Wasting Away

Lately I have been immersed in waste. I had prepared a little presentation on waste for my recent SFU sustainability course and trip to the landfill. Shortly after, I found myself working on a couple of proposals for the City of Vancouver around composting initiatives. The City launched their residential curbside pick up of food waste earlier in the year. Now they want to make sure there is educational support around backyard composting so that residents can make the choice to keep that valuable resource for their own gardens.

When I worked at City Farmer back in the 1990s, I used to start all of my wormshops off with: “In Metro Vancouver, we produce over two million tonnes of garbage annually. That’s enough to fill BC Place Stadium twice.” But after two decades of reduce, reuse and recycle, we now produce 3.6 million tonnes! How is that possible? Three quarters of our waste stream is made up of products and packaging. But in BC, we have a commendable Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program, where the producer is responsible for the product from cradle to cradle, including packaging. So bottles, electronics, paint, batteries, cell phones and other products all get recycled through an EPR now. Then really, why is waste still on the rise? Although there is a commitment to waste reduction and diversion, the majority of municipal funds go to disposal infrastructure – landfills and waste to energy facilities, like the incineration facility that Metro is currently looking at as a replacement for the nearly full Cache Creek landfill. Incinerators need to be fed to be viable. They need constant input, which seems to fly in the face of reducing.

I came across some great resources during my recent romp with waste. The Recycling Council of British Columbia has several excellent reports on getting to zero waste. The Clean Bin Project takes the zero waste ethic to a very personal level. A Vancouver couple decides to compete for a year to see who winds up with the least waste. The film is an absolute delight and made me want to reduce my plastic produce bag consumption. Chris Jordan, a photographer who uses garbage as his muse, is interviewed in the film. Just so happens his brilliant exhibit, Running the Numbers, An American Self-Portrait is showing at SFU’s Burnaby Campus. I plan to see it. Then I went to see another waste-themed art exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Waste Not by Chinese artist Song Dong is not to be missed. The installation turns hoarding into art. His mother was a compulsive conserver, helping her son with the project became a form of art therapy. Each of the 10,000 objects that she saved is lovingly arranged and displayed, including the frame of a room in her house. As I walked through the yellowing newspapers, pop bottles, and plastic bags folded into little triangular packets, I found the hoarder places in myself. When I got home, I cleaned out a drawer that had several old eyeglass cases, and vowed to buy some of those reusable produce bags I’d seen at the farmers’ market. Now what to do with all those twist ties.

If you want to entertain how we got in this mess in the first place, check out Anne Leonard’s, The Story of Stuff.

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