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

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Province sends Metro Vancouver back to the drawing board

The province has sent Johnny Carline back to square one in the regional waste planning process. This might protect elected officials from embarrassment in the upcoming civic elections ~ and even buy time for a good plan to come forward.

This blog reported last month that Carline narrowly averted a rebellion by the Waste Management Committee when he proposed sending a letter out to municipal councils seeking sites for incinerators ~ before "waste-to-energy" has even been sanctioned as a strategy for our region. The letter was narrowly approved by the Committee, with vocal misgivings voiced by several members.

The following day Carline travelled to Victoria to meet with the province and it was there that he got his come-uppance, it would seem.

In a report that was hastily written and distributed to Metro Board members mere hours before their last scheduled meeting on July 18, Carline recommended that the Board ignore its Committee's advice and, instead, adopt recommendations inspired by an "extremely constructive and extended dialogue" with the province.

Carline's report admits that "recent public discussion on waste to energy and the prospect of discussing potential siting at this time had raised the same misgivings at the provincial level as they had at the regional level."

The extended dialogue between Carline and ministry staff resulted in a new process for developing the waste plan, one that involves more consultation with the public as well as "a report by an outside consultant assessing the relative characteristics and merits of landfills and waste to energy" for waste that can't be recycled. The province also wants Metro Vancouver to "develop a report setting out the strategies and actions... to achieve a 70% diversion target by 2015."

When this report was put on the table for discussion on July 18, it raised additional questions of process. Many of the Directors had not even seen it. Some who had seen it objected to Carline trying to over-ride the Committee's advice. Still others expressed the view that the province shouldn't be butting into the region's business. In the end, the decision was deferred to a special meeting of the GVS&DD Board on July 25. At that meeting, reportedly, the recommendation was approved.

Now the politicians are off duty until September. When they come back, we'll be gearing up for civic elections. Zero Waste Vancouver will be organizing a campaign to make sure all candidates disclose where they stand on waste-to-energy incineration. See the Zero Waste Vancouver position paper here.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

We just learned that Plasco Group has laid claim to the URL ~
Accept no substitutes!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Two Ontario cities agree not to pursue incineration

Two Ontario communities, Niagara and Hamilton, have made a commitment to focus on waste reduction instead of disposal.

Niagara Region and the City of Hamilton teamed up four years ago to find a common solution to "a growing global concern: limited landfill space."

They looked at 8 options for disposing of their excess garbage, narrowed the choices down to three. One was "thermal treatment" (waste-to-energy incineration or gasification).

But last Friday the Working Group set up to oversee the joint Waste Plan process received a staff report that threw the process into reverse. The two communities' managers of waste planning recommended that the communities focus on waste diversion instead.

The staff report outlined specific, tangible steps that each community can take to increase the amount of waste they recover, reducing the amount going to landfills.
Rather than pursuing expensive new disposal plants as other Ontario communities are doing (see details in the Appendix of the report), Niagara and Hamilton are going to push for waste reduction.

Good for you, Hamilton and Niagara!

A Truly Cool City

Tyee contributor Ruben Anderson offered another glimpse at a new way of living this week, inviting us to Claim our Rotting Riches. Food waste is the next frontier of waste reduction ~ and Anderson wants us to do it right.

He takes a sober look at the way the leading cities -- Toronto, Seattle, San Francisco -- have chosen to design their food waste composting programs and says we should do it better.

"First the city gives every household a pricey new plastic rolling tote. They buy additional trucks and hire more people. Those trucks chug up every single lane in the city until they are full, then they drive somewhere far away and dump the organic waste. Large machines pile and re-pile the organics for a few months until it breaks down into compost. They do this two to four times each month, 12 months of the year, for the rest of time...."

This centralized, industrial approach misses a better opportunity, Anderson proposes. He asks us to re-think the idea of a composting system that relies on "a river of oil."

Anderson sees a whole range of systems for managing food waste. Small to large, intensely local, and scaled to fit the purpose, from backyard composting (even in apartment complexes!) to in-house digestion systems at industrial sites.

I think Anderson's got it right. We're starting from scratch with food waste composting and this gives us an opportunity to do it differently, setting a new standard for the 21st Century.
pic: The Cedar Grove centralized composting plant that is the model for a new plant likely to be built by Metro Vancouver at the Langley wastewater treatment plant site. This is where Seattle's food waste is trucked. The plant has firm support from knowledgeable environmentalists in Everett, WA, where a plant has been in operation for several years. It got some bad press this week.

