Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Garbage Game

New York's Gotham Gazette newspaper has created a neat online "Garbage Game". (Thanks to No Impact Man for the link.) To play, you make choices about the fate of waste, first as a New Yorker sorting her own household waste, then as a sanitation engineer charged with managing the entire municipal waste stream. You also get to decide which neighbourhood, municipality, or state to burden with the ultimate disposal of the city's waste.

While the Garbage Game is tailored to the specific contexts of waste management for New York City , there are instructive parallels to Metro Vancouver. In the game, you make decisions surrounding the contentious issue of transporting New York City's garbage to New Jersey or to the outer boroughs. Meanwhile, here in the Lower Mainland, we are still contending with the GVRD's 2000 plan to build a landfill in Ashcroft, and to truck Vancouver's garbage nearly 400km to get there. (See Helen's post, "New Year's Resolution: Stop Ashcroft Landfill".)

Of course, the best way to avoid transporting vast amounts of waste is to reduce the amount of waste generated in the first place! As noted in the Garbage Game, diverting recyclables from the garbage stream is an improvement but doesn't mean zero waste. The majority of New York's recycled raw materials are exported overseas by large polluting ships.

I played The Gotham Gazette Garbage Game and sent 2,643,029 tons of refuse across 2,300,565 miles.

Here are my own dubious results from the Garbage Game. (It generates code which I believe you could paste into a comment to this post, if you’d like to share your score!)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Recycle ~ or else!

Metro Vancouver controls the garbage disposal system in our region. This gives them the power to "shut the gate" on items that should not be thrown away.

Last summer, at the urging of political leaders who are championing a Zero Waste Challenge, Metro Vancouver approved a policy that anything that can be recycled must not go in the garbage.

Currently thousands of tonnes of newspaper, cardboard, yard waste and other easily recyclable products go to waste each year. Almost half of our garbage is things that could be recycled but aren't!

The new rules will change all that ~ if enough people know about the new rules. Did YOU know that you will no longer be allowed to throw your Georgia Straight in a street litter bin, starting on January 1st?

Maybe the Straight and other free newspapers should provide handy recycling containers next to their distribution boxes, eh?

(As far as we can tell, only Burnaby seems to be publicizing the new bans. Good work, Burnaby! Has anyone seen notices of the impending disposal bans in other municipalities?)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New Year's Resolution ~ stop Ashcroft landfill

If this were your backyard, would you want half-a-million tonnes of someone else's garbage dumped there? Metro Vancouver staff and contractors seem determined to build a 100-year landfill in these beautiful hills. It's time they checked in with us, the citizens of this region.
The Cornwall Keepers are asking for our help.


In 2000, GVRD puchased Ashcroft Ranch (price $4.5 million) and announced a plan to build a landfill there for our garbage. No-one asked us if we wanted to send our garbage to someone else's backyard.

From 2000 to 2005, GVRD carried out expensive procedures seeking provincial approval for the landfill. No-one asked us if we supported the project.

In June 2005, the Minister of Environment suspended the approval process saying "an amendment to the GVRD's solid waste management plan is required for the project to proceed." No-one has asked us if we wanted to amend our waste plan.

Last month Metro Vancouver staff set aside $6 million in the 2008 budget to continue preparations for building the landfill at Ashcroft, despite the suspension. This is on top of hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain agricultural operations on the ranch. No-one asked us if we want to put good money after bad into this project.

As 2007 draws to a close, there are signs of change at Metro Vancouver. The political leaders in our region are beginning to have second thoughts about shipping our garbage out of the region. They forced their staff to find $40 million for the 2008 budget for composting (incredibly, staff had not allocated a nickel for this priority.) They have approved tough new disposal bans that will come into effect on January 1st. They are betting we are ready to get serious about reducing waste.

Zero Waste Vancouver was formed to give the citizens of this region a voice, finally, in how our waste is managed. For too long, Metro Vancouver has made it easy to be wasteful, sending our garbage up the Fraser Canyon to someone else's backyard. We are the most wasteful urban region in the province. It's time to acknowledge this and do something about it. The people who live in our "wasteshed" deserve no less.
You can lend them your support right now by visiting the Cornwall Keepers website and signing their petition.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dream Job Available

The Recycling Council of BC has just posted an employment opportunity to work as an Information Officer on the BC Recycling Hotline.

If you are looking for a really interesting full-time position where you will learn all there is to know about waste reduction and recycling (preparing you for a career in the field?), this is the job for you. You will work with great people, help manage a database of all the recycling services in BC and AB, and have direct contact every day with people who want to recycle but don't know where or how.

The application deadline is December 11th.

Zero warming!

Check out this amazing little video clip that makes the critical link between Waste and Warming.
Read Zero Waste Vancouver's backgrounder on incineration/gasification of waste.

BC politicians think we want to burn garbage!

When the times get tough ~ and they will! ~ everyone is going to be looking for cheap alternatives to the fossil fuels that have powered our economy in the past 150 years. And sooner or later they will seize on GARBAGE as the cheap energy resource of the future.

It's already started. And Sweden is the role model.

A few years ago the chair of the Metro Vancouver Environment Committee, Joe Trasolini, toured Sweden and today he is pushing for a form of waste-to-energy alchemy called "gasification."

Metro Vancouver intends to issue a request for proposals early in the New Year to build huge huge new incinerators that will burn up to 3/4 million tonnes of waste each year (for comparison, our region's Burnaby incinerator burns 285,000 tonnes per year).

Last month, BC's energy minister Richard Neufeld came back from Sweden smitten with that country's energy plants that burn wood waste along with municipal waste. This minister comes from a northern riding that is drowning in wood waste like we're drowning in garbage. He's sure to see this as the perfect way to turn a problem into a solution.

Except, of course, that the last thing responsible political leaders should be promoting now is dumping our waste into the atmosphere. Please read the Zero Waste Vancouver backgrounder on waste incineration, and send a quick email to Trasolini and Neufeld:

Joe Trasolini, Chair
Metro Vancouver Environment Committee

Richard Neufeld, MLA
Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Story of Stuff!

Here's a catchy 20 minute film just released by a well-known American anti-incineration activist Annie Leonard. The movie is a simple animated backgrounder on the "materials economy" - extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Learning from the garbage strike

Garbage continues to rankle our public conscience. In the Tyee last week writer Ruben Anderson ruefully pointed out that we have learned nothing from the garbage strike last summer.
"People are breathing easier as their cans once again fill and miraculously empty every week...Which means we've missed a huge opportunity here. We should still be asking the true question raised by all that smelly inconvenience: Why do we have garbage in the first place?"

The reason, he rightly goes on to explain, is that things are designed for the dump. To solve our problem, we need to be thinking of "cradle to cradle design."

Michael Braungart and William McDonough came up with the "cradle-to-cradle" concept in 1995 and copyrighted it in 2001 ~ but since then the amount of throw-away products and packaging in US waste has increased 20%. Here in MetroVancouver, our waste has grown 46% since 2000, five times greater than our population growth.
What's standing in the way of cradle-to-cradle design? Public policy.
Throwing things away is culturally sanctioned in our society. We take it as one of our basic civil rights that we will receive convenient collection and disposal of our throw-aways, provided as a free public service, just like education and health care.
If we want cradle-to-cradle design, maybe we should stop providing the grave?