Did Gregor Robertson's promise to make Vancouver the "greenest city in the world" just come true?

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      In 2008, mayoral hopeful Gregor Robertson campaigned on a promise to make Vancouver "the greenest city in the world" by 2020.

      Robertson won that election, and soon after he launched the Greenest City Action Plan, one that he said would result in the fulfillment of that promise.

      He left office in 2018 after three terms, admitting that he probably hadn't reached that goal, but a giant British waste and recycling company has just bestowed that honour on the city the former juice executive governed for a decade.

      Business Waste Ltd., a waste management, collection, and recycling company that serves the entire United Kingdom, has crowned Vancouver as the "greenest city in the world".

      Admittedly, the scope of the extensive international survey was a bit restrictive, concerned as it was with only the recycling component of urban green concerns, but most Vancouverites will concede Robertson's success in promoting cycling to reduce car travel, his leadership on green building plans, and reducing citizens' overall carbon footprints, alongside his "zero waste" recycling initiative.

      The British company singled out municipal officials as an important element of the recycling equation. "The decisions made by policymakers, city planners, and governments also affect the recycling rates of our towns and cities," it noted in a September 21 release.

      Vancouver's number-one status at the top of a list of the 15 greenest cities in the world caused Business Waste to label the city as "Canada's shining jewel when it comes to recycling".

      It went on to rave: "Vancouver has increased its [recycling] rate from 40% to over 60% in just over a decade, with a goal of 80%. The city does this by making recycling part of the circular economy and innovative schemes that reward businesses who upcycle or reuse materials."

      The number-two city in the top 15, Singapore, has "a goal to recycle 70% of its waste by 2030, and has increased business participation by introducing laws which make companies responsible for the waste they use".

      Copenhagen, the third-place city, is also "aiming for an impressive 70% recycling rate" and "is working towards becoming a zero waste municipality by 2050".

      Helsinki, Curitiba (Brazil), Delhi, Los Angeles, Leeds, Vienna, Stockhom, Seattle, Songdo (South Korea), Kamikatsu (Japan), Ekilstuna (Sweden), and San Francisco complete the list of the 15 leading cities.

      On the other side of the ledger are what Business Waste calls the "least green cities in the world", the top five of which are, from worst to not quite as bad, Mexico City (closed landfill, illegal dumping, rubbish in streets, and only 15 percent recycling), Beijing (which incinerates or sends to landfills 95 percent of its waste), Kolkata, New York City, and Kuwait City ("generate twice the global average of waste per day and less than 10% of it is recycled").

      Landfills create potent greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, and their leachates can contaminate groundwater.
      Wikimedia Commons/Ashley Felton

      Business Waste, which claims to campaign for laws to encourage increased recycling and punish littering and wasteful behaviours, calls itself "the waste company that hates waste".

      Company founder Mark Hall said in the release that the best recycling cities think locally.

      “Some of the best approaches covered in this list are ones which take local requirements and considerations into account—cities and towns working with their specific geography or economic status to improve their approach to recycling.

      "This is something that is key for cities, towns, or regions to incorporate into their own waste disposal policies in future," Hall said, "to ensure the best possible uptake and to minimise impact on the local environment.”