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Vancouver aims for zero waste by 2040


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Vancouver’s strategy will include a policy on single-use items and a green demolition bylaw update.

VANCOUVER – Vancouver became the first city in the world to approve a comprehensive zero-waste strategic plan: Zero Waste 2040. Additionally, Vancouver became the first in Canada to prohibit plastic straws and polystyrene foam cups and take-out containers with the adoption of an early zero waste initiative – the Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy.

Zero Waste 2040 includes forward looking policies and actions to help move Vancouver toward achieving zero waste. Some of these actions can be implemented right away, while some will lay the ground work for progress over time.

Both the Zero Waste 2040 Strategic Plan and Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy will require additional consultation with residents and businesses as policies and actions are refined over the years to come.

Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy

The Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy responds to feedback heard from large and small businesses, residents, and the community as a whole that bold actions are needed to address problematic single-use materials. There was overwhelming support to ban foam cups and foam fast food containers, to reduce use of plastic and paper bags and disposable cups, and to ban the use of plastic straws with some exceptions for health care needs.

Priority actions

Priority actions in the strategy include:

  • Introduce a ban on the distribution of polystyrene foam cups and containers and plastic straws starting June 1, 2019.
  • Introduce reduction plans for disposable cups and plastic/paper shopping bags. These plans will allow businesses to choose one of the following options:
    • No distribution of disposable cups or plastic/paper shopping bags
    • Disposable cups or plastic/paper shopping bags cannot be distributed for free
    • Other mechanisms that will be proposed and finalized through consultation
    • If the reduction plans do not lead to the City reaching the target reduction rate by 2021, City Council will enact a full distribution ban on single-use bags and cups
  • Require disposable utensils to be given out only if customers ask for them, rather than receiving them automatically.
  • Issue an RFEOI for “Made-in-Vancouver” single-use item solutions such as a city mug share program and reusable straws.
  • All compostable packaging (e.g., bags, cups, and containers) distributed by businesses must be approved compostable, which means that it has been tested and approved at a local compost facility.
  • Explore options to recover the costs of collecting disposable cups in public waste bins and as litter from the businesses that generate this waste.

In addition to recommending actions on reducing single-use items, the strategy allows for some flexibility and choice for businesses in order to make the transition manageable, education and outreach to support the changes, and continuing work with Metro Vancouver to develop a Regional Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy.

Every week, 2.6 million plastic-lined paper cups and two million plastic bags are thrown in the garbage in Vancouver. Cups and take-out containers make up about 50 per cent of all items collected in public waste bins and plastic straws and stir sticks make up about two per cent of shoreline litter in Vancouver. Despite their convenience, it costs Vancouver taxpayers $2.5 million a year to collect these items from public waste bins and to clean up as litter.

The Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy is the result of extensive consultation with residents and businesses to create a made-in-Vancouver approach to for reducing the impact of single–use items.

Green Demolition Bylaw expanded and Deconstruction Hub created

One key focus area of Zero Waste 2040 is reducing waste from the built environment. Today, the City approved an expansion of the existing green demolition requirements from pre-1940 homes to include pre-1950 homes and approved funding to support the creation of a Deconstruction Hub.

Pre-1940 homes currently represent roughly 40 percent of residential demolitions in Vancouver. The shift to pre-1950 homes will increase that to 70 percent. The amendments will also require deconstruction — a more careful approach to taking down houses in order to salvage more materials — for pre-1910 homes and heritage-listed homes built before 1950.

To date, most of the materials that have been diverted have been recycled rather than reused. Recycling is not necessarily the best use for all materials, particularly from historic homes. To address this challenge and support deconstruction efforts, the City also approved funding to support the creation of an independently operated Deconstruction Hub, which will help advance the local market for restoring, upcycling and selling salvaged materials, including architectural details and salvaged old-growth wood.

Since its adoption in June 2014, the Green Demolition Bylaw has diverted nearly 40,000 tonnes (roughly 10,000 tonnes per year) of demolition waste from the landfill and incinerator. The average diversion rate for pre-1940 homes has been 86 percent, which is significantly higher than the typical rate of 40-50 percent for traditional residential demolitions.

The Green Demolition Bylaw supports the Heritage Action Plan and Zero Waste 2040 and the Greenest City Action Plan, and aims to encourage preservation and renewal of character homes, increase reuse of demolition materials, and generally reduce the amount of construction and demolition waste disposed to landfill and incinerator.

The proposed Green Demolition bylaw amendments will be effective January 1, 2019.


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