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

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Councillor Anton should have been there

A large crowd turned out last night to hear Paul Connett's barnstorming talk in downtown Vancouver. Too bad Vancouver Councillor Suzanne Anton wasn't there.

In a Province article this week, Anton opined that waste-to-energy technology is a "viable solution": "There are miniscule emissions.... they are not like the old incinerators pumping smoke through the Fraser Valley.... New waste-to-energy facilities are light years different from the past. In Europe, they put them in the middle of their towns.... The technologies out there seem to be working."

Surrey Councillor Marvin Hunt was the only regional politician I spotted in the audience and he fielded some questions after the talk. After the meeting he expressed interest in the "Resource Recovery Park" concept that Connett introduced in his talk. (We will be posting Connett's talk on this blog very soon.)

The next event of note is the July 9th meeting of the Metro Vancouver Waste Management Committee, where Zero Waste Vancouver will present a position opposing waste-to-energy incinerators and making recommendations for alternatives. The public is welcome to attend these meetings, which are held at 1:00 pm in the second-floor Boardroom at the Metro Vancouver Headquarters, 4330 Kingsway (Patterson skytrain station).

I will make no posts to this blog until I return from a trip on July 8th.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Waking up the citizens

It was standing room only at the church hall in New Westminster last night when Paul Connett gave a rousing hour-long speech about waste incineration.

You could have heard a pin drop in the audience during Connett's slide show. He covered the reasons we need to take a "front end" approach to our waste problem rather than wasting money and time on "back end" facilities that destroy resources.

Four of New Westminster's six city councillors took the time to attend the session. It will be interesting to see how many members of the Metro Waste Management Committee are in the Coast Plaza Ballroom tonight.

Zero Waste Vancouver sent two notices of the event to the elected leaders who sit on the Metro Waste Management Committee. Burnaby Councillor Dan Johnston sent regrets due to a prior commitment, saying "I am not sure whether I am pro or con on the issue of Waste to energy."

Johnston is a thoughtful politician who has made good contributions to the Waste Committee's work (we have him to thank that Metro has budgeted funds for composting this year -- he caught the omission last November).

However, it is getting late in the day for elected politicians to demur on this issue. After all, they approved the "Strategy for Updating the Solid Waste Management Plan" as well as the borrowing bylaw that authorizes borrowing of a quarter billion dollars for waste to energy (identified as a "Major Capital Project").

Tonight Zero Waste Vancouver will formally launch a campaign to prevent the Metro incinerators from going ahead. We will be seeking support from citizens in the region when we appear as a delegation to the Waste Management Committee on July 9th to state our position opposing the incineration plants and presenting recommendations for alternatives.

CBC Interview with Marvin Hunt and Patricia Ross about Incinerators

On Monday morning, CBC Radio One aired a lively double interview featuring perspectives from prominent public figures on both sides of the incineration debate. The 10-minute clip is available for download here. (Once downloaded, it can be played using Windows Media Player or iTunes.)

In the interview, Marvin Hunt, Surrey Counselor and Chair of the Metro Vancouver Waste Management Committee, defends the plan to build 3-6 "Waste to Energy" incinerators. Meanwhile, Patricia Ross, Abbotsford Counselor and Chair of the Fraser Valley Air Quality and Environment Committee, voices concerns about incineration and its potential effects on the fragile Fraser Valley airshed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Solid Waste and Recycling Magazine

The April/May 2008 edition of Canada's premier solid waste industry trade journal "Solid Waste and Recycling" is all about our current situation in Metro Vancouver.

The articles linked below provide a welcome perspective from outside our region, along with the sales pitches from some of the contenders for managing our waste.

Headings shown here are taken from the original magazine, with permission from the publisher.

Happy reading!

- "Metro Vancouver's New Waste Plan" is the feature article and cover story. Monica Kosmak recounts the unfolding story of Metro Vancouver's waste management challenges and explains the new proposed solid waste management plan with its controversial "waste to energy" component.

- "Metro Vancouver and the Zero Waste Debate" is the lead editorial by Guy Crittenden, editor of the magazine. This is recommended reading, as he has some interesting things to say about the public's expectations of municipal waste management and about Zero Waste Vancouver!

A series of short articles focus on some of Metro Vancouver's possible waste management strategies:

OPTION: More Waste to Energy
"Waste to Energy in Metro Vancouver: Is Smaller Better," by Ron Richter, who makes a pitch for several small incinerators (His company, Veolia, operates Metro Vancouver's existing incinerator in Burnaby).

OPTION: Landfill Disposal
"A Landfill Alternative: The Highland Valley Project," by Heather Kent, presenting the third Interior Landfill contender (vying against Ashcroft and an expanded Cache Creek landfill).

OPTION: Increased Diversion
"New Metro MRF Will Meet Zero Waste Objectives" -- a local company's new, state-of-the-art end-of-pipe recycling plant ...

OPTION: Waste Exporting
"Metro Vancouver's Potential Waste Export Decision" by Guy Crittenden, with an overview of our waste export options, including in Washington state.

