No heavy hand yet over Metro Vancouver food scrap sorting rules

METRO VANCOUVER — Nearly a year after Metro Vancouver banned kitchen scraps from the region’s garbage bins, some multi-family residences have yet to start separating their organics into the green bin.

But neither Metro Vancouver nor individual municipalities are pressing the issue, saying it will ultimately be up to garbage haulers to enforce the rules because they will penalized if the amount of food scraps exceeds the maximum threshold in each garbage load. The ratio this year was 25 per cent, but will drop to 15 per cent in 2016 and five per cent the year after, as part of Metro’s ambitious goal to divert 80 per cent of organics and recycling from landfills by 2020.

Between July and October this year, 53 haulers have been handed a surcharge, equal to 50 per cent of the tipping fee, for exceeding food scrap limits in garbage loads. Between July and October this year, 53 haulers have been issued a surcharge, equal to 50 per cent of the tipping fee, for exceeding food scrap limits in garbage loads. The organics tipping fee is $66 per tonne at the Vancouver transfer station and $71 per tonne on the North Shore.

Food scraps include everything from coffee and eggshells to leftovers or expired food, meat, bones, dairy products and napkins and pizza boxes.

“We’re not forcing the levy onto organics. It really depends on what happens at the transfer station,” said Rob Costanzo, Surrey’s manager of engineering operations. “If fines are levied because of excess organic waste, they’re going to go back to their customers.”

Surrey and Richmond, for instance, have taken a voluntary approach to the organics program in multi-family residences. Surrey made the decision after the city faced a backlash from some waste haulers who argued they were already providing the service, Costanzo said.

About 250 of Surrey’s 470 apartment buildings have since signed on with the city program, which charges residents $35 per year for weekly organics collection and cart-cleaning services, Costanzo said.

In Vancouver, meanwhile, the city provides green bin collection to about one-third of multi-family units in the city, mostly the three- and-four-story walk-ups and townhouses, while private contractors are responsible for condos and strata, which fall under commercial buildings.

Officials say while they have heard anecdotally that there’s been a high uptake of the program, one of the biggest challenges for some of buildings is finding space for the green bins among the jumble of recycling, garbage and cardboard containers. In some cases, bins are already stored in city laneways.

Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Homeowners’ Association, said space issues have prompted some of his members to adopt a wait-and-see approach, with no plans to separate their kitchen scraps until the thresholds for organics have been reduced to five per cent.

“Some have taken the position there’s so little waste anyway that they’re not going to deal with it until 2017,” he said.

The sporadic acceptance of the kitchen scraps program isn’t a surprise to Metro Vancouver, which said it had instituted the phased in organics threshold to give multi-family residents time to adapt. Most single-family homes across Metro Vancouver have been involved in separating their organics for a few years.

“We knew going in that the recycling rate for multi-family was very low,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, chairman of the Metro’s waste committee. “We know you can’t just snap your fingers and the situation changes. We have to keep working with them and they will come online. Overall we’re doing pretty well but there’s bound to be some challenges.”

Costanzo said he expects the situation will be similar to what happened a decade ago with the push for recycling services across the region, with multi-family units starting out slowly and eventually signing on to the region-wide goals.

Albert Shamess, Vancouver’s director of waste management, said his rental building has just come online in the past few months. The bins are clean, he said, and regularly picked up. He noted it’s in the haulers’ best interests to get people recycling.

Parv Bal, director manager of BFI/Progressive Waste Solutions, said drivers will notify the company if bins are overflowing or if they find an excess of food scraps in the garbage. But he noted it will be up to Metro to levy a penalty based on individual audits of the garbage.

“They’ve got to get food and organics out of the waste stream,” he said.

Most organics bins are collected each week although this varies depending on the contracts with individual haulers and the size of bins at each site. Gioventu noted Port Coquitlam has one of the highest rates for organic collection in its multi-family and commercial buildings, but pickup only occurs on a two-week rotation. “It’s amazing. With all the bears they have there’s little problem with their waste management.”

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