Friday, October 1, 2010

Draya ponders food waste

While I was taking photos for Quest I noticed this pile of empty plastic containers sitting on top of the recycling bins. This brought a few questions to mind.

Why are these empty?

Due to a variety of circumstances, even we at Quest are unable to use absolutely everything. Sometimes products arrive already expired, and other times there are just more jars of pickles then there are people. When this happens, we try not to throw anything away. The contents are composted and the containers are cleaned for recycling.

This brought to mind more questions. Does it really get recycled? Where does it go?

After finding the recycling pile I came into the office and was talking about it with Kyle. I was surprised that all the items were recyclable, and reflected back on a documentary I watched over the weekend about plastic. Even though it is possible to recycle some items, there is either no market for the recycled product or no local facilities to process it. Lots of it was ending up at the landfill even when it had been put in the blue box.

I looked up the website for the company that Quest uses to recycle, Urban Impact. The first thing I noticed was that they recycle soft plastic such as pallet wrap and plastic bags as well as batteries, fluorescent tubes, and hazardous non-biological stuff like drywall and fiberglass, along with the typical mixed containers and paper recycling.

They provide a detailed breakdown of what kind of containers they do and don’t take on this page:

Last year (2009) Quest diverted 115 cubic yards of recycled material from the landfill using Urban Impact. I’m told that is equal to about 57 full size pickup trucks and 17 tonnes of carbon emissions.

We try to put out the best quality of produce but it’s inevitable that there is some spoiled food that can’t be sold. At Quest we compost any organic matter we can’t sell, and is picked up by Smithrite Disposal ltd. You’ve probably seen the logo on bins and trucks around the city. I didn’t know that they were more than a garbage collection company.

They will pick up fruits & vegetables, food scraps, bakery discards, flowers, leaves, plant stalks, soiled paper like napkins and coffee cups, meats & fish, coffee grounds/filters, tea bags, and biodegradable products including plates/ cutlery/ cups.

Smithrite can work together with customers like us to find ways to reduce waste and minimize what ends up in the landfill by performing an audit. They also do residential pickup services and I was interested to see that they are working on a pilot project with Coquitlam and Metro Vancouver where 500 households can include household scraps in their yard trimmings.

More info:

Photo of the bins and containers.

Written by Draya, a Quest volunteer and client

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