those office pop cans! Oh well, they’re not usually getting them now either.

      No real details, just scraps of information

      Someone’s highlighted “paper towels”. Only perfectly dry ones are fit for “mixed paper”.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      All the posters promoting the program in city offices point employees to “citywire.city.vancouver.bc.ca/zerowaste” for more information on the program.

      This is not a website on the Internet. Information for this pilot program appears to be restricted to an internal city network or intranet, rather than being made publicly available on the Internet via the City of Vancouver’s website.

      One bit of information about the program was printed off the citywire intranet and uploaded to the Web as a PDF file in August, 2013. It lists the materials that can be recycled, including plastic grocery bags and Styrofoam cups, which, I believe are no longer acceptable in the city’s residential blue box/bin system and are supposed to be taken to Encorp depots.

      The “refundable containers” bin only accepts pop, juice and water bottles, and cans—no juice boxes.

      The unequal public-private partnership of recycling

      The city currently doesn’t have a lot to do with actually collecting recyclable garbage downtown or in the dense apartment-rich areas like the West End or Fairview. The city contracts out that collection to a private waste-hauling company.

      In fact, the City of Vancouver may be designing this workplace recycling program and testing it, but it will ultimately be implemented on behalf of the new provincial czar of recycling, Multi-Materials B.C. This is an industry-based, “non-profit” group created by provincial law to insure that commercial packaging is recycled as much as possible.

      Taxpayers will certainly be paying for the pilot program, but ultimately any office recycling program will be carried out by private industry—the same waste-hauling companies that currently handle Dumpsters and blue bins will now add the collection of office recyclables.

      I don’t know who will be reaping the profits of recycling under the new private regime—and there are profits now.

      I suspect it won’t be the municipalities of British Columbia, which painstakingly figured out workable recycling practices, and no one should expect it to be the hapless binners who really did help push the B.C. government to create the modern bottle deposit system.

      Perhaps this is a case of harnessing the profit motive, but I believe whatever MMBC does with provincial recycling will be done with an eye to helping insure the profits stay largely in the hands of the private sector. 

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer.


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      Allen Langdon

      Jul 16, 2014 at 8:14am

      It is important to clarify an aspect of our program that is referenced in your article. Multi-Material BC's packaging and printed paper recycling program is for residential recycling only, per the provincial Recycling Regulation, which requires the businesses that supply these materials to BC residents to be responsible for collecting and recycling the materials when residents finish with them. Multi-Material BC manages the collection and recycling of materials on behalf of those businesses. Expansion to include commercial or industrial recycling would only happen as a result of any changes to the Regulation.


      Jul 16, 2014 at 10:32am

      How far is this bit of theatre going to go, anyway? I've heard in the UK they're up to nine different bins. It will never be enough. I expect I'll be scolded for not washing my cardboard soon enough.

      Marion the Librarian

      Jul 16, 2014 at 11:55am

      I work at the Vancouver Public Library and we have had this program for a while and it works great! The city started with the library first because we are trailblazers and, of course, we love to sort!