What happens to Metro Vancouver food scraps?

WATCH:  Elaine Yong shows us what happens to all that “Green Can” waste we carefully separate from our garbage.

Separating food scraps has become a habit for many Metro Vancouver residents and, as of July 1, it’s mandatory. But once you’ve separated your scraps, what happens next?

At Harvest Power in Richmond, about 100 truckloads of green and food waste are dropped off every day.

Before loads go to the compost yard, pickers have to sort through them, looking for items that don’t belong — mostly plastic bags, even the ones that say they are biodegradable.

“When you get the food waste in a plastic bag, that food waste is not going to get recycled,” said Harvest Power’s James Repenning. “We’re going to pull that all out as one piece.”

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Within a day or two, the waste is moved to an active compost yard.

“So when it first comes in we are stacking it about 15 feet high, over the whole volume of the cell. It’s about 30,000 yards in two cells,” said Repenning.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver’s organics ban will be enforced starting July 1

Pipes running underneath the compost pile pull oxygen down and push it through a bio-filter to remove odour from the air. But mostly the compost is left to do its thing.

“All that steam you see is generated by the activity of all the microbes and all the biology,” said Repenning. “Just like when you’re exercising and you generate heat, it’s the same thing with them. The more active they are, the more heat they generate.”

Some of the green waste is used to generate electricity. Truckloads of pure food scraps are fed into the bio-gas generator that produces enough energy to power 900 homes.

That number is likely to increase as Metro Vancouver’s organics ban comes into full effect Wednesday. Harvest Power has already seen an 18 per cent increase in volume this spring over last year.

“Up to 30 per cent of material in landfills is food waste, which contributes to greenhouse gases with its methane,” said Harvest Power’s Adam Smith. “We’re taking that away from landfills and here in the Lower Mainland it’s actually recognized as a resource.”

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-with files from Elaine Yong

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