Vancouver Sun: Companies must take initiative in recycling

Nov 19, 2013

Beedie School of Business Assistant Professor Stephanie Bertels says the onus to properly recycle products should continue to be shifted upstream from the individual consumer to the companies producing hard-to-recycle items.

The following article was published in the Vancouver Sun on November 16, 201, and features comment from Beedie School of Business Assistant Professor Stephanie Bertels.

The City of Vancouver is struggling with an increase of abandoned waste from a populace that either doesn’t know how — or isn’t willing — to get rid of their household items properly. The problem has become much worse in recent years after recycling fees were slapped on certain harder-to-dispose-of products, according to a new staff report.

The report points to fees and the dearth of recycling locations in the city for tripling the number of household items such as fridges, electronics, furniture and mattresses being illegally dumped over the past seven years.

The city spent roughly eight per cent of last year’s $7.8 million street cleaning budget disposing of 21,500 pieces of abandoned waste, according to the report headed to council Wednesday.

In 2011, Metro Vancouver instituted a $20 recycling fee for mattresses, which increased the number abandoned on Vancouver public property to 7,700 last year from 2,700 in 2006, according to the report.

A market study done for Metro Vancouver last year estimated that the region generates 1.3 million tonnes a year of recyclable material in six categories: carpet, glass, electronics, organics, paper and plastic. Of that amount, 630,000 tonnes are recycled and 650,000 tonnes go to landfills.

There are seven places — including Future Shop and Best Buy stores — in Vancouver to recycle old computers, electronic instruments, phones and video game systems. A Vancouverite who wants to properly dispose of a mattress, box spring or futon must go to the South Vancouver Transfer Station, which is east of Cambie Street near the Fraser River.

But a person without a car or living blocks away is more likely to just ditch their mattress or old TV in their back alley, according to Kate White, a sustainability and consumerism expert at The University of British Columbia. White said another factor in the ability of people to throw away their electronics so callously is our consumer culture and products’ planned obsolescence, which stimulates consumer demand for the newest and flashiest gadgets.

Sustainability expert Stephanie Bertels said the onus to properly recycle products should continue to be shifted upstream from the individual consumer to the companies producing hard-to-recycle items.

“I’m a pragmatist, I’ve been in the sustainability game for 25-some-odd years and I’m only 40,” said Bertels, a professor at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business. “Yes, we each need to do our part, but part of us each doing our part is being in a system that makes it easy and fair for us to do our part.”

A gap now exists between the provincial government’s Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program, which builds the recycling fee into the shelf prices of products, and the system’s ability to properly dispose of these older items.

“The answer is really not, ‘We should just remove the fees,’” Bertels said. “The answer is, ‘We need the fees in order to motivate the system and to pay for the system, but we have to build an infrastructure in British Columbia that can accommodate these things.’”

Staff have also proposed bringing a “Big Item Recycling Day” to various neighbourhoods to allow residents to drop off their electronics, mattresses and other hard-to-dispose-of items. As well, staff recommend the city engage its citizens to help clean up their own neighbourhoods by making the volunteer-led Keep Vancouver Spectacular crews active every month, not just once a year.

The strategy of $250 to $2,000 fines for illegal dumpers is clearly not working Bertels said.

The city has only issued one illegal dumping fine in the past five years because it is extremely hard to catch someone in the act, according to spokeswoman Viviana Zanocco.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

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