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Waste diversion success stories

Many Calgary businesses and organizations are already diverting most of their waste through recycling, composting and other unique initiatives. Here are some stories to give you ideas and inspiration.

Educating on a Culture of Sustainability: The Calgary Board of Education

Since 2008, the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) has made significant strides in reducing their waste and energy use, while at the same time incorporating sustainability principles into their school curriculum.

With more than 225 schools, over 118,000 students and 14,000 employees, rolling out a comprehensive recycling program is not an easy feat for a complex organization.

Their goal

The CBE’s overall waste goal is to reduce waste going to the landfill by 80 per cent by 2020 (from 2007/08 levels).

CBE waste reduction by the numbers

  • Ninety per cent of CBE schools participate in a centralized recycling program.

  • Over 27,000 kg of recyclables are collected every month.

  • Nearly 50 per cent of schools participate in a food and yard waste composting program.

How they did it

  • Centralized diversion stations: By placing all the waste bins (recycling, refundable beverage containers, compost and garbage) together in a central hallway, it encourages students and staff to put their waste where it belongs. Students and teachers are responsible for recycling in the classroom, and the facility operator picks up from the centralized stations.
  • No-sort recycling: Paper and cardboard, plastic containers, food cans and glass all go in the same bin – echoing The City’s residential Blue Cart program. This makes it easier for students and staff to participate, since the same rules apply both at home and at school.
  • Consistent bins used across all schools: Nearly 200 schools received new bins with clear, visual signage to make the recycling program consistent and recognizable across all schools that participate.
  • Coordinated paper shredding program: The CBE has strict processes for securing private documents. There is a significant effort to ensure a secure shredding program is in place; shredded paper is then recycled.
  • Separate beverage container recycling: Each school collects refundable beverage containers separately and uses the proceeds to support various school-based initiatives.
  • Recycling even more: In addition to recycling the items that will be required in the Waste & Recycling Bylaw, the CBE also recycles single-use batteries, fluorescent lights and printer cartridges, library books and textbooks.
  • Program sustainability: Creating a best practices document and protocol has helped create a program that is consistent across all schools. Fostering strong relationships with program champions in all schools, and not relying on one individual, has helped increase program sustainability and long-term success.
  • Incorporate waste diversion into school culture and educational curriculum: As part of their overall organizational mandate, they’ve incorporated environmental literacy on all levels of education as outlined in their Sustainability Framework and a Three-Year Sustainability Plan (2014-2017). Some of the plan’s highlights include: 
    • Having dedicated staff focused on sustainability, including a Waste and Recycling Coordinator and a dedicated Sustainability Coordinator;
    • Aligning waste management practices with municipal requirements; and
    • Supporting sustainability as a focus of inquiry related to all core subject areas taught within CBE schools.

Key Challenges

Deborah Wehnes, the CBE’s Waste and Recycling Coordinator, says, “The challenges we had were finding funding and resources to put the equipment in place. We built a business case based on The City’s strategy to divert waste from the landfill. We looked at cost savings based on waste reductions. It’s more economical to recycle than to send it to the landfill. I think other organizations would find the same thing.”

Wehnes adds that developing a best practices document and process created a strong direction for teaching staff, our students, and the facility operator. “We have the direction now that it came from the top. Now it’s consistent across all schools.”

Getting Help

The CBE worked with CH2MHill on a detailed waste audit that helped characterize the types and amounts of waste produced at the schools. Through a literature review, a series of site visits and a survey they helped created an effective waste management strategy for their organization.

The CBE works with a number of partners including Waste Management, Green Calgary, The City of Calgary and Destination Conservation, to help deliver programs and resources to staff and students.

Looking Ahead

Currently, 115 schools are participating in the organics collection program, while Wehnes and her team are working to get other schools on board.

On average, schools that have effective organics programs are able to reduce their total waste going to the landfill by 79 per cent. Paper towel is a great first step for many schools to start diverting organics

Eight new CBE schools are opening in fall 2016, with additional schools slated to open in January 2017. All of these schools will open with complete recycling equipment in order to participate in all CBE programs, including organics collection.

Momentum: Community economic development with sustainability in mind

Momentum is a local community economic development organization which offers programming in three areas – Business Development, Skills Training and Financial Literacy. All areas work towards their vision: “Every person has a sustainable livelihood and contributes to their community”. Through all of their work with Calgarians, four values influence their operations:

  • Integrity
  • Compassion and Social Justice
  • Equality and Respect
  • Sustainability

Momentum has 55 employees and sees anywhere from 30 to 120 program participants coming through their space every day. With that many people moving around the office, it’s not always easy to monitor and continuously improve a recycling and composting program. However, Momentum keeps sustainability at the core of what they do, both around the office and by spreading the message to their program participants.

