Skip to content

City of Vancouver testing office recycling program

July 9, 2014


The City of Vancouver is about two weeks into  testing an office recycling system on its own employees in all city offices including Vancouver City Hall.

The city’s pilot program is part of the zero waste component of the Greenest City 2020 initiative. Simply put it finally allows people to recycle at their workplace the way they have been able to recycle in their single family homes or apartments since the late 1990s.

Replacing the “round file folder” at work


At Vancouver City Hall for example, wastepaper baskets are out. Every desk jockey now has their very own blue box.

Everything that can be recycled — office paper, takeaway cups, pop cans, newspapers, banana peels and so on — goes in the blue box. When their blue box is full the employee takes it over to the recycling station and sorts the content into the appropriate container:

  • Refundable Containers
  • Mixed Containers
  • Mixed Paper
  • Landfill
  • Food Scraps

Once a day janitors empty the contents of the recycling station bins and transfer the contents to larger equivalent blue bins.

In the main this system duplicates the process people follow at home with a few notable differences.

The workplace system calls garbage “Landfill” and newsprint no longer has its own bin. It goes into “Mixed Paper.” The system does add a bin just for “Refundable Containers” though.

Either cardboard is also considered mixed paper or the system may completely eschew  any kind of bin for cardboard and requires custodians to bundle it up.

The presence of professional office cleaners in the system will go a long way to insuring it is better adhered to than the residential system of recycling.

I’m told that all the new blue bins the recycling station bins are emptied into come equipped with locks.

So binners won’t be getting those office pop cans! Oh well, they’re not usually getting them now either.

No real details, just scraps of information

Someone has pointedly highlighted "paper napkins." Ony perfectly dry one are fit for "Mixed Paper".

Someone’s highlighted “paper towels.” Only perfectly dry one are fit for “Mixed Paper”.

All the posters promoting the program in city offices point employees to “” for more information on the program.

This is not a website on the Internet. Information for this pilot program appears to be restricted to an internal city network or intranet, rather than being made publicly available on the Internet via the City of Vancouver’s website.

One bit of information about the program was printed off the citywire intranet and uploaded to the Web as a PDF file in August, 2013. It lists the materials that can be recycled, including plastic grocery bags and Styrofoam cups, which, I believe are no longer acceptable in the city’s residential blue box/bin system and are supposed to be taken to Encorp depots.

The “Refundable Containers” bin only accepts pop, juice and water bottles and cans — no juice boxes.

The unequal public-private partnership of recycling

The city currently doesn’t have a lot to do with actually collecting recyclable garbage downtown or in the dense apartment-rich areas like the West End or Fairview. The city contracts out that collection to a private waste hauling company.

In fact, the City of Vancouver may be designing this workplace recycling program and testing it but it will ultimately be implemented on behalf of the new provincial czar of recycling, Multi-Materials B.C. This is an industry-based, “non-profit” group created by provincial law to insure that commercial packaging is recycled as much as possible.

Taxpayers will certainly be paying for the pilot program but ultimately any office recycling program will be carried out by private industry — the same waste hauling companies that currently handle dumpsters and blue bins will now add the collection of office recyclables.

I don’t know who will be reaping the profits of recycling under the new private regime — and there are profits now.

I suspect it’s won’t be the municipalities of British Columbia that painstakingly figured out workable recycling practices and no one should expect it to be the hapless binners who really did help push the B.C. government to create the modern bottle deposit system.

Perhaps this is a case of harnessing the profit motive but I believe whatever MMBC does with provincial recycling will be done with an eye to helping insure the profits stay largely in the hands of the private sector. Click the images to enlarge them.


  1. Slowcrow permalink

    Thanks for linking to the article re: Ken Lyotier and that recognition bestowed by those eastern people (I thought the article was older then 2013 tho……. ) How has UWC changed since his retirement? His concept was so inspiring and inclusive, and shouldn’t that income stream support bare bones stuff for the unhoused, like showers, laundry facilities, storage area, ‘club house’, etc. Maybe set up like a co-op………… (ah, I can hear the nay-sayers now, ‘the mess, the sex in the showers, the fights………), Hmmm. If only coffee cups could be brought into a deposit-type system. I would like to have seen butts in there too, but for safety and health reasons, I’m hoping they will rapidly be replaced with those e-cigs. (BTW, have you noticed any other Lyotier types around?)

    • I see no one like Ken Lyotier on the horizon. And while I have respect for what UWC stood for, and accomplished in the past, I have no great love for it today. I feel it sucks up social resources for the exclusive benefit of the Downtown Eastside.

      Two decades ago it apparently made sense to people to harness recycling to improve people’s lives — and the environment. Today everything is about money.

      The binners of 20 years ago say as much (the ones who are still with us). They often like to say they were in it for the lifestyle whereas modern binners (moi) are just in it for the money.

      Some of the old timers are quite disdainful of modern binners. It doesn’t help that some of them are crazy as loons but their “grandpa walked 30 KM to school through the snow… barefoot” routine is valid.

      Prior to the reduction and extension of deposits across a wider array of containers (deposit on 2 Litre pop bottles dropped from 30 cents to 20 cents) and the introduction of curbside recycling, the majority of refundable containers were pulled out of dumpsters.

      Many of these veteran dumpster divers wear their longevity like a badge or like union seniority. One fellow was so fond of hectoring me with how long he’d “been out here” that I wanted to make an “18-year” ribbon for him to wear.

      One near-20-year veteran loathes me especially. He refers to me as a “skimmer” and is positive I have never gotten my hands dirty in a dumpster.

      But the old geezers aren’t talking through their collective hat when they talk of having a kind of culture of binning.

      I can’t imagine any significant number of today’s binners being willing to protest anything let alone sacrificing their collected returnables.

      Yet back when Ken Lyotier was a binner he was able to mount such a protest among his peers.

      I think about that and how much positive difference Lyotier’s efforts made in the lives of B.C.’s poorest whenever one of the knuckle-dragging, misanthropic, prehistoric binners gets on my case.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: