Bottles from Vancouver Convention Center are recycled at the United We Can facility.

Vancouver (B.C.) Convention Centre has been lauded for its sustainability efforts since it opened in April 2009. The building received LEED Platinum certification, which took into account its facility-wide recycling program. Now, the convention center has been recognized with an honorable mention in Venues Today’s Best Sustainability Silver Spoon Awards for taking its recycling efforts to the next level by partnering with United We Can.

Instead of using a traditional recycling service and pocketing the proceeds, VCC has partnered with United We Can, a charitable organization that trains and employs people with barriers to traditional employment. Along with its food and beverage provider Centerplate, the convention center has gathered all of its wine and liquor bottles, as well as soda and beer cans and bottle recyclables for pick-up by United We Can, which then sorts them at the charity’s facility.

“Our partnership started kind of small at the end of 2010,” said Claire Smith, VP Sales and Marketing at VCC. “As we started to get more involved, we talked to our staff about what we were trying to achieve and they learned more about United We Can as an organization. The employees became really dedicated and the partnership began to take on more and more momentum.”

The partnership started with VCC providing United We Can with all of its recyclable beverage containers and, in turn, the charity kept 50 percent of the profits. In January 2012, the convention center started donating 100 percent of the deposit value of the beverage containers.

United We Can even set up a workstation at the facility during festivities for the 2011 Grey Cup, the Canadian Football League championship. 

“The convention center generously carved out a piece of space for us at their location, which allowed us to do all of the sorting on-site,” said Gerry Martin, GM of United We Can. “We were able to employ an extra 10 people each day because they didn’t charge us anything for the space and fed all of our people lunch — plus, they still gave us half the deposit value of the containers.”

So far, VCC has donated more than $24,000 — the value of around 500,000 beverage containers — to the charity, making the convention center its largest contributor. Pickups are regularly scheduled for Monday and Friday, but United We Can will modify the schedule if necessary. 

“The convention business is up and down like a roller coaster,” said Andrew Pollard, GM for Centerplate at Vancouver Convention Centre. “We need to have a partner who’s able to react to that.”

Interviewed for this story: Andrew Pollard and Claire Smith, (604) 647-7353; Gerry Martin, (604)  681-0001