Program Details

Momentum has programs in place to divert the following materials from the landfill:

  • Paper and cardboard
  • Plastics
  • Glass jars and bottles
  • Metal cans and foil
  • Refundable beverage containers
  • Batteries
  • Electronics
  • Cell phones
  • Paper towels
  • Food waste (composting)

In a standard month, Momentum recycles over 450 kg of mixed recyclables and composts over 750 kg of food waste.

Prioritizing sustainability

On the surface, it might not look like sustainability is part of Momentum’s core business. However, they make the connection between their care for the Calgary community, its members and the environment around us. Incorporating sustainability helps empower staff and participants to consider the environment in their decisions and actions to further community economic development.

Momentum has a “Think 3” Initiative that guides the process by which staff make purchasing decisions based on environmental, social and economic criteria. These criteria help empower staff to make purchasing decisions based on the interconnectedness of environmental, social and economic sustainability. There are always tradeoffs that need to be made when making purchasing decisions, but the Think 3 Initiative helps Momentum staff make the most informed decisions about the goods and services they buy. It helps guide the thought process behind making a sustainable decision.

Their sustainability Audit Group, or SAG, includes staff and board members in decision making and implementing programming that continuously improves their environmental performance. SAG is proud to be an Emerald Award Finalist for 2016.

Sustainability monitoring and continual improvement

SAG takes their name seriously – they regularly audit their waste program, along with other aspects of their sustainability program. By continually auditing the success of these programs, they’re able to identify opportunities and improve their performance. When they see an opportunity, they try to act on it.

After doing a greenhouse gas audit, SAG discovered that the biggest contributors to emissions from their operations were from electricity and staff commuting. They became Bullfrog powered to offset their electricity emissions. They also encouraged active commuting, telecommuting and carpooling in order to cut their emissions further. The extra benefit of having fewer staff members’ cars in the parking lot also benefits their bottom line, by paying for fewer dedicated stalls, and benefits their participants, who can park closer to the door when they come for programs.

In addition to conducting waste audits, Momentum makes sure to keep open communication with their recycling hauler, BluPlanet Recycling. This allows Momentum to utilize the information that BluPlanet staff collect when they’re picking up the recycling – such as contamination of recyclables.

How they did it

  • Recycling and composting bins are placed throughout the office and typically as a group, rather than having a garbage bin on its own.
  • Bins have signs that show words and pictures of what goes into them (as well as common mistake items that don’t belong there).
  • Momentum has enough mugs, cups, plates and cutlery necessary to ensure that disposable food ware is never used in the office. By reusing these items, they’re taking environmental sustainability a step further than recycling or composting.
  • All staff are responsible for completing assigned chores each week. By working together on waste and recycling, as well as other cleaning duties, all staff are involved in the program. Dishwasher duty is assigned, which supports the use of reusable dishware throughout the office. This kind of program supports many of the environmental initiatives at Momentum.
  • Momentum boasts a team that is passionate about social and environmental justice. Incorporating employees’ interests and passion about the environment helps strengthen Momentum’s sustainability programs.
  • As with many businesses, cost doesn’t stray too far from SAG’s mind. All committees at Momentum have an assigned budget, so cost analysis is central to SAG’s decision making process. If a new initiative is identified as important, Momentum finds a way to make the budget work.

Spreading the word

New staff participate in a series of training and orientations when they join Momentum. There is a specific orientation about the work of the Sustainability Audit Group, including a tour.

It’s an ongoing process to ensure that Momentum’s participants and guests use the recycling and composting programs properly. Some ways they educate people coming in and out of the office include:

  • Giving new participants a full overview and tour of the programs that are available, especially for participants who are registered in long-term programs;
  • Program facilitators include slides in their PowerPoint presentations to show the recycling and composting programs; and
  • Showing leadership and developing social norms that encourage staff, participants and guests to use recycling and composting programs appropriately.

Momentum shares their value of sustainability by living it and teaching it to participants in their programs. They offer classes on sustainability in business in certain programs, and encourage participants to make connections between individual and community efforts. For example, the cleaning company that Momentum uses was started by a former program participant who chose to use greener cleaning products in their business.

Momentum has also recently been spreading the word by hosting other non-profit organizations at their site for a sustainability learning tour. By sharing their expertise and how they’ve dealt with challenges, Momentum helps other organizations along their sustainability journeys.

Key challenges

When it comes to waste diversion, Momentum experiences challenges similar to many other businesses – sometimes items make their way into the wrong bins.

At staff meetings, SAG members share opportunities for environmental improvement. Once staff are aware of possible improvements, they pass the message along to the program participants and guests they host in the office.

There is also an opportunity during staff meetings to brainstorm ideas about how to deal with challenges and to maintain continuous quality improvement. As part of these discussions, staff requested learning opportunities around recycling. SAG was able to offer a series of hands-on demonstrations of recycling stations and items that are often recycled incorrectly, to support staff integration of composting and recycling services at the office.