Daring political leadership

There's a BBC story making the rounds on Zero Waste listservs this week, highlighting a little town in the eastern hills of Japan where "the rubbish collectors never come."

In Kamikatsu all food waste is required to be composted and the rest of the waste is sorted into 34 categories and recycled, either by returning items to stores (where customers receive cash for items turned in) or to a Zero Waste centre operated by the town.
The BBC reports "the scheme was adopted when councillors realised it was much cheaper than incineration - even if the incinerator was used to generate power."
"A poll showed that although the Zero Waste policy has many admirers, 40% of people weren't happy about all aspects of the scheme," the BBC report continues.

"The Mayor Kasamatsu Kasuichi is undeterred: 'We should consider what is right and what is wrong, and I believe it is wrong to send a truck to collect the waste and burn it. That is bad for the environment. So whether I get support or not, I believe I should persuade people to support my policy.'

"Now he invites other politicians around the world to follow suit."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Even Chair Hunt said the timing was "horrible"

Metro Vancouver Commissioner Johnny Carline slipped an item onto the Waste Management Committee's already packed agenda on Wednesday afternoon. Committee Chair Marvin Hunt headed the new agenda item "Waste Export."

But as it turned out, the 4-page on-table report that was put before the committee had two recommendations, and only the first related to waste export.

The second recommendation was to authorize a letter to go out to all municipalities in the region, over Marvin Hunt's signature, asking the Mayors and Councils to propose sites in their communities for waste-to-energy incinerators.

The proposed letter was attached to the report. It asked the Mayors and Councils to suggest "potential areas or specific sites, preferably under municipal ownership or control, where waste-to-energy infrastructure could be integrated into existing land use or proposed land development."

Because the report was introduced "on table" those of us in the peanut gallery didn't have it before us during the discussion that ensued. But it quickly became clear that several members of the committee had serious concerns about the optics of this recommendation.

The committee had just heard from New Westminster citizen Neil Powell that members of his residents' association were beginning to suspect that the decision to build incinerators was a "done deal," despite all the public reassurances from politicians that no final decisions had been made.

This letter, several committee members pointed out, would certainly lend credence to those suspicions. A motion was debated to receive the report for information rather than sending it on to the Board with their blessing.

In the end, the committee approved the recommendation with a minor and meaningless amendment (broadening the site usage to include "other technologies"). Four members of the committee voted nay and their names will be recorded in the minutes under Agenda Item 5.14.

What the Board does with this report is still to be seen.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Trasolini buys a pig in a poke

Mayor Trasolini has made his big move.

The city of Port Moody issued an announcement yesterday that it has signed a "non-binding letter of intent" with Plasco Energy Group to build a waste-to-energy gasification plant on city-owned land on the Barnet Highway.

This is great news for the city of Ottawa.

They signed a similar deal with Plasco last month ~ but they got a special clause in their agreement. According to the
Ottawa Citizen newspaper: "Because [Ottawa] was a partner in testing the technology, it will get royalties of up to $3.5 million a year after Plasco plants have been sold to other countries and cities and are operating."

Both cities claim they have nothing to lose, since Plasco takes on all the risk and the costs. All the cities have to do is pay the tipping fee to drop off their garbage.

This could cause problems for Port Moody.

The proposed Port Moody gasification plant would process 150,000 tonnes of waste each year. This is likely more waste than is generated by the good citizens of Port Moody, and Mayor Trasolini will have to go out and rope in other cities to make up the shortfall.

The Mayor has charged the Port Moody Environmental Protection Committee to go out and sell the project to the public this summer. Instead, will they be lighting a fire that will burn the Mayor in the fall civic elections?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Paul Connett's Talk

As Helen described here, Dr. Paul Connett spoke about waste incineration at a series of public meetings last week in Metro Vancouver. His detailed powerpoint presentation is available for download here as a moderately large pdf file.

To spark your interest in the download, here are two main thoughts from Dr. Connett's talk, which is tailored to the local situation here in Metro Vancouver, and which bears the foreboding title "Vancouver sabotaging Zero Waste strategy, EPR and Sustainability":
  • "Even if we made incineration safe, we would never make it sensible or sustainable"
  • "One or more Resource Recovery Parks coupled with an Institute for Zero Waste and Sustainability would cost less [than building incinerators], would do far more for the image of Metro Vancouver and would be far more acceptable to citizens, especialy those living in the Fraser Valley."
Dr. Connett is executive director of the American Environmental Health Studies Project and Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at the St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.