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

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Feed the earth or the atmosphere?

Metro Vancouver has set us firmly on track to cut our waste by 70% ~ hats off to the political leaders of all political stripes for their vision in setting us on this course!

Now the question arises: what will we do with the other 30%.

The incinerator salesmen are all lined up offering us a solution that looks too good to be true: we can make money by selling garbage-fueled energy.

Incineration doesn't get rid of waste completely, they concede, since at least one tonne for every five going into the plant emerges at the other end as ash that must be disposed of.

Sticker shock is another challenge ~ people of our region are going to have to really love incinerators to be willing to pay the cost of building them. (More about that below)

Cities in other parts of the world -- including Halifax NS -- are following a different path. They are setting up simple systems that mechanically and biologically "stabilize" the leftover garbage that can't be recycled. This process reduces the volume of the waste, as well as keeping out hazardous materials. Most notably from a climate change and public safety perspective, it reduces the ability of landfilled garbage to produce the greenhouse gas methane and toxic leachate.

The proponents of "MBT" (mechanical and biological treatment) include environmentalists who see it as a bridging strategy for winding down our landfilling system as we gradually ramp up recycling and composting.

Incinerators lock us into using a machine that feeds the already overburdened sky, while MBT is flexible and will let us benefit from reduced costs as we reduce our waste. Zero Waste Vancouver is researching the experience of these other communities and will be making regular reports to this blog.

(About those costs? A recent European study noted that WTE costs 54% more than landfilling, while an MBT system raises the cost of landfilling by only 8%)

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