British Columbia is a leader in recycling, but experts say it’s time to turn to waste reduction

Since the 1970s, Victorian resident Lys Fonger has set aside space in her home for garbage she doesn’t want to end up in landfill.

In those days, this meant cleaning and tearing off the labels on tin cans, cutting off the top and bottom of the cans and flattening them. She bundled up the newspapers. When enough materials were piled up to justify driving through town to an early recycling station, she went.

She said that her motivation at the time was simple.

“There is a landfill, it will not last forever, if we can try to transfer something from the landfill, it will last longer,” she said.

Fonger, 77, is a retired doctor who raised two daughters as an adult and worked and sailed on the South Coast with her husband. She said that seeing plastic trash in the ocean and trash on the beach made her realize the importance of transferring trash.

“There is nothing more distressing than seeing trash in the water,” she said. “this is too scary.”

77-year-old Lys Fonger spent most of her life sailing or boating on the south coast of British Columbia. After seeing the garbage in the ocean, she wanted to do her best to remove the garbage. (Jennifer Fangge)

Over the past 50 years, the recycling of Fonger and her family in British Columbia has become easier because her city and many other cities across the province have launched a roadside blue box program to collect and recycle households. Various materials.

In the past seven years, the province has emerged As a leader in North America, Its province-wide recycling program accepts a wide range of materials, and the percentage of these materials that are recycled and converted into other products.

People like Fang who have been collecting, cleaning, and sorting garbage all their lives have helped achieve this goal through their habits, but now some people say that if the goal of reducing waste is to be achieved, new habits are needed to supplement residential recycling.

“When you don’t produce an item at all and you reuse what you already own, it is indeed the most beneficial to the planet and the climate,” said Karen Storey, a senior engineer involved in waste reduction in Metro Vancouver.

The province stated that in 2017, each person produced an average of 506 kg of municipal waste.Although it is 61 kg less than in 2012, the province hopes to reduce the municipal solid waste treatment rate 350 kg per person.

Storey said that more residents, businesses and governments need to find ways to achieve these goals, with a focus on reducing and reusing in addition to recycling.

In this undated photo, materials recovered in a house in Kamloops, British Columbia, were not collected. The municipality will leave the information to residents who have improperly classified materials, as this can lead to recycling pollution. (Kamloops)

“It’s really about finding ways to reuse things… and remanufacturing and repairing things,” she said. “What is really talking about is the reduction, reuse, and repair of the system.”

The recycling system in British Columbia

Residential recycling in BC is managed by an organization established in 2014 Enacted legislation This requires manufacturers that create packaging for their products to fund and manage recycling programs.

RecycleBC runs a residential recycling collection program for nearly 2 million households in the province. About 200,000 tons of materials were collected in 2019, 40.5 kg per capita.

About 90% of the materials it collects are recycled. For most plastics, processors in the province make them into pellets, which are then sold and used to make food containers, bottles, automotive products, and clothing.

“There is no doubt that British Columbia has long been a leader in the field of extended producer responsibility,” said David Lefebvre, representing RecycleBC. “One of our biggest goals is to ensure that not only is it important for people to recycle, but that recycling is also correct.”

Landfill life

Despite this, even though informed citizens have done all the right things, the landfill continues to fill up. The Hartland landfill in the Capital Region is not expected to exceed 2100.

The landfill in Vancouver Delta has a deadline of 2037. It opened in 1966 and currently has 225 hectares of landfill.

Although RecycleBC processes 90% of the products it collects, on average, only 78% of the products produced by manufacturers are recycled for disposal.Paper and glass are the two materials with the highest recovery rate, while Only 46% of plastic materials are recycled.

The pollution rate of recyclable materials in British Columbia is one of the lowest in the country. (Christian Amundsen/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Ras Smith, senior manager of the Vancouver Island Capital Region, said there is no limit to the amount of recycling that residents can recycle, but not all recycled materials can be sent to the right place.

“People consume, but we must know how to deal with waste,” he said. “This is an ongoing challenge, a difficult problem.”

Discard culture

For someone like Storey, the future of waste disposal is clear: She believes that people need to start making choices that don’t require recycling or landfill.

She said: “Start thinking about the simple habit to start researching every day.”

People living in Metro Vancouver throw away 1 billion disposable items every year.The local government stated that this 440 pieces per person per year.

In response, Metro Vancouver has launched a number of activities to encourage reduction, reuse or simply avoid certain products. Its latest initiative is called “Super Habits,” and it encourages behaviors that residents like Foger are already doing, such as switching to reusable drinking containers, rejecting plastic utensils, and using their own shopping bags when shopping.

Advocates also encourage people to consider what happens to the packaging or items after use. Can they be recycled? Will they end up in a landfill? Is there a better option?

The government and companies are also studying how to transition to the so-called Circular EconomyIt will ensure that the resources used to manufacture products will never be discarded, but will be reused, remanufactured, recycled and reintroduced as new products.

Storey said that the easiest way to imagine a circular economy is through the concept of leasing, where residents rent coffee cups, bicycles, and even jeans and other items, and then return them to the company for repair or reuse.


Storey and others hope that residents who have already succeeded in recycling will embrace these future changes with the same enthusiasm.

“[People] It’s very malleable,” said Jiaying Zhao, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia who studies recycling behavior.

She plans to publish a paper this year that shows that putting images of marine animals trapped in plastic waste in recycling containers in office spaces will ultimately reduce plastic waste by 17%.

The team she worked with in the paper also showed similar reductions in organic matter and waste.

“The current research proves the effectiveness of visualizing the marine consequences of plastic waste and provides important behavioral insights into the practice of reducing plastic waste,” the paper reads.

Save money by reducing waste

Zhao hopes that educational programs and incentives will help residents and businesses further develop the habit of reducing waste. “We need to achieve zero waste,” she said.

RecycleBC stated that it is supporting waste reduction through the program itself, which provides economic incentives for manufacturers to start using less packaging and materials.

“Therefore, the entire concept of producer responsibility extension sends a signal to producers that if they reduce the amount of packaging they use, they can save money,” Lefebvre said.

Waste reduction is also advocated by RecycleBC Its own activity.

This is also something that people who have worked hard to recycle hope to become popular.

Kian Webber, 42, who lives in Saanich, puts plastic bags and other items aside and regularly brings them to the warehouse for transfer.

“This is the future of the planet. I have two young children. The environmental crisis will not disappear, so it is important to try and recycle as much as possible,” Weber said.

Weber said he is committed to recycling and reducing waste, but he also relies on manufacturers and governments to provide better options.

“I have two little boys who eat often, so it’s hard to avoid buying food wrapped in plastic,” he said.

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