Some common challenges in Momentum’s sustainability program include napkins and paper towels not going into the compost, where they should be, and paper coffee cups going in the recycling bin instead of the garbage.

Beyond recycling

Greener commuting is a big focus for SAG. They encourage employees to bike to work and support this by having two showers in the office, a bike rack inside the office and an additional bike rack out front. They also host commuting challenges. In June the SAG group launched their Commuter Bonus program, a daily dollar amount added to employees’ paycheques for every day they do not drive to work.

They also offer a carpooling program that helps employees ride to work together instead of driving separately.

Where possible, more environmentally-friendly cleaning products are used, such as a vinegar/water mix. They’re currently switching to a greener dishwasher detergent that’s made in Quebec. Switching to a more environmentally-friendly product that is made in Canada reflects Momentum’s values.

An outdoor garden for people to connect with nature and a yearly Earth Day litter pickup in partnership with the International Avenue BRZ also contribute to good green vibes around the Momentum office and across the community.

Going forward, Momentum is considering the removal of waste bins at individual work stations, to encourage employees to get up from their desks to throw away garbage. They’re also determining how to further reduce the number of cars brought to their parking lot, possibly by supplying their staff with bus passes, and by continuing programs like the Commuter Bonus program.

Cleaning up office towers: Oxford Properties leading in real estate waste diversion

As downtown Calgary's first office tower to launch a comprehensive recycling program, Centennial Place, owned and operated by Oxford Properties, is a trailblazer.

Their goal

  • 80 per cent waste diversion within offices by the end of 2016. They currrently sit at 74-76 per cent in the office buildings and 51 per cent at the food court.

Centennial Place by the numbers

  • 1.3 million sq. feet, including 40 storey east tower, 23 storey west tower, 2 storey retail podium. The complex is tied together with a main floor concourse.>
  • 20 office tenants
  • 11 food court and cafe tenants
  • 3 on-site retailers

Keys to success:

Waste diversion equipment installed in building from the start

  • 40 yard compactor is used for recycling (recycling volumes are the highest).
  • Smaller compactor is used for garbage.
  • Food waste is collected into up to twenty 65 gallon totes (that's about the size of a blue cart).

Make recycling and composting options convenient

  • Kitchen and coffee stations: Roll-out cabinets with mixed recycling, food, garbage and occasionally paper. Some tenants separate the refundable cans and bottles to donate to charity or top up their social funds.

  • Offices: A blue mixed recycling bin, a cardboard box for all clean paper and a small bin for garbage sit under the desks. Some tenants have an extra small bin that hangs off the side for organics although Oxford encourages food waste to be deposited in kitchens only.

  • Food court: Separate containers for collecting refundables, garbage and food waste.

Make it easy for your cleaning staff

  • Multi-language signage for all of the waste diversion equipment is crucial as the majority of the custodial staff speak English as a second language.
  • Training information and a comprehension test is presented in a highly visual format that can be best understood by the janitorial staff.
  • Cleaning carts are separated into a recycle bin, a garbage bin and a food waste bin.

Educate your tenants

  • As tenants move in, Oxford partners with a tenant representative to rollout the program to all of their employees. Oxford provides all of the bins and a comprehensive waste recycling booklet that outlines all waste items and includes tips and "how-to's".

Keep recycling top of mind

  • Ongoing outreach includes special events such as interactive lobby displays, e-waste drives and lunch and learns as well as an online game where people can learn what goes where.

Monitor contamination

  • Two dedicated staff record contamination in all three waste streams. Using an iPad strapped on their arm, they go into every freight lobby to check every single bag every day. This data is used for future marketing and educational purposes as well as events/initiatives for continued awareness.

Give feedback

  • Every quarter, Oxford produces a diversion rate scorecard for each of the tenants, and each floor. The tenant with the highest score is called a recycling champion and is given an award. This has created some positive floor-to-floor competition.
  • Conversations with tenants that haven't done very well on the scorecards can act as a springboard to improve diversion rates.

Seek out opportunities to recycle more

  • Centennial has partnered with various organizations to divert obscure items such as cigarette butts, pens/writing utensils, single-use coffee capsules, used cooking oil, furniture waste and batteries.

Overcoming challenges

Tackling contamination in food court and retail areas is a challenge. A "Recycling Menu" eliminates the waste disposal guessing game. The 'menu' shows where foodware from different food court retailers belongs - whether in the compost, recycling or garbage bins.

Oxford is also considering removing waste receptacles completely from the food court environment and moving towards a system where cleaning staff collect and properly sort all waste.

Getting help

  • Waste Management is the primary waste hauler and broker.
  • The compactors used on-site have built-in sensors that allow for more efficient pick-ups. Fully automated, they sense when they are 80 per cent full and send an email to Waste Management requesting a pick up thereby reducing needless pickups and saving money in the process.
  • Tracking contamination rates amongst staff helps keep the program running smoothly.

Other success stories