New Westminster votes to expand food scraps program

New Westminster residents are changing the way they dispose of their waste.

On Monday, city council approved a motion that would see the city’s existing food scraps program expand to apartments and townhouses by July 1, making New Westminster the first in the region to offer organic waste collection for both single- and multi-family units.

“New Westminster has definitely made a lot of progress with respect to recycling over the past number of years and really become a leader in Metro Vancouver,” said Coun. Jonathan Cote. “Although a lot of our programs that we’ve implemented so far have targeted single-family neighbourhoods, a large number of residents in New Westminster live in multi-family units and this is obviously the next big opportunity for New Westminster to pursue.”

Adoption of the multi-family food scraps program follows a six-month pilot project involving six buildings located throughout the city.

Brochures about recycling and composting were distributed to building residents and food scraps receptacles were placed alongside garbage bins.

According to a city report, “Every participating building … requested additional totes to facilitate increased recycling demands,” with a 25 per cent reduction in waste being diverted from the landfill during the pilot project. One building cut its waste in half.

Council also discussed the possibility of expanding the city’s waste collection services to multi-family units, which are currently serviced almost exclusively by private firms.

“It’s something we should maybe look at … whether or not there’s a cost benefit for the city to do it rather than contracting it out,” said Coun. Bill Harper. “We do service the entire residential component of the city but we don’t service [multi-family units].”

Coun. Chuck Puchmayr pointed out that expanding the city’s waste collection service to include apartments and townhomes could be both financially and environmentally sound.

“Having all these different firms picking up garbage, we may have two or three trucks a day going to different buildings when we could have one vehicle going to all of the buildings,” he said. “I’m wondering if there’s a way we can coordinate or provide a service that has a smaller carbon footprint by virtue of the trucks that are needed so the wear and tear on our road infrastructure [is minimized].”

Puchmayr also floated the idea of developing improved recycling and food waste programs for the commercial properties serviced by the city.

With 40 per cent or more of Metro Vancouver’s waste stream attributed to organic waste, New Westminster’s food scraps programs aim to significantly reduce the amount being taken to landfills.

Since the program debuted last year, waste diversion rates for single-family units have increased dramatically to 59 per cent, compared with 40 per cent in 2010 and 31 per cent in 2009. The amount left at the city’s recycling depot has dropped by nearly 1,000 metric tonnes.

The target set out under Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Challenge is to reach a minimum of 70 per cent waste diversion by 2015.

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New Westminster wins national sustainability award

A 3D rendering of what the park will look like, courtesy of a council slide presentation.

New Westminster has been recognized as a sustainable community with an award from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for its redevelopment of Westminster Pier Park.

Coun. Lorrie Williams and engineering director Jim Lowrie accepted the award in Ottawa on Feb. 8 and presented it to Mayor Wayne Wright at tonight’s council meeting.

“Obviously, this goes to the staff, this goes to the people who did the job,” said Wright.

The award is one of 12 given to communities across Canada that “demonstrate excellence in environmental responsibility.” This year, 5 of the 12 awards were won by municipalities in B.C.

“B.C. is certainly leading the way in terms of greening our country,” said Williams.

Westminster Pier Park won the Sustainable Communities Award in the brownfield category, meaning that the land the park sits on was previously used for industrial purposes, and the vegetation that has been planted there will help to rehabilitate the soil.

According to FCM, “In just three years, Westminster Pier Park has been transformed from a contaminated brownfield into a sparkling waterfront jewel that will stimulate tourism and revitalize downtown New Westminster.”

The Westminster Pier Park project was launched in 2009 when the city purchased the site for $8 million. The cost of developing the park was $25 million, of which two-thirds was funded through the Build Canada Fund.

Wright said the park will open to the public sometime in March.

“We’ll be having an opening in about a month or so and everyone will see what a wonderful place it really is.”

Hyack honeybees educate and pollinate

Biology teacher and beekeeper Axel Krause at work in NWSS's rooftop apiary. Photo cred: NWSS environment club

New Westminster Secondary School is a hive of activity these days, and not only because students are buzzing about the hallways, gearing up for second semester.

Four years ago this month, at the urging of his students, biology teacher Axel Krause approached the school board with a plan to build an apiary on the roof of the Pearson wing.

The plan was approved, and NWSS is now home to two beehives, with another shipment of bees on its way.

“It’s a unique kind of thing to our school,” said environment club president Isabel Sadowski, 17. “Not a lot of schools have beehives.”

The bees are part of an International Baccalaureate unit Krause teaches on social biology, and students are encouraged to get involved as beekeepers, honey collectors and candle makers through the environment club.

The club sells the handmade candles and pots of ‘Hyack honey’ at parent nights and Christmas fairs as a fundraiser.

“A hard part of being part of environment club is that sometimes your actions don’t really produce a lot,” said Sadowski. “You can raise awareness, you can change your own habits, but it’s hard to see the effect that you’re having. With the beehives, you can actually see the work you’ve been doing is creating something.”

But for Krause and Sadowski, bees are so much more important than the substances they produce.

“Every third mouthful of food you eat has had a bee involved,” said Krause, explaining that even dairy cows depend on bees to pollinate the alfalfa they eat. “It’s amazing how much food we eat that’s pollinated by bees. And the bees are dying.”

This month in California, one million beehives will arrive from all over the United States to pollinate over 700,000 acres of almonds. In the summer, many of those bees will be shipped to the Fraser Valley to pollinate blueberry crops, then to Alberta for canola.

Krause believes this practice may be a factor in Colony Collapse Disorder – the sudden loss of entire hives of bees that has plagued beekeepers since it was first documented in 2006.

“Do you like bananas?” asked Krause. “Do you want to eat bananas for two weeks straight? No. But that’s what we’re doing to our bees. We’re putting them into the almonds, and for two weeks all they get is almond pollen.”

Steady diets of a single kind of pollen, pesticides and viruses have contributed to the deaths of billions of bees in recent years, but Krause believes urban beekeeping is one solution.

Like many municipalities in the Lower Mainland, New Westminster has a pesticide bylaw that prohibits the use of toxic chemicals in gardens. Bees therefore have a much cleaner, more diverse area to pollinate.

“People get our honey and they say, ‘the honey is just so good, what’s in it?’ and I say, ‘I don’t know, whatever the people around the school have in their gardens,” said Krause. “This is garden variety honey.”

Since the beehives arrived in 2008, several other teachers at the school have taken up beekeeping in their own backyards. With Krause set to retire in June, Sadowski (who is graduating this year) said she hopes one of them will take command of the rooftop apiary.

“It really is Mr. Krause’s project. He makes the honey, prepares the wax for the candles, so I just hope that the beehives still continue … It will be upsetting if it doesn’t continue in the way that it has in the past.”

But given the strong interest and support of the community, Sadowski said the beehives will likely be there long after she and Krause are gone.

“We have such a big school, it’s nice that we have some kind of project that is a little more unique and really beneficial.”