What a waste: making sense of Vancouver's disposal policy

Post by Mike Klassen in


Seeing this a lot lately? Digital TV prices mean that old sets are getting dumped in huge numbers

Now that the showboating around Mayor Robertson's GCAT (Greenest City Action Team) has died down for now, it's time to re-focus on real actions that will reduce Metro Vancouver's carbon footprint, and our impact on the environment.

With deference to the wise people who participated in the Mayor's environmental committee, the bandwidth-choking six megabyte brochure labeled as "Quick Actions" is pure greenwash. There is nothing "quick" about what is proposed (Mayor Robertson conveniently pushes out his deadline for accomplishing the "greenest" status to 2020), nor is there any real leadership on the matter of climate change exhibited in the recommendations.

There are no shortage of great verbs in the brochure to describe how the city will "act" in response to our degrading environment – encourage, tackle, shift, implement, advocate, enable, conduct, pursue, re-establish, co-sponsor, re-invigorate, develop, engage – but not one of them is "do," as in get it done.

Starting today CityCaucus.com will begin our own CityCaucus Green Action Team (Tag: CCGAT). You don't have to be a City Councillor, bank CEO, former Premier, environmental maven, nor a union boss to be on the CCGAT committee either. You just have to be passionate about sustainable cities and be willing to share your own ideas.

Our first CCGAT post is about waste disposal and the complicated mess that is Vancouver's system for dealing with different kinds of waste, in particular the toxic and electronic kind (aka e-waste).

The image of the abandoned TV set above is symbolic of the problem cities face on the matter of electronic waste. Due to the built-in obsolescence of so many consumer products, and the absurd amount of packaging that goes with it, cities are faced with a continuous challenge of what to do with the poison that is usually being buried in landfills.

When the price of 16:9 format TV screens began to plummet, and broadcasters signalled the shift to high definition broadcasting, I knew that millions of toxic standard definition picture tubes would be looking for a final resting spot. Usually they are left in our alleys for someone else to deal with - often by a city worker or private garbage disposal service.

This past weekend we did some much needed Spring cleaning around der Klassenhaus. Old door handles, padlocks, broken tools, and a ten year old BBQ began a heaping pile of scrap metal. Cardboard boxes and old files began another. Because I've heard that compact fluorescents contain mercury and are extremely toxic, dead bulbs formed another pile. Then there was a small stack of old batteries, wall warts and re-chargeable bike light systems in another group.

Add to this list about a dozen old cans of paint, oil-based and latex. Plus we had a box of solvents, household cleaners and insecticides we no longer felt good about (or the law prohibited us from) using.

A few days ago I did a big purge of old PC's, cables and a CRT monitor.

To rid yourself of all of this toxic mess you need a map, a vehicle to ship it in, patience and a few bucks in your wallet. In Vancouver the main transfer station is on the city's south side, making it less accessible to citizens on the north side of town where most people live. For paper, metals and batteries, the Kent Street station is a good service open all day most days of the year including holidays.

For TV sets, it's suggested that you take them, provided you can carry these heavy buggers, to your local Salvation Army depot which close at 5pm most days and are not open Sundays. For computer equipment you are asked to drop off at ERA (Electronic Recycling Association), also in south Vancouver, open during business hours.

For solvents and toxic materials, there is another location on Kaslo Street in Grandview-Woodlands, but they'll only take certain kinds of products. For compact fluorescents, you are suggested to run them back to Home Depot or wherever you bought them. Paints get dropped off at yet another location at Main & 28th.

You can see the patience of one well-meaning citizen can run pretty thin when it comes to disposing of waste responsibly in our city, and I can afford the dumping fees involved with some products, plus I own a car. For many citizens, it's just easier to dump it in a lane under the cover of night, or pour it down a drain.

While good progress has been made through the years, local governments have to provide strong direction on the matter of toxic waste so our surroundings don't become like a scene out of WALL-E.

So CCGAT's Action Item #1 is: Develop and implement immediately a coordinated waste disposal policy backed up by stiff penalties for abuse and a responsive reporting system for dumping.

Stay tuned for more CCGAT ideas here at CityCaucus.com. If you have your own and wish to share them here, email citycaucus@gmail.com with your guest editorial about 500 words in length.


Expand your coordinated waste policy to the high schools. Incorporate a collection day for electronics or paint/solvents, etc. The students can do the organization through their planning or connections classes they have to take for graduation anyway. Parent volunteers could help by taking the stuff brought to the school to the correct depot. Maybe one day for each different waste centre. As well, household goods that are still useful could be collected as well and the local charities would come to pick up the goods.
We go to the dump regularly and it is quite sickening to see useful things thrown away because it was the easiest thing to do. Engage our teens in looking after their community and it will become a lifelong habit. Not all teens are cut out to volunteer at the nursing home or summer camp, this would fulfill the volunteer aspect they are encouraged to do while in high school.

I have been compiling a list of where to recycle different items in Vancouver. I have added your suggestions to it.


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