OPTION: The Zero Waste Idea
"BC's leading EPR approach: To Catch a Rabbit, Think like a Rabbit" by Helen Spiegelman, explaining the beginning of-the-pipe recycling approach that BC invented for targeting and eliminating packaging waste.

Monday, June 23, 2008

What Metro Vancouver won't tell us

Tonight is the first of three public meetings (see sidebar to the right) that will will tell us what Metro Vancouver won't tell us.

Metro has been pitching its audacious proposal to build up to 6 waste-to-energy incinerators in the region, burning over a million tonnes of garbage each year. It's the centrepiece in the region's draft solid waste management plan.

And our regional politicians have been going along with it every step of the way. As recently as CBC's Early Edition this morning, Surrey Councillor Marvin Hunt was claiming incineration is all the rage in Europe (is this what they told him in Paris).

But Fraser Valley politician Patricia Ross isn't buying it.

She arranged to bring Paul Connett here to do what he did in hundreds of communities across North America during the 1980s: tell the other side.

The downwind communities in the Fraser Valley will learn what's in store for them tonight. The host communities in New Westminster and the Tri-Cities will get their chance tomorrow.

And on Wednesday night, at the Coast Plaza Hotel Ballroom in downtown Vancouver, we'll look at what incineration will cost all of us: more waste, more lost opportunities.

Can our politicians really convince us that Zero Waste means whatever you can't export to the USA, you just burn?
Pic: Clarington Watchdog ~ we are not alone!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lining up the financing before checking with the public

Metro Vancouver is so secretive about its intentions that even its own staff are in the dark. A Metro employee was surprised to hear me claim this week that the Board had approved borrowing authority for a quarter-billion dollars to build waste-to-energy projects.

I checked my sources and found the February 1 report with the Commissioner's recommendation to authorize $250 million in borrowing for waste-to-energy, listed as one of the "major planned GVS&DD capital expenditures" (emphasis added) in Appendix 1.

So: the borrowing is approved, an RFP has been issued. What's next? Oh, yes, check in with the public... or maybe that's not necessary. Another Metro employee once reassured me that once an incinerator is in place the public gets used to it. Maybe they figure if they work fast we won't notice?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Defending the Zero Waste brand

Columnist John Barber at the Globe and Mail has cast another shot across the bow of the incineration industry, this time assailing them for falsely flying the Zero Waste flag.

In his June 14 column, Barber writes:

"The race to zero waste has become the hottest municipal sweepstakes since the move to indoor plumbing," writes Barber, "The best proof of that is the speed with which those who stand to lose from zero waste are moving to co-opt it."

As Barber reports, the Zero Waste sweepstakes heated up in Canada last week with the formation of an Ontario Zero Waste Coalition.

The new coalition is made up mainly of municipalities and citizens tired of providing waste and recycling services ~ services that benefit mainly the producers of throw-away products ~ at public expense. They're calling for 100 percent producer funding of waste management. They see this as a key driver of Zero Waste design, design that could eventually lead to a world without waste.

Who has most to lose from this Zero Waste scenario? Not the product makers, who have shown that they can design cradle-to-cradle recycling programs once they're required to do so (look at our nearly 40-year-old deposit program for beverage containers, or our stewardship programs for paint and other household hazardous products).

The people who have the most to lose from Zero Waste are the companies that make money from waste. But rather than adapt, they are co-opting the Zero Waste brand.

Chief among the co-opters on Barber's list is Plasco Energy Group. They've not only ripped off the Zero Waste brand, they've even appropriated the Ottawa brand.

Where would a waste-to-energy company be without waste?

Sometimes public servants have a similar blind spot, except in their case it comes not from the promise of profits but from public expectations that "there will always be waste" and it's the city's job to make it go away. The chance to be involved in the development of a state-of-the-art architecturally-designed incinerator brings stars to the eyes of traditionally trained waste managers.

Our own Metro Vancouver received a scathing write-up this spring in the cover story of Canada's national recycling magazine Solid Waste and Recycling for its own co-opting of the Zero Waste brand by stretching the concept, as Plasco does, to include waste-to-energy incineration.

But everything eventually comes back to the neighbourhood.

Will voters in next November's civic elections support candidates whose campaign promise is to build trash burners in their backyards?

Or will they demand good policy instead of techno-fixes:

"What's truly radical about zero waste," writes Barber, "is that it simply ignores the never-ending ruckus over the safest technology to deal with the alleged 'garbage crisis.' By focusing on policy and economics instead - banning throwaways and making producers pay for their own waste - zero waste makes landfills and incinerators essentially unnecessary.... As a pipe dream, this one is hot as can be."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Recycling economics

It's bad enough what comes out the back end of an incinerator ~ what goes in the front end is also a concern.

Seattle economist Jeffrey Morris has been warning public decision makers for decades not to invest in waste technologies that may have unanticipated opportunity costs down the line.

Here is a slide show he presented in Italy as part of a panel with Paul Connett and other American Zero Waste luminaries, as well as to a meeting in Quebec last month. Morris points to "the emerging framework" that should guide our waste processing investments:

1. GHG reductions likely imply smaller and lower Btu value disposal quantities
2. Higher energy prices likely imply higher prices for recycled materials
3. Natural resource depletion & ecosystems degradation likely provide push to replace virgin with recycled materials and to compost organics for use on farm land
4. Carbon constraints + high energy and commodity prices likely to create strong incentives for higher 3Rs levels.

