British Columbia

Piles of plastic, cardboard and leftover food: Is your Metro Vancouver Christmas wasteful?

For six years, Metro Vancouver has been using a special campaign to get people to use less over the holidays and avoid a crush of Christmas-related waste in the region. This year they say it appears to be having an impact.

City of Vancouver 'proactively' waives fees at waste transfer station on Dec. 24, 26, 27

The garbage aftermath at Christmas time can be overwhelming. (Randell Porter)

For six years, Metro Vancouver has been using a special campaign to get people to use less over the holidays and avoid a crush of Christmas-related waste — and it appears to be having an impact.

"Well we've definitely seen a trend and it is measurable," said Stephanie McCardle, who is a policy co-ordinator at Metro Vancouver.

Metro Vancouver's Create memories, not garbage campaign encourages residents to think about ways of making the holidays more environmentally-friendly by giving gifts that are experiences, made or recycled and wrapped in reusable materials.

The campaign also has tips for making sustainable decorations, and not wasting food.

Metro Vancouver says the program has reduced waste by six per cent since the 2010-2011 Christmas season.

That year, 20,833 tonnes of waste was disposed of throughout Metro Vancouver between Dec. 25 and Jan. 5. Last year, the number for that time period was down to 14,878 tonnes.

"To me, the most important part that has really resonated, from what we heard, is the fact that experiences and long-lasting gifts can create those memories that last a lot longer than something that maybe doesn't have as long as a life," said McCardle.

Vancouver dumping fees waived

As well, the City of Vancouver is making it easier to take waste from the Christmas holidays to its waste transfer stations.

"We have proactively decided to allow Vancouver residents to drop off their household garbage at the Vancouver South Transfer Station at no cost on Dec. 24, 26, and 27," wrote the City of Vancouver in an email.

Snow in the city has resulted in some missed garbage and recycling pick-ups at homes.

The City of Vancouver says it has fallen behind in collecting waste along snowy and icy laneways in the city, but is working hard to get caught up. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

"During this period of weather-related collection delays, fees for extra garbage bags will be waived for residents whose regular collection has been missed," said the city in a release.

The free dumping at the Vancouver South Transfer Station only applies to Vancouver residents (who must show a valid ID), is only for non-commercial loads and does not include mattresses, furniture and other items that are not part of regular garbage collection.

There is a recycling depot attached to the transfer station so that residents can also drop off materials not meant to be thrown out.

The city and its contractors are trying to get caught up on missed collections at residences by adding more trucks and overtime shifts.

"Residents are asked to leave their bins, boxes and bags out in their regular collection area, staff are working diligently to address all outstanding missed collections before Christmas," said the release.

Metro Vancouver hopes, though, that in the aftermath of Christmas, residents don't rush to throw out what's left over from all the unwrapping and merriment.

Reduce, reuse, recycle fading?

"There's always the holiday aftermath, which we understand," said McCardle. "I think first and foremost, looking at what's available, what's left that can be reused next year, also trying to effectively recycle what's there and then putting that thought into all of your food left-overs as well."

British Columbians can produce up to three times as much garbage during Christmas as they would in a normal week, according to the Recycling Council of B.C. 

That organization also runs an online "Recylepedia," to find where an item can be recycled rather than thrown out.

One item to take special note of is wrapping paper; not all of it is recyclable.

Last year was the first in six seasons to show an increase in holiday waste to Metro Vancouver landfills over the holiday period.