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City of Vancouver celebrates Earth Day with launch of residential food scraps collection

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson proudly announced a new citywide program to reduce garbage today, one that keeps table scraps out of landfills and sends them back to the soil. Standing in front of the vegetable garden in the backyard of City Hall, Robertson was ebullient as he announced "an auspicious" moment: the launch of a program that would not only transform a significant percentage of what people throw away in Vancouver into a nutrient-rich material that goes back to the soil, but an achievement that added depth to his reputation as Vancouver's "green mayor."

 "It's an auspicious occasion," he said.

"I can't think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day than by launching a program that will make a huge difference in reducing Vancouver's environmental impact. The program is coming to all homes that have their yard trimmings picked up and that's over 110,000 homes.

"This was one of the 44 quick-start actions recommended by the Greenest City Action Team last year and we're now seeing it taking action.  Creating a compost pick up program was the number one requested program from more than 1,000 people who gave input to the Greenest City Action Team.  The goal is to reduce our waste by 40 percent by the year 2020.  It's  a realistic goal when you think that we create more waste per capita than the average Canadian municipality," Robertson said.

Media assembled at 9:30 Tuesday morning, the day before Earth Day, to hear Mayor Robertson's speech, announcing new citywide curbside food scrap pick up program

City of Vancouver's composting motto: "Your food isn't garbage. Turn your food scraps into compost."

"Curbside composting will have one of the most lasting positive impacts on quality of life on the city," Councillor Andrea Reimer told the Vancouver Observer. "This is all about reducing garbage going into the landfill.

"How do we take things that had a value to us and make sure they continue to have value, rather than become trash? This is about not having to put money into costly solutions like incineration.  About 35 percent of residential garbage is compostable.  Three phases.  We start today with phase one, doing raw fruit and vegetables, tea bags and coffee grounds, which can be used. 

"As of January 1, 2011, we'll move to all foods...anything that's compostable.  Including pizza boxes and food wrappers that have grease on them that you can't currently put into compost and we'll put that into our industrial facility.  The next phase is: we're figuring out how to work with the private garbage pick up people that service businesses and apartment buildings, condos."

What can people do to help make the program work?

"Call 3-1-1.  We will need a virtual army of volunteers out on the street. Some people are very familiar with composting and we need their help, [even if] it's [just] handing out a brochure to a neighbour at their door.  We have many languages in the city, many age groups, many people with different experiences.  [We'd like] to get people with a lot of experience with composting to talk with people who don't have experience with composting..."

The program, Reimer said, is costing $230,000 into communications effort into this year and another $230,000 into phase II.  The food will no longer go to the landfill, so it won't be traveling as far.  The food will go to a private company in Richmond so no increased cost to taxpayers.  In Richmond, it will be recycled into compost that will be sold to agricultural operations.

In phase II and phase III, the city will actually make money from the recycled material. 

Councillor Andrea Reimer said the city needs an army of volunteers to help educate the public.

Sadhu Johnston, Deputy City Manager,  (formerly---in the words of the Huffington Post---"Chicago's top Green official," )introduced Robertson, calling him, "...our green Mayor, who is pushing us to be greener every day and is leading by example." Johnston is pictured here with City Manager Penny Ballem.

Engaging Communities in Composting

"This is what a week's garbage looks like in my household. This is what you're left with when you take out the food and you clean your plates and you recycle your newspaper and your yellow bag stuff. This is what you're left with," Zero Waste Vancouver's Helen Spiegelman said (see photo below), in a speech that followed Robertson's.

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