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

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Metro Pols inundated with sales pitches

Garbage is big business. Large urban areas like Vancouver are a hot market. Especially when they send out signals that they have a "garbage crisis" and might be ready to spend $3 billion on new incinerators.

Yesterday Marvin Hunt, Chair of the Metro Vancouver Waste Management Committee, told his fellow committee members his mailbox was crammed with advertising from companies wanting to sell us garbage solutions.

He advised his colleagues to forward the enquiries to Metro Vancouver staff. Rightly so. There should be no perception that a politician is pushing a particular company or technology. This is why municipal waste departments are staffed with professionals who make purchasing recommendations based on rigorous screening.

Nonetheless, these professionals take direction from politicians on what to look for. And politicians, in turn, take direction from citizens. That's why, if we care what happens to our garbage, we have to start looking at the options and making it clear what we think should be on the shopping list.

Letters from citizens aren't junk mail. They get read and help shape policy. Marvin Hunt twice emphasized yesterday that no decision has been made about how this region will manage its garbage, regardless of the "strategies" that were sent out in the draft plan.

March and April will be our window of opportunity to make our views known. If you aren't sure how the garbage system works and where we should be going, come to the Citizens' Workshop on Zero Waste on March 15 & 16 (see sidebar).

Friday, February 22, 2008

Where are Metro Vancouver's priorities?

Buried deep in this blog, a visitor found a post that encouraged letters and emails to Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini and BC Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. These two politicians have been wooed by Europeans claiming that waste can be a source of renewable energy.

The visitor to our blog asked: What about the studies done that show waste-to-energy does create less greenhouse gases and offered two weblinks for evidence.

Typically, the two weblinks were not to scientific studies but to documents intended either to sell incinerators or to justify the decision to purchase one.
When I checked the links I found a 24-page pamplet from Denmark bearing the logos of two organizations (RenoSam and Ramboll) who are, respectively, an association of 29 waste management companies and a European company that provides engineering, consultancy, product development and operation services.... The document produced by these organizations is not a scientific "report" but a sales pitch for their incineration products and services.

The second weblink is a promotional pamphlet from our own GVRD (now Metro Vancouver) about the Burnaby waste-to-energy incinerator.

In a second comment, the visitor says: While burning garbage isn't perfect, it's also not the highest priority. As can be seen in this 2008 discussion paper, the first priority is to reduce waste generation. Then, it goes onto discuss other methods. Of course, waste reduction is a process that everyone needs to be a part of.

Agreed! But priority? One measure of priorities is dollars. The Metro Vancouver Draft Solid Waste Management Plan talks dollars. Here's what it says:

dollars going to reducing waste generation: $40 million

dollars going to incineration: $2.5 - 3.0 billion.

What does this tell us about the priorities in Metro Vancouver's waste plan? Are these the priorities of citizens?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Save the dates ~ March 14/15

Zero Waste Vancouver is teaming up with the Sierra Club Lower Mainland Group to offer concerned citizens a crash course on waste next month. It will start with some speeches on Friday night, March 14, at the SPEC building. Then we'll sit down on Saturday, March 15, for a half-day workshop at the Roundhouse Community Centre. Check back here for details.

It's hard work being a citizen, keeping ahead of the decisions that are being made in our name about all the different things that really affect how we live on this planet.

But citizens in our region are doing a good job. We've changed the debate on transportation, climate change, energy, conservation of our natural heritage, and a whole range of other important areas of public concern.

In an era when the official discussion is dumbed down, a new wave of informed citizens are raising the bar. We're putting new facts on the table. Proposing new solutions that work. Getting results.

We need to do the same thing with waste. Decisions are being made now about how our waste will be managed for decades to come. There is an information vacuum that is being gleefully filled by the incineration industry.

The March 14/15 event will start the process of taking back our local public waste management system and shaping it to meet the region's and the planet's genuine needs. It will be fun and satisfying to work together and chalk up one more small victory for the public good.

Pic: Boulder EcoCycle

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Enablers of our addiction to wasting

In his sales pitch for the Plasco gasification plant, Vancouver Sun columnist Harvey Enchin dismissed recycling programs as "schemes of social engineering."

Surely there can be no better example of social engineering than the campaign carried out during the past century by the producers of throw-away products and packaging. Their scheme succeeded in instilling a culture of waste in our society. This is a story that historian Susan Strasser recounts vividly in Waste and Want: a Social History of Trash.

The really sad thing is the way local communities have been unwittingly seconded as enablers of this social engineering scheme. Over the last 100 years we have institutionalized waste, making it not only a socially sanctioned practice but an unquestioned public function to which we commit large sums of public funds.

We didn't know what we were getting into when the first municipal waste collection programs were introduced in the late 19th Century. Our municipal "refuse" at that time consisted mostly coal ash and kitchen scraps. Only 7% was "rubbish" (simple manufactured goods). But social engineering changed our behaviour and today our cities must manage the bloated waste stream from products we have been convinced are essential to our lives. A typical household threw out 97 pounds of "rubbish" in 1900. Today it's 1,260 pounds.

For a century cities have been providing the rug for the profiteers from disposability to sweep their waste under. Now we are being engineered into seeing waste as a renewable energy resource. Even more incredibly, we are being convinced that our communities should pay companies like Plasco to make money from it.

Driving all of this is an atmosphere of "crisis" to convince us that we have no recourse but to burn our garbage. As I just wrote in an unlikely-to-be-published letter to the Sun, Metro Vancouver's own data show that there is no "landfill crisis" in our region. Are we so thoroughly engineered that we won't believe it?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Peak Oil ... and Peak Soil!

