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

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Misleading metaphors

A new report has just been released by the province delivering on Premier Campbell's clarion call to the UBCM last fall to pursue "a vision where human activities enhance our environment" rather than having the usual effect of taking us to hell in a handbasket.

The province's bold new strategy for civic redemption is dubbed "integrated resource management."

The guiding principle of IRM is that communities should be building infrastructure to make money from waste rather than treating it as a taxpayer cost. On the face of it, the notion of exploiting the inherent value in waste makes sense. It's been the basis of arguments for recycling (and against waste incineration) for a generation.

But like the traditional waste management approaches it wants to replace, IRM fails to get to the root cause of waste and is therefore programmed to perpetuate the waste problem rather than solving it ~ and make certain business interests rich at public expense.

A quick read of the 122 page report reveals that the authors' main interest and expertise is in liquid waste ~ sorry! resource! ~ management.

There is a plausible case that liquid waste management will benefit from an IRM strategy. And there is a plausible intersect between liquid waste and solid waste, which is food scraps. In the proposed IRM system "wet organic waste" would be processed in sewage treatment plants to produce valuable energy and/or heat. So far, so good.

But the study also suggests a so-called IRM solution for "dry organic waste" (i.e. all other municipal solid waste) and that solution is gasification for syngas, which is presented as "a clean process with significantly lower emissions than traditional incineration."

When you make a business case that waste is a "resource" (something of value to be exploited) this frames waste as a good rather than a bad. It encourages the flow of waste. The more waste, the more resource to exploit.

Public policy matters. This IRM signal from the province opens the door to businesses like Enerkem, Plasco, Veolia, etc. etc. etc) who can deliver revenues from waste.

But it shuts down enquiry that might lead to waste prevention approaches that would deliver broader benefits. Did the authors of this study, which may well guide provincial and municipal policy on waste far into the future, consider the value that is squandered when throw-away products are gasified? Or the impacts that will be felt globally when more throw-away products are produced to replace them?

Same old handbasket.


No comments: