Around the World #1

Touring and Trashbusting Abroad

As we draw to the end of the summer season, leaving holidays behind for the collective migration back to autumnal obligations of the office, the boardroom, council chambers and, of course, school, it’s an opportune time to visit trashbusting efforts abroad.

A sort of Trashbusting Travel-log to close the dog day month of August.

While most people’s idea of the perfect holiday is some well-deserved R & R, far from the throngs of their 9-5 reality at home, not so for this local trashbuster!

In my trash-trenches, getting some fine R & R inevitably evolves into deeper digging on RECYCLING and REDUCTION efforts planet-wide. No matter where my adventures abroad take me, it seems I always end up trading beaches for blue boxes and cultural treasures for trash!

I just can’t seem to help myself. What starts as an innocent glance down a recycling bin, promptly morphs into an irreversible flurry of garbage gazing, photo montages of recycling bins and their signage, inspecting recycling trucks both parked and operating, and not least, the more than occasional conversation with personnel driving, collecting and emptying recycling bins along busy streets of cities far away.

Most recent cases in point:

Trashbusting in Italy – July 2012 – A tale of 2 cities

FIRENZE – Who needs the ‘Davide’ when you can gaze upon these automated trashbusting beauties?

Florence seems to be well on its way and ahead of most other cities in Italy. Being ever the epicentre of art, culture, the Renaissance and all things beautiful in the design world, Firenze’s street recycling bins are sleek and silver, clean and pleasing to the eye above ground, while doing all the dirty work below the streets surface.

Instead of the blue or green wheeled bins common to most cities, including Vancouver, Florence has opted for a system that is very similar to the “Big Belly.” These receptacles have a cavity that extends below the street surface, so the street level part of the unit is really just the mouth of the receptacle – like a garbage or laundry chute. Materials get compacted inside and collection involves lifting the entire unit and the below-level cavity out of the ground and emptying the contents into a compactor truck.

Certainly, the look of the Florentine system is more pleasing than dirty laneway totes, which never hurts recycling efforts and can help maintain a higher standard of participation and compliance from users. However, a challenge with this system is that if garbage gets put into these receptacles, it cannot be detected and removed early on, and the compaction makes it hard or impossible to separate out the recyclables from the contamination.

The question for this eye-friendly system is, how much of the recycling coming out of  the belly is good enough for recycling markets and how much has to get trashed?


NAPOLI – Bella Pizza, not so Bella Recycling

At the other end of the spectrum is Naples, a city known for its troubles with trash; the politics and turf wars that have become infamously known as the trashy thorn in Italy’s side. Naples has made the effort to get recycling containers for all categories including food waste onto the streets and has a healthy fleet of mini recycling trucks to navigate the narrow, cobblestoned streets of ancient Roman areas like Spaccanapoli.


With almost non-existent signage, however, and unsecured wheeled bins that are similar to the city’s garbage bins, one look under the lid confirms that little recycling is getting into these receptacles. No one seems to detect a difference between the garbage and recycling bins. Diversion efforts clearly aren’t even working on the surface here (as was the case in Firenze), and for the city that invented pizza, the trash continues to spill nightly out onto the street.

So, returning home after some globetrotting and trashbusting , how does Vancouver measure up? Surely, we can congratulate ourselves on good curb-side residential recycling efforts from our homes, but when it comes to recycling in public spaces and on the street, we’re using a system similar to Naples, and in case no one has noticed, the signage is nothing to write home to the Greenest City Action Planners about.

While we might pride ourselves on being slightly better behaved and sustainability minded than our fratelli in Naples, the fact that we are not dumping our garbage and recycling on the street, may be more a product of successful litterbug campaigns of yester-year, than recycling compliance today.

Next time you’re on Granville and Georgia, or Robson and Burrard, try some trash-busting sleuthing yourself and you be the judge.

Go on, just a quick lid lift and garbage glance to survey if the garbage and the recycling are getting into the correct bins.

If you’re seeing garbage in, then it’s going to be garbage out; there is no silver bullet.

And next time you’re on holiday away from Vancouver, give a garbage glance at their recycling systems. You may find a whole new way to enjoy some R & R while globetrotting and trashbusting!