Questions and answers for residents

What is organic waste?

Organic waste is anything that comes from plants or animals that is biodegradable, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, eggshells, cheese, bones, coffee grounds and filters etc. It also includes yard waste such as branches, leaves and grass, and compostable papers like brown paper bags, and paper egg cartons.

What is composting?

Composting is nature’s way of recycling. It turns organic waste into a natural humus, which looks a lot like soil. This process requires natural organisms like fungi and bacteria, and oxygen. The outcome is humus, some heat, and a small amount of carbon dioxide. Want to see the heat? Turn a pile of leaves on a cool fall day, and watch the warm steam rise.

Putting organic waste into plastic bags and burying it in a landfill blocks out oxygen, stops this natural process from occurring, and causes the production of methane gas instead. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change. Sending your organics into a processing centre, or using a backyard composter, allows the natural recycling process to happen.

What food packaging is compostable?

A lot of paper-products such as pizza boxes and paper napkins are compostable, but not recyclable with clean papers. Check with your city to confirm what exactly can go in your green bin. Examples include some:

  • pizza boxes
  • paper napkins
  • paper egg cartons
  • food-soiled newsprint (often used to line a kitchen catcher)
  • waxed cardboard
  • paper bags

Have more questions? We’d like to hear from you.

  • Organics Disposal Ban

Some produce is twist-tied or bound with elastics – do they need to come off?

Plastics, including those marked biodegradable, and similar items (such as plastic wrap, elastics, twist ties, straws, and swizzle sticks) contaminate compost and reduce its value – keep them out of the green bin. Remove them for re-use, or put them in the garbage.

If non-compostable material is included in the green bin, the entire load may be rejected and sent to a landfill for disposal. If the load is processed, the resulting compost will contain plastic that is not valued for landscaping and would therefore be unusable.

Can I use bags labelled “compostable” or “biodegradable” to collect kitchen scraps?

Plastics, including those marked biodegradable, do not belong in the compost as they do not break down properly during processing. Paper bags and newsprint can be used to line your kitchen container. Keep plastics and plastic bags (even those marked biodegradable) out of the green bin.

Double check with your municipality to find out what is and is not accepted in your municipality’s green bin program.

What are the benefits of separating food scraps from my regular garbage?

Food scraps currently compose about 30% of what our region sends to the landfill each year. That’s consistent with other similar cities, prior to introducing food scraps recycling. Recycling our food scraps makes us less reliant on the landfill.

When food scraps are put in landfills, they produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 67% of all the methane generated within the Metro Vancouver region comes from landfills. But when composted properly, food scraps return nutrients to the soil to improve soil health and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. They can also go into a different kind of facility that captures the methane and turns it into energy, or processes it into biofuel that run vehicles - even garbage trucks.

Recycling food scraps separately also creates more jobs than landfilling them, including jobs in recycling program development, education, collection, processing, marketing, and use of products.

Is food scraps separation mandatory? Who made this rule?

In short yes. It would be great if everyone recycled all that they can to help the environment, and a rule like this helps boost food scraps recycling rates.

The longer answer: Like with other recyclable materials, Metro Vancouver is placing a disposal ban on organics. This means food is not accepted as garbage at the region’s waste facilities. Disposal bans are an enforcement tool that encourages recycling. Eventually a penalty will be charged on loads of waste that contain excessive amounts of visible food scraps. To support this tool, many cities within Metro Vancouver will likely introduce a regulation called mandatory recycling, which is enforceable at your property line. Usually, mandatory recycling means that any household or commercial site must have, and use, food scraps separation bins or on-site composters.

Metro Vancouver consulted extensively with the public and business across the region in 2006 through 2010 and heard that food scraps recycling was a priority for reducing what we send to the landfill.

How do I keep my curb side green can free of odours and flies?

Pests and odour can be kept to a minimum with regular emptying and cleaning of your green bin. Remember you are not making more organic waste than before, but only moving it into a different bin.
  • Line your kitchen catcher with newsprint, which absorbs liquids, prevents odours and makes it easier to clean. Learn how here.
  • You might also line your green bin with a few sheets of newsprint from your recycling bin.
  • Put your green bin out on your regular schedule, even with small amounts. Going away? Ask a neighbour to shift it curb side for you.
  • Position your green bin away from fences and keep the lid down to prevent animals from climbing into your bin.
  • Lemon juice, white vinegar, or baking soda and water are natural cleansers.

How much waste is diverted from landfills because of food scraps separation?

300,000 tonnes – this is food and yard waste that would otherwise go to the landfill. As the Organics Disposal Ban applies to everyone in Metro Vancouver starting in 2015, the amount of composted material diverted from landfills will grow.

What about my food grinder and similar technologies?

Separating food scraps from garbage for composting or processing at a dedicated facility is the best way to manage organic waste – sending food scraps through the sewer system costs more and doesn’t capture the same value from the compost. Food grinders and similar technologies:
  • do not recycle or recover nutrients.
  • can not take all the organics that you need to separate from your garbage (such as meat bones, cooking grease, large amounts of starchy food etc.)
  • increase the amount of organic waste reaching wastewater treatment facilities, putting pressure on those facilities to meet federal environmental guidelines.
  • often rely on a lot of clean water to move material, which is not an efficient use of treated clean water.