Community Issues

Continuing Studies grads engage Vancouver residents in recycling initiative

September 01, 2012
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By Amy Robertson

Two graduates of SFU Continuing StudiesCertificate in Dialogue and Civic Engagement are helping Vancouver residents make their city more sustainable through an organic recycling project.

Murray Mollard, a lawyer, and Cheryn Wong, who works in the non-profit sector, met as students in the certificate program in the fall of 2011.

In their conversations, they learned that recycling organic matter was important to both of them. Mollard, who lives in a detached home, already composted for his family’s garden. Wong wanted to compost—but as a resident of a high-rise in False Creek, there was no infrastructure in place for her or her neighbours.

Cheryn Wong (left) and Murray Mollard (right) discuss a project in a community garden in Strathcona. Image by Fabrice Grover Photo.

Students look for organic waste solution

Mollard and Wong decided to find a solution to the problem. Nearly 40 percent of household waste is made up of organic matter, and most ends up in plastic bags in landfills. The same “waste” becomes a rich resource if people compost it and feed it back into the soil.

Using the dialogue and engagement tools they learned in the program, Mollard and Wong organized a community event for residents of Wong’s building in False Creek. They called it Talking Trash: A Community Conversation on Recycling Organics.

Their objectives were to bring people together to get to know one another, determine whether a recycling project was feasible, and figure out how to proceed.

Thirty people came to the event on February 19, 2012, and 10 came from beyond the building where they’d spread the word. Several community businesses offered donations for the event.

“The point of dialogue is to create some kind of positive action,” Mollard says—and it did. After the Talking Trash conversation, Mollard and Wong decided to organize a weekly drop-off spot for organic waste in the Olympic Village area.

Once a week, volunteers host the drop-off spot with signage, a tent, and the appropriate containers. A local company called Recycling Alternative brings the organic matter to a compost location in Delta, BC.

“It’s getting quite lively,” Wong says.

Mollard and Wong acknowledge that there is much more to do. Building infrastructure is one thing. Getting people to use it is another.

“Behaviour change is the most challenging part,” Wong says.

Project champions seeing change

Fortunately, they’re seeing change happen. Citizens from as far as Kitsilano and the West End have come to the drop-off location to recycle their organics.

Mollard and Wong also realize their solution is temporary—relying on volunteers to operate the once-weekly drop-off station isn’t a sustainable solution in the long-term.

Their next step is to apply for funding from Vancouver’s Greenest City Fund to replicate their model elsewhere, support early adopters, and continue to encourage changes in behaviour—like separating household waste for recycling—through dialogue.

Goal: Zero waste

They would like to help Vancouver achieve the zero waste goals in the Greenest City Action Plan, which foresees a bylaw banning organic waste from landfills by 2015. Rather than disposing of their organics, Mollard and Wong hope to see residents of multi-unit residential buildings process their compost on-site for use in community gardens or elsewhere.

Until then, Mollard and Wong will continue to enjoy the progress they’ve seen, engage with the community members involved in the project, and ultimately help build a more sustainable city.

The Certificate in Dialogue and Civic Engagement has helped equip them to do this work, and they’re excited about where it will lead.

“The dialogue certificate was where the seeds of change began,” Mollard says. “Dialogue and engagement are buzzwords, but people don’t always know what that means—they don’t have training. The program is a very rich program for teaching practical tools to engage citizens.”