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Vanishing in Vancouver: Where have all the garbage cans gone?

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WATCH: The City of Vancouver has been removing some of its garbage cans in some of the busiest areas of the city. Sarah MacDonald explains.

If you live, work, or spend any amount of time in the busiest parts of Vancouver, you may have noticed the absence of a dependable sidewalk staple: conventional garbage cans.

Global News has recently heard from viewers who posed the question, “Where are all the garbage cans going?”

So we asked the City of Vancouver: are there really fewer of those conventional trash cans on the streets? And if so, why?

It turns out, the answer isn’t exactly cut and dried. Yes, there are fewer conventional trash bins in some of the city’s most high-traffic areas, but the city is replacing them with larger bins that hold more volume and waste material while also offering the option to recycle.

“The on-street recycling stations provide the public an opportunity to keep their garbage out of the landfill. Whenever they come across a recycle station, they can stop and sort the materials properly,” said Michelle Harris with the City of Vancouver.

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It’s all part of the city’s “Zero Waste” initiative, which has been in place since 2016. In the past three years, 90 of the newer, larger-capacity bins have been installed in the busiest areas of Vancouver’s downtown core, and in popular parks.

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City officials say the decision to concentrate the cans in high-traffic areas boils down to economic and environmental factors — and a desire to keep the sidewalks cleaner while creating more space for pedestrians.

“Having the large capacity stations decreases the chance of an overflow happening, so it keeps litter out of the environment,” Harris said.

As it stands, there are some 3,100 waste receptacles city-wide: 1,500 on city sidewalks and 1,600 in park space.

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Those conventional garbage cans — typically with silver or black circular columns and roughly a metre in height — can hold approximately 100 litres of trash. The new recycling stations have a capacity of 720 litres.

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The larger bins also provide users the option of separating materials into three separate canisters, each of which can hold 240 litres of refuse: one for containers, one for paper, and one for garbage.

In certain highly-populated neighbourhoods like Yaletown, conventional litter cans — which would typically be scattered metres apart — have been removed. The city says for every five conventional litter receptacles that are removed, one recycling station is installed.

In neighbourhoods where this concentration has occurred, a larger litter bin designated specifically for trash — and with the capacity to hold 240 litres of it — typically accompanies the recycling station.

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“It isn’t possible to replace every litter can with an on-street recycling station due to sidewalk space constraints so, where appropriate, we reduced the number of litter can locations while increasing the total waste capacity (volume),” the City of Vancouver explained in an e-mail.

“For example, an area with five litter cans (500 litres) per block side have been replaced by one recycling station (720 litres) and one higher volume garbage receptacle (240 litre), resulting in almost twice the capacity.”

Still, most of the pedestrians and residents that Global News spoke with in neighbourhoods that are ground zero of the city’s zero-waste initiative said they often find it challenging to track down a trash receptacle.

Some said they’ve made a habit of taking their trash home with them to dispose of it there — a practice purposefully imposed in other major cities looking for greener alternatives to landfill trash. Tokyo, for example, encourages a “pack it in, pack it out” approach with fewer public options to dispose of refuse altogether.

And, like it or not, the program appears to be here to stay: city officials say more conventional garbage bins are expected to be tossed in the months and years to come — with an increasing number of recycling stations expected to appear in their place.

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