Metro Vancouver waste study shows how COVID has changed waste

Residents of Metro Vancouver threw away about 260 million face masks in 2021, more than double the total from the previous year, according to the latest regional district waste composition survey.

The increase in mask use is one of several notable pandemic-related trends seen in the region’s waste.

For example, in 2020 the number of disposable cups that residents threw away decreased compared to 2018, from 262 million (102 per person) to 174 million (64 per person).

Large sections of society staying at home meant less reason to buy coffee and other drinks to go.

By 2021, the number of disposable cups in the region’s waste rose to 271 million (98 per person due to population growth).

Single-use collection containers showed the opposite trend. Residents of Metro Vancouver threw away 259 million of them in 2020, while restaurants were closed for personal dinners for part of the year. That was a significant increase from 2018, when 179 million were divested, but totals returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021.

It’s not just what people threw away that changed because of COVID-19, according to Terry Fulton, senior project engineer for Metro Vancouver’s solid waste service team. Where waste was thrown away also shifted significantly.

“What struck us in 2020 was — unsurprisingly — there was a lot less coming from businesses because people were spending a lot more time at home, and that resulted in a shift in the composition (of waste),” Fulton told CTV News.

With more people returning to offices and almost all COVID-19-related restrictions ended, he said waste-handling patterns in the region have largely returned to normal.

Fulton called the return of pre-pandemic habits an “opportunity” to reduce waste, citing shopping bags as an example.

During the early days of the pandemic, bag use increased, with many stores temporarily banning customers from bringing their own reusable bags for fear of virus transmission on surfaces.

In 2021, bag use remained high, despite few, if any, stores continuing such bans.

“Now that residents can bring their own reusable bags and reusable cups again, we encourage residents to continue those habits,” Fulton said.

That, along with other actions like saying no to disposable utensils and straws, “can go a long way toward reducing our single-use items and reducing our waste in general,” he added.

Face masks are also disposable, of course, but Fulton said they would only make up a small fraction of Metro Vancouver’s waste by 2021, even as the mandates allowed their numbers to grow.

“Personal protective equipment represents only a small fraction — less than one percent — of all the waste that is thrown away (in Metro Vancouver), but it’s something we’ll be watching in the future,” Fulton said.

He noted that studies on the composition of waste “are a snapshot”, and said it is not surprising that the number of masks discarded in 2021 was much higher than in 2020.

The Metro Vancouver waste composition study in 2020 was conducted before masks were made mandatory in all indoor public spaces in BC, while the 2021 study was conducted in December and January, near the peak of the Omicron wave and after nearly a full year. of mask mandates.

In 2022, with masks being recommended but no longer needed, the number seen in our bin is likely to decline again.

“We do an annual survey of the composition of waste and we will certainly continue to look at PPE in future studies and see how that changes as we no longer have things like mask mandates,” Fulton said.

Leave a Comment