Surrey merits praise for its waste change

surrey garbage

When it comes to waste, Surrey deserves its kudos.

The city’s three-cart waste management system came into effect in the fall of 2012, decked out with a fresh fleet of eco-friendly trucks and a new paradigm shift in residential waste pickup. The focus is on an organics-heavy, low waste landfill diversion program in an effort to try to usher in a greener era in our sprawling metropolis and for the region altogether.

While Surrey reported a 43% drop in residential garbage, the statistic seemed skewed. This assumption was purely an opinion drawn from a superficial understanding. My skepticism lay not in the mathematics but the pragmatic. Wastefulness is a habit, especially in this day and age when nearby resources are readily available. In a nutshell, we, in terms of society, are the mass creators of waste. No jaw-dropping point here. We further exacerbate our wasteful condition through cross-contamination, that is, mixing your recyclables in with garbage, your organics with waste, so on and so forth. This costs time and therefore money to separate and sort—that’s the immediate improvement to Surrey’s Rethink on waste.

From the latest City of Surrey
From the latest City of Surrey “Waste Collection Calendar Tool.

The new collection program has helped circumvent the problem of cross-contamination because sorting now occurs at the home, for the most part, which has left an equal or greater amount of recyclables and organics out of the landfill.

A general gauge of effectiveness for waste diversion can be made via the measurement of the landfill year over year. If the amount of waste remains the same or is reduced, then diversion is a success. Simple.

So, by the city’s numbers—the most readily available data—the new system is a clear improvement. Certainly, diverting 24,100 tonnes less of waste from the fill, while increasing organic collection by 23% speaks volumes to the program’s immediate success.

The city further cites, “We’re picking up the same annual tonnage of waste per household, we’re just “packaging” it differently and providing residents with the appropriate containment system.”

And, if you exceed your biweekly garbage limit, you can purchase extra garbage stickers to get rid of any additional waste. There’s also no weekly limit to organics and biweekly recyclables either. So if you surpass your weekly cart capacity, the city states you can place your materials into a Kraft bag or blue box adjacent to your full organic or recyclables cart for collection at no additional cost. So the initial concern that numbers are skewed because of municipal limits of how much and when waste can be taken.

Nonetheless, while the hard dollars saved is a difficult figure to ascertain, it’s explicit based on (admittedly) the City’s figures that the system is indeed working and with a nearly $10 million price tag just to roll-out, it ought to.

However, waste diversion is only a piece of Surrey’s sustainability initiative.

Progressive Waste Solutions (BFI Canada) was awarded the $9.5 million waste collection contract in 2012 in part, because of BFI Canada’s state-of-the-art automated Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) trucks, which emit 23 per cent less carbon emissions and 90 percent less air particulates compared to traditional diesel trucks (what the previous company of trucks ran off of).

According to the City of Surrey, studies show that replacing one diesel truck with a CNG truck is the equivalent to taking 475 cars off the road each year. Certainly, it’s been proven natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline or diesel.

The bottom-line here was that municipal waste collection rates would not be hiked as a result of the new contract being awarded to one of North America’s largest non-hazardous, solid waste management companies.

But the extra caveat is the city’s proposed Organics Biofuel facility (to be located at 9752 / 9810 – 192 Street, if rezoning permits). This is a crucial piece to the puzzle; the piece that helps tie in the cycle of sustainability.

Moreover, the proposed biofuel processing plant is future-looking, it’s a facility that will convert collected organic material into natural gas, which can then in turn be utilized to fuel the fleet of CNG trucks and perhaps generate further power for a small lot of other vehicles and homes.

This is smart environomics.

It is also in line with many of Europe’s leading green states as well. Norway, for example, uses 300,000 tonnes of garbage to power several of its homes and vehicles. Canada certainly lags slightly behind the waste-to-energy revolution thus Surrey’s push for its own waste-to-energy facility deserves kudos.

“Four tonnes of waste has the same energy content as one tonne of fuel oil,” said Pal Mikkelsen in a BBC interview. Mikkelsen is Norway’s waste-to-energy agency director, a position that I’m not sure even exists in the same spate, in Canada’s instance.

Furthermore, according to the same source, one tonne of fuel could heat a home for half a year.

But the question is, who will help foot the bill?

While BFI’s contract won’t affect municipal waste fee rates, the approximately $67.6 million plant, of which just up to 25% is to be covered by the feds, may require some crafty fundraising, and hopefully no finagling, by city council.

Brandon Kostinuk
Brandon graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.A. in comparative history and a political science minor. After a two-year stint as a compliance researcher at a private financial firm, he moved on to an accelerated journalism program at Langara College. Brandon currently freelances, sharing time at a local startup magazine and content writing.