Corporate Green Initiatives Require Small Behavioural Changes

When people think of The City of Vancouver, they think of different things depending on who they are, what they’ve heard, and where their values lie. Some think of the City of Vancouver and remember the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, while others only remember us for rioting after losing the Stanley Cup Final … twice.  Some think of the City of Vancouver as being one of the most livable cities in the world, while others see locals as bourgeois hypocrites who ignore a homelessness issue that continues to grow.

The City of Vancouver has very publically set the goal of being the greenest city in the world by 2020 in its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan.  Perhaps the goal was set to preserve the area’s natural beauty, but perhaps it was set to improve the city’s global reputation.

I work in an office which has chosen to take on the City of Vancouver’s Corporate Zero Waste program. Ultimately, that means city employees have removed all of the garbage cans in our office, and replaced them with a collection of communal and personal bins that are used to separate all wastes that would have otherwise been thrown in the landfill.

We’ve been issued five communal bins, one for each of the following categories:

1. Paper Products (this includes paper cups, newspaper, cardboard)

2. Soft Plastics (this includes any plastic bags)

3. Mixed Containers (this includes plastic bottles, cans, tin foil, glass, disposable coffee cup lids)

4. Organics (this includes any organic matter including food, tea bags, coffee grounds)

5. Landfill (this is meant for any product that does not belong in one of the recycling bins listed above).

City of Vancouver Corporate Zero Waste Program

All of the communal bins are sitting in our hallway, with the exception of the organics bin which is located in our kitchen.  Each person was also issued a small blue recycling box that resides by their desk (in place of the garbage can).

The concept is that at the end of the day, you take your small bin to the designated recycling area, and sort your refuse into the appropriate bins.  Each day, the five communal bins are emptied by City of Vancouver staff. However, it is your responsibility to take care of your small blue bin.

When a representative from the City of Vancouver came to speak with our office about the program, a challenge he kept bringing to light is the importance of ‘sorting at the source.’  In other words, all refuse must be sorted right there in your office.  Otherwise, when city staff collects the product found in the bins, any ‘contamination’ is cause to throw that batch of recyclables into the landfill.

In other words, if food is found with the soft or hard plastics, that collection of plastic would be thrown into the landfill instead of being recycled. The same thing goes if plastics are found in the Paper Products bin.  It’s a lost opportunity that’s sent to the landfill.

I think it’s a great program, but it will take time for people to fully adapt to it. A behavioural shift is required for the program’s success. Because at the end of the day, if an office of 50 employees include 49 coworkers who sort their garbage into the appropriate pails, and 1 coworker who throws all refuse into inappropriate bins, then the system is broken.

Then again, I work in an office setting full of human resources people. Workplace health and safety is something we all care about, and we agree (for the most part) that small behavioural changes that are made to improve our environment are a positive thing. It will be more interesting to see how this corporate initiative is extended outside the office setting: to parks, schools and theatres.

While various recycling bins can be found throughout the City of Vancouver, the concept of trying to avoid ‘contaminating batches of recyclables’ is something I hadn’t heard of before.  No doubt this green initiative will continue to require education for the public, as well as their buy-in and adaptation to be successful.

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