Tag Archives: Biodegradable waste

CLIMATE CHANGE: Food Waste in our Landfills

by Roselyn Savady

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Many people are not aware of what happens when they throw away their leftovers, but composting is just as important as recycling plastic bottles and cans because it effects climate change.

In Metro Vancouver, nearly 1 million tonnes of waste goes into our landfills each year. About 40% of our garbage is food. By 2015, all organic waste will be banned from the landfills.

Why is it important to compost?

  • When organic waste decomposes, it gives off carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • Food waste will be covered in garbage and will decompose without oxygen and create methane gas (CH4), which is 20 more potent than CO2.
  • Both CO2 and CH4 are greenhouse gases (GHG).
  • When too much of the gas goes into the atmosphere, it pollutes our air and creates a blanket around the surface of the earth.
  • That blanket becomes thicker and thicker as we create more waste, while absorbing heat from the Sun.
  • Our planet is now becoming hotter, which is known as global warming.

How do we compost?

  • Most municipalities in Metro Vancouver offer green bins to be picked up, usually once a week and taken to a composting facility.
  • All consumable food waste, soiled paper (even pizza boxes), and yard trimmings can go into the organics cart. Things that are not allowed are plastic, metal, glass, pet waste, and diapers.
  • Start a backyard, balcony or a worm compost. It is great for your garden because of the nutrient-rich fertilizer it creates to help the soil retain moisture.
  • You can call your municipality to purchase a bin for approximately $25 each and they can help you set it up.

What’s in it for you?

  • Composting is not only great for the environment, it helps save us money.
  • We can reduce the amount of food we throw away buy planning meals carefully and buying fewer products with less packaging to avoid unnecessary waste.
  • Municipalities in Metro Vancouver also save money by spending less on managing recycling and operational costs. Your tax dollars could be used on more important matters.
  • The most sustainable way to manage waste is to compost.
  • You can stay healthy by growing vegetables in your own garden or community garden, throwing the left over organic waste into the compost, and then turning it into fertilizer which goes back into your garden. This cycle converts all the organic waste from our landfills.
  • We will have much higher air quality.  Less garbage means fewer trucks on the road and fewer trucks on the road means less GHG emissions going into the atmosphere.

Each household in Metro Vancouver produces about 860 kilograms of garbage a year. Just one household makes a huge difference. Imagine if every residential and commercial property in your community separated their food scraps and garbage. This would  keep millions of tonnes of garbage out of our landfills each year. We would live in a much cleaner environment.

Let’s encourage others to be more conscious of disposing waste and make use of the green bins. It’s time to take action!

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Food Waste and how it affects us

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It is estimated that half of all food produced worldwide, is wasted[1]. When food waste is thrown in the garbage, it goes on to decompose in landfills, producing over 20 per cent of Canada’s methane gas emissions. Methane gas is a greenhouse gas partly responsible for climate change. Organic waste collection services have been put in place throughout many cities in the Lower Mainland. However, Metro Vancouver, which is responsible for all of the Lower Mainland’s garbage, reports many people are still throwing their leftover food in the garbage, unwilling to try the new system. Moreover, many restaurants and grocery stores, which throw hundreds of pounds of food waste in landfills weekly, have yet to obtain affordable private pick-up for their food scraps to contribute to landfill diversion. However, by 2015, all businesses and residents will be banned from throwing organic waste, including food scraps, in the garbage.

The City of Vancouver says that “if every resident living in a house and duplex in Vancouver recycled food scraps for a whole year, we’d remove 2,800 trucks worth of food scraps from the landfill.”[2] Preliminary testing of the organic waste pick-up system concluded that organic waste collection services can reduce household garbage output by as much as 90 to 95 per cent. This reduction enabled cities to change their garbage collection schedule to two-week intervals, instead of one. Reducing the pick-up by half also reduces the environmental impact of service trucks, by half. In fact, organic waste collection has become so effective that Progressive Waste Solutions’ collection trucks, which service the City of Surrey, are run exclusively on compressed natural gas, a by-product of organic waste.

Metro Vancouver says that about “40% of all food waste comes from businesses and institutions. This amounts to over 100,000 tones every year.”[3] Obtaining private pick-up, or an on-site composting machine, is quite reasonably priced for private institutions. The industrial sized compost machines cost 10 to 25 thousand dollars, and produce high quality soil that can be resold or used for onsite gardens.[4]

Organic waste, once it is collected from the participating cities and businesses, is transported to the Fraser Richmond Soil & Fibre Facility, located in Richmond, B.C. The organic waste, including the paper bags that contain it, are placed in a composting pile. It is then transformed into high-quality soil and mulch, which is then distributed throughout B.C.[5]

Immense progress is happening throughout Metro Vancouver, changing the impact of our garbage. The City of Surrey is in the process of developing its own organics biofuel facility. The facility will convert organic waste into a renewable biomethane. Biomethane is a renewable, pipeline quality, natural gas, which can be used as a substitute for conventional automobile gasoline. The gas created at the facility will be used to fuel the existing waste collection fleet. Any excess gas will be piped directly into the FortisBC gas utility.

Again, by 2015, all businesses and residents will be banned from throwing organic waste, including food scraps, in the garbage. This ban includes, but is not limited to, restaurants, grocery stores, schools, health care facilities, offices, and shopping malls. Some options available to business owners include on-site composting (advanced, mess-free systems are available), food donation, or private organic waste pick-up services. One benefit of complying before the mandatory deadline, could be avoiding inflated costs for businesses.

The next time you are at home cleaning up after a meal, try taking the extra step to open your kitchen sized compost bin, instead of your waste bin, and watch your garbage output decrease greatly. To find out more, visit Metro Vancouver’s website http://www.metrovancouver.org, or contact your local municipality. If you aren’t on board already, it’s time to hop on.