George Monbiot recounts in The Guardian today how our governments are going to no ends to feed our addiction to cheap energy, even if it means starving us of food.

Corn, switchgrass, agricultural wastes ~ whatever ~ we are mining the soil to grow the biofuels to run the ships to supply the Big Box Stores that sell the "low value recyclable materials" that we'll burn in the incinerators to make the electricity to run the microwaves to fix our dinners ~ except that there'll be no arable land left for us to grow the food to eat.

Here in Metro Vancouver we face a "growing need for energy" and we must meet this need by building three to six incinerators that will consume a million tonnes of waste each year.

"... the need for additional non-fossil based energy should take precedent over the recovery of low value recyclable materials."

No more Mobius Loop ~ the new logo is a snake consuming its own tail.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Just say no to junk mail

A new campaign is offering great tools for getting off junk mail/fax/phone lists. Sign up today ~ you have nothing to lose but half the contents of your Yellow Bag....

In Vancouver, 8% of houses and 18% of apartments have already chosen to say NO to junk mail. Across BC, 7% of houses and 14% of apartments have opted out of Junk Mail. Let's spread the word to others to remind them of their choice. .In this way, households who want offers could receive them, and those of us who don’t, would not. But once we reach a tipping point, advertisers may be convinced that there are better ways to reach their customers....

Thanks, Red Dot Campaign!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Rainy weekend? Chris Jordan fix.

Are you looking for an indoor get-away on this rainy weekend? Check out the Chris Jordan exhibit at the Windsor Gallery on Granville Street.

If you don't know who Chris Jordan is, read a good little write-up before you go on page 37 of today's Courier ~ not posted online yet. Jordan discovered he wasn't cut out for corporate law and instead started playing around with photography, going on to produce iconic images of our consumerism.

pic: Running the numbers: 2 million pop bottles ~ 5 minutes consumption in USA

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Rendering plant meeting February 7

Grandview-Woodlands residents downwind of the West Coast Reduction rendering plant (105 North Commercial Drive) will meet with Metro Vancouver at Wise Hall on Thursday night (Feb 7) to see what further steps can be taken to deal with odour problems from the plant. The registration starts at 6:30 pm and the discussions at 7:00. If anyone goes to this meeting, it would be great to hear a report.

Metro Vancouver is forming a citizens' committee to determine what an "acceptable" level of odour is.

Rendering is an industrial process to deal with animal byproducts. An interesting article in the Vancouver Courier quoted the Vice-Chairman of the rendering company: "We consider ourselves a very good corporate citizen and we are providing an important service to the city of Vancouver," he said. "We process through this plant every year 50 per cent of the total volume of solid waste that goes to Cache Creek and, if we weren't processing that, I'm not sure where it would go. And I think we do it in a way that probably is the envy of most cities in North America."

Rendering is a spin-off industry from large-scale meat production, using by-products to produce salable commodities. There are two different processes, according to Wikipedia, one of which "cooks slaughterhouse offal to produce a thick lumpy stew which is then sold to the pet-food industry to be used principally as tinned cat and dog foods. Such plants are notable for the offensive odour that they can produce and are often sited well away from human habitation."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Act Locally

Remember those starlings, who taught us that the seven people closest to us might be our partners in steering our whole "flock" out of danger.

Shelagh Lindsey is a long-time steerer of flocks. Her career path led her to UBC's School of Architecture in the late 1970s, and she went on to graduate a string of dedicated new urbanists.

Now retired and an octogenarian, Shelagh is still a change agent. She is steering her neighbours and management at her Cavell Gardens retirement complex towards Zero Waste practices.

A 2006 study in Metro Vancouver estimated that the recycling rate for multi-family residences is 20% -- compared with 52% for the region as a whole. It is pressure from within, from change-agents like Shelagh, that will drive this rate up.

pic: msnbc Richard T. Nowitz / Corbis

Monday, February 4, 2008

OK, so they punted it to Metro Vancouver...

... but the ball is still moving forward!

Vancouver City Council added some finesse to the strategy by clarifying that it's not just plastic bags that are the problem, but all "free" carry-out grocery bags. The fact that these are free masks the hidden cost, which is of course passed on to Mother Nature and our grandchildren, not to mention rate-payers here in the community.

When the bag issue goes to Metro Vancouver, we'll be talking about strategies to eliminate "free" bags of any sort.

This issue will not go away, even though the folks who have been enjoying the "free" ride (grocers and their bag suppliers) downplay its importance. To their credit, more and more retailers see the handwriting on the wall and are showing how easy it is to change. Whole Foods/Capers will eliminate plastic bags by Earth Day of this year. Ikea Canada has been "taxing" carry-out bags since last October. Overwaitea/Sav-On have been taking back plastic bags for years.

But that doesn't stop an estimated 12,000 tonnes of carry out bags from ending up in the region's disposal facilities each year, to say nothing of the uncounted ones in the gutters, parks and roadsides.

This week's buzz is about great coverage in the New York Times of Ireland's now legendary plastax, which a correspondent called "one of the most astounding examples of tax policy shifting consumer behavior I have ever seen!"

The NYTimes reported: "...the environment minister told shopkeepers that if they changed from plastic to paper, he would tax those bags, too.....While paper bags, which degrade, are in some ways better for the environment, studies suggest that more greenhouse gases are released in their manufacture and transportation than in the production of plastic bags."

(pic: New York Times)