Tony Sperling is the president of a consulting firm trying to convince Metro Vancouver to send our garbage to the Highland Valley copper mine, a 4-hour uphill truck ride from here, where his firm and the mine-owner, Teck-Cominco, want to build a "Centre for Sustainable Waste Management." Tony asked for my comments on the proposal. I sent a reply, which he tried to understand. He wrote back again, still
Thank you for asking me to comment on the Highland Valley landfill proposal. I was at the meeting of the MetVan Waste Management Committee in April 2006 when the committee heard a presentation on the HVL proposal. I recall that the politicians had many thoughtful questions suggesting that they had concerns. Speaking as a citizen, I think this proposal will not be accepted because the public is beginning to understand that this is a 20th Century solution to a 19th Century problem.
In the 19th Century garbage was a threat to public health and safety because it attracted rats and caused disease. Citizens like me demanded action, politicians listened, and engineers developed solutions. The most common sanctioned practice was landfilling of municipal refuse in authorized facilities. This practice continues until today.
But waste was different then. Data carefully gathered by municipal engineers at the turn of the 20th Century showed that 75% of the refuse then was inorganics (coal ashes, crockery, etc.), another 15% was organics and the rest (7%) was rubbish, simple manufactured goods like textiles, bottles and cans, etc.
Over the course of the 20th Century waste changed. Today the inorganics aren't even counted any more (homes are heated with gas, oil or electricity). The amount of organics doubled due to suburban yard trimmings. Most significantly, manufactured products and packaging now makes up 75% - 90% of our waste.
Landfilling of masses of manufactured products, many laced with hazardous compounds, is both wasteful and risky. We have a different waste problem today and we need different solutions ~ 21st Century problem, 21st Century solutions!
The HVC has another flaw, identified by members of the Waste Management Committee in their discussion. It is a 4 hour drive uphill to Logan Lake. At the time the committee was considering the proposal, oil had reached the unprecedented price of $65/barrel. This week it reached $80/barrel. Waste export was a solution for a time when fuel still seemed limitless, but it would be a bad investment today.
What I was challenging you to do at the Nelson meeting, Tony, was to come back to us with engineering solutions that address today's waste stream and work within today's limits. The provincial government is providing the legislative tools to redirect the products and packaging out of our municipal waste stream. We will no longer need the massive mixed-waste landfills of yesteryear. Rather, we will need effective, well-designed composting facilities for the organic materials that will remain once the product-related wastes are gone. This is the problem we are asking you and your engineering colleagues to solve for us. There will be huge technical challenges as well as political ones in building solutions for source-separated organic waste.
I'm prepared to help with the political challenges, if you will provide the technical expertise.