What's up with Vancouver's Green Organics Bins?

I've been working closely with several Vancouver businesses trying to figure out ways to reduce their waste. Food waste in particular is a hot issue. Every year Vancouver food waste amounts to 188,000 tonnes, that's equivalent to 26,000 truckloads of waste! Most of this "waste" ends up in landfills. When we recover the natural nutrients, energy and value in organic materials and return them to the soil we actually enrich our farmland...otherwise known as composting. This year, keeping food waste out of the trash became mandatory for Metro Vancouver residents, businesses and institutions. 

A lot of businesses want to move in the right direction by creating an effective organics green recycling program, but since the 2015 ban, a lot of people are unsure about what exactly can and cannot go in the now required green organics bins. 

One restaurant I worked with wanted to make the switch from plastic cups to compostable ones. They looked into purchasing cups that were made of polylactic acid (PLA).


PLA is a biodegradable thermoplastic made from renewable resources such as cornstarch, tapioca starch, or cane sugar. A lot of businesses use PLA products because of the biodegradable stamp and it can easily be moulded into cups, straws, to-go boxes and many other convenient items. A lot of businesses and the people who use these products dispose of them in their compost bins. Sounds great for a business, right? 

Not so much. 

I got in touch with the city of Vancouver to make sure that PLA products could be accepted into the green bin program, since it breaks down naturally on it's own in about 90 days (as long as it's not in a landfill). Apparently, I am the first person to bring up the issue of PLA, so my inquiry was directed to the waste management department. After thorough research on their end, we discovered that PLA is not accepted into our compost program. In fact, it can't even be recycled. If you try to recycle PLA products, optic scanners pick them out to be discarded to the landfill. If you use PLA products you should only compost them in your own backyard compost. Anything that looks like plastic cannot be placed in the city of Vancouver's Organics Bins. In this case, it's better to use a fully recyclable product rather than a biodegradable one. 

In Vancouver food waste = organics

What are organics?

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • meat
  • fish
  • dairy items
  • eggs
  • baked goods & prepared foods
  • processed foods & frozen foods

What about restaurant organics?

  • paper napkins and bags
  • uncoated paper cups and plates
  • coffee filters
  • tea bags
  • wooden utensils
  • chopsticks
  • stir sticks & toothpicks


Chart from 'Closing the Loop with Organics Recycling'

Chart from 'Closing the Loop with Organics Recycling'

A good rule of thumb: if you can rip it, it can probably go into the organics bin. It's good to be aware of what can and can't go into our organics bins because if there's contamination, entire truckloads of organics are refused at the compost facility and just end up in the landfill. To avoid smell, wrap your food in newspaper or other paper....one of the senior operators at the City of Vancouver Waste Management Program told me this is preferred by city workers. 

It's still best to to donate food rather then toss it, if you do have scraps make sure they are going to the right place.