Sean Mabberley, a local wood waste recycler, said the same thing to Metro Vancouver's Solid Waste Reference Panel last month. He called recycling commodity values a "moving ball" that could be rolling uphill even faster than energy prices.

Morris says to ask the snake-oil salesmen:
1)Who bears facility investment costs and risks of tonnage shortfalls?
2)Do tip fees vary directly with disposal tonnage, or is there some sort of put-or-pay guarantee?
3)How will tip fee commitments affect waste reduction, recycling & composting?
4)Who bears pollution risks & closure/post-closure costs for facilities (including ashfill)?
5)What will be the effects of climate change and higher energy & commodity prices?

Pic: Robert Neubecker in Slate

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Snake Oil and Rube Goldberg

It was standing room only yesterday in the Metro Vancouver boardroom -- but only in the peanut gallery. But there were plenty of empty seats at the board table itself.

Not many politicians showed up to this special meeting of the Waste Management Committee to hear 28 delegations pitch their technological solutions to Metro Vancouver's garbage problems.

One observer commented that the proposals ranged "from Snake Oil to Rube Goldberg."

So many ways to turn garbage into gold.
But the politicians who were there served their constituents well by asking tough questions. Coquitlam Councillor Fin Donnelly set the hoops for the salesmen to jump through to prove their mettle and separate the serious contenders from the dreamers and schemers. He wanted each speaker to state: what capacity they could offer, what it would cost per tonne, how soon they could be up and running, and whether they had any successes to point to.

Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean, Anmore Mayor Ralph Drew and Vancouver would-be Mayor Peter Ladner all lit into Tony Sperling, the proponent of the Highland Valley Landfill that is still hoping to be chosen by the region to succeed the Cache Creek Landfill.

The best question was posed by Ladner: with your high capital costs, what waste quantities are you going to need at this facility?

Sperling's "bioreactor" landfill concept relies on revenues from waste-to-energy to be viable. The Highland Valley Copper company "wants GHG credits" out of this deal. And the only way to generate that energy and credits is to supply the machine with lots and lots of garbage. Indefinitely.

What we need to find is a salesman selling the negawaste solution.

Paul Connett to speak in New West too

Paul Connett will make a third appearance in the region this month, along with scheduled meetings in Abbotsford and Vancouver.
The McBride-Sapperton Residents' association has scheduled a community meeting in New Westminster to hear what Dr. Paul Connett has to say about waste incinerators. They invite the public to join them.

Tuesday, June 24
7:00 pm
Knox Church Hall
403 East Columbia
New Westminster

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Let's talk about the downside of incineration

The Fraser Valley Regional District, the University of the Fraser Valley and Zero Waste Vancouver are organizing public meetings this month to call attention to the dangers of waste-to-energy incineration. We're bringing in a legendary figure to help us. (see details below)

Dr. Paul Connett, who helped citizens block hundreds of incineration plants during the 1980s, will be speaking in Abbotsford and Vancouver, as well as other meetings yet to be set up. Connett was the technical advisor in a North America-wide citizens' movement during the 1980s that blocked hundreds of proposed incineration plants and brought in curbside recycling instead.

We suspect that most citizens don't even know that Metro Vancouver intends to build up to six waste incinerators in our region. The publicity for Metro Vancouver's sparsely attended public meetings in April and May asked "How should we manage our waste?" but didn't mention the proposed incinerators.
Elected politicians in the region have not been trumpteting the incinerator plan either. Probably because they realize it won't be a great election issue. Saddling the public with $3 billion in debt, tripling disposal costs and seeking a site in someone's backyard may be tough for incumbents to sell next November when they're seeking new mandates.

To get the ball rolling, we'll offer any regional politician who is ready to take a stand on incinerators ~ for or against ~ an opportunity to be heard at the Vancouver public forum on June 25th. It's about time we had a debate on this important regional issue.
Vancouver meeting details (sponsor: ZWV)
Wednesday, June 25
7:00 pm
Coast Plaza Hotel
1763 Comox Street
Fraser Valley meeting details (sponsor: UFV)
Monday, June 23
7:00 pm
MCA Auditorium
32315 South Fraser Way

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Reroute that file

We have traditionally relied on municipal engineers for waste management, but maybe we should be talking to the Economic Development Officer.

Rather than engineering solutions, we might want to explore entrepreneurial solutions for reducing our waste.

Cities have all sorts of tools that they use to attract and encourage new businesses in the community. Have we tried using incentives and public policy instruments to encourage neighbourhood re-shopping opportunities along side shopping opportunities?

Our cities could provide vacant land or relax property taxes for innovative recycling businesses that bring in customers to buy (or sell) discards that would otherwise have gone to the curb.

These can be either clustered with other recycling businesses or tucked conveniently in amongst regular retail outlets.

I learned this week that one tonne of waste incinerated produces the equivalent of one barrel of oil. Even at $137/barrel, it seems like we could get more fun and community benefit from a discard mall than from an incinerator.