City committee investigating issues behind business recycling
By Christopher Walsh, editor
The City of Calgary is finally looking at ways to get local restaurants recycling in an effort to divert hundreds of thousands of tonnes of trash from the landfill.
The Calgary Beacon reported over two years ago that very few restaurants recycled their commercial or consumer waste. A few, like McDonalds, recycled packing boxes and shipping material. Blue boxes for glass bottles can be spotted at the occasional Calgary restaurant.
But for the most part, Calgary restaurants have been slow to adopt recycling, even though the industry contributes a significant amount of trash to City landfills.
Last week city officials struck up a committee through the waste and recycling department that will meet with all stakeholders in the coming weeks to determine the issues surrounding restaurant recycling, says David MacDonald with the city’s waste and recycling division.
“What we’re looking at is, what are the challenges people out there are facing for increasing diversion away from the landfill? What opportunities might exist to increase diversion,” MacDonald said. “What could the city do to help expedite this diversion?”
That might include changes to bylaws or incentives to get increase restaurant recycling, he added.
Janine Bolton, president of Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice, says the biggest stumbling block restaurants in the city have to overcome is the cost of diverting waste away from the landfill and into recycling stations.
“Unfortunately it falls in the restaurant’s hands in Calgary right now,” she said. “It falls on the restaurant’s own pocketbook which is quite a deterrent for a lot of them.”
Bolton’s group helps restaurants determine plans to become more environmentally friendly. She says the city’s pledge to look into the issue and discuss the matter with all stakeholders is promising.
“You have start somewhere,” she said. “I’m really thrilled to hear they’re engaging people and starting that discussion. It’s obviously on their radar and they do consider it something that might be important to Calgarians.”
Mark von-Schellwitz, a spokesman with the Canadian Food and Restaurant Association which represents area restaurants including fast food joints, says restaurants are willing to recycle but the city has not provided the proper facilities to put a real recycling system in place.
“Not to the extent they need. They’ve got some things and as an industry we’ve participated where we can, but to move this whole thing along, we have to get more recycling infrastructure in place,” he said.
“It’s one thing to say you can recycle, but the other thing is you actually have to have the infrastructure to do it.”
He added the City needs to look at all the issues facing restaurants, including costs, and develop something that works.
“You’ve got to have a proper program set up that makes it easy for people to buy into,” von-Schellwitz said. “That’s the biggest challenge going forward.”
But the City is moving in the right direction, he adds.
“I think there’s a role for all businesses to play. But it’s got to be a collective effort that involves the consumer, the general public, small businesses and government.”
MacDonald says the committee will look at all issues involved with restaurant recycling, including the existence of proper facilities in the coming months.
“That’s one of the things we’re trying to determine from the stakeholder engagement. How big is that problem,” he said. “We’re going to try to get to the bottom of these issues as best we can.”
The discussions with stakeholders will not be completed until the end of May, MacDonald says, and the committee will use the rest of the year to fine tune a report that will be presented to council next March. The goal is to have an action plan and get recyclable material from the restaurants, institutions and businesses diverted from the landfill by late 2013.
The report will be submitted to council in connection with the results of the residential green bin pilot project.
“We’re trying to trying to converge and form some master plan in the future,” MacDonald said.
He would not comment on what types of options the city may be looking at.
“We have to see what the magnitude of the problem is,” he said. “Until we know what those issues are and who’s responsible for them, I don’t want to speculate what the city may or may not do.”
Numbers released by the city show the industrial, commercial and institutional waste stream accounts for 50 per cent of material going to the landfill. In 2010, that number was pegged at 315,000 metric tonnes, of which 82,000 metric tonnes was food, organics and yard waste.
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