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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

White elephants

One of the best arguments against waste incinerators is that they lock in high waste levels. A waste-to-energy incinerator can't make energy without waste.

Well it seems that Germany, one of the world leaders in waste incineration, is facing a crisis. They don't produce enough waste to feed all their incinerators.

A write-up in the webzine Monsters and Critics, citing the German environment ministry, reports that Germany had to import 6 million tonnes of refuse last year.
In the bizarre logic of trade, Germany exported 1.8 million tonnes of trash the same year. This summer Germany imported 160,000 tonnes of garbage that had been piling up in the streets of Naples.
The new incinerators planned by Metro Vancouver will require 1 million tonnes of waste each year. We produce barely one-million tonnes of waste right now. If we get serious about food waste composting, which could cut our waste by up to a third, what will we do? Will we look for someone else's trash to burn? Or operate the plant at a loss?

Or, maybe, plan ahead and not build the burners in the first place?

Pic: Nicholson cartoons in Australia.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Summer blockbuster from Greenpeace USA

Have you seen Wall*E yet? Turns out Kimberley Clark is using this movie about conservation to sell its Kleenex, which contains absolutely no recycled content.

Greenpeace finds this the height of Iron*E. They've commissioned a little animated video of their own to stir up some consumer pressure on Kimberley-Clark. Check it out and send a message to Kimberley-Clark suggesting they use recycled paper. And while we're at it, lets tell them to provide composting programs for their used Kleenex and other disposable "tissue" products.
There were almost 37,000 tonnes of "tissue/towelling" in our waste last year.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

And speaking of civilization...

I took a walk in the back alleys of the downtown eastside with Ken Lyotier this morning. When I got home, someone had sent me an article written by the wonderful Elizabeth Royte (Garbage Land, 2005) last May that really brought home how far we have descended.

"Paris has its ornate cast-iron Wallace fountains (donated in the late 19th century by a wealthy philanthropist hoping to steer the homeless from alcohol toward a healthier beverage); Rome its ever-running street spigots; Portland, Ore., its delightful four-bowl Benson Bubblers."

But it looks like "bubblers" can make a comeback. Minneapolis is installing artist-designed drinking fountains at strategic spots throughout the city.

What a nice idea. Provide nice clean water, flowing free, on our street corners. Maybe in time for those Olympics? Anyone inspired to leave a legacy of humanitarian good will before our little Gilded Era is over?

Buried treasure

Another reason not to build waste-to-energy plants that vaporize plastic. It may become a valuable resource sooner than we think.

Check out this article from the Times (London): "Rubbish dumps are regarded by the recycling industry as an untapped source of riches, with an estimated 200 million tonnes of plastic buried as landfill since the late 1980s. At today's prices of £200 a tonne the discarded plastic has a value of about £40 billion. Alongside it are smaller, but still significant, quantities of valuable metals, including copper and aluminium."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cache Creek expansion shifts focus from CO2 to CH4

Belcorp's announcement last week that it is committed to expanding the Cache Creek landfill for Metro Vancouver garbage takes us out of the fire into the frying pan.

Belcorp is likely to get a permit to expand the interior landfill. This certainly will make it twice as hard for Metro Vancouver to defend its case for building waste-to-energy incinerators at a cost of $3 billion, including ongoing disposal fees that will be double or triple today's rates.

But will that extra 15 million tonnes of easy disposal capacity lull our region into dealing with our waste problem the way we always have: loosening our belt rather than going on a diet?

Metro Vancouver is close to the bottom of the list in the provincial rankings of per-capita waste disposal. We produce 731 kg of waste per capita each year, compared to the provincial average of 609 kg ~ or Victoria's rate of 452 kg per person.

But an even bigger challenge we'll face if Belcorp lets us loosen our belt is going to be gas.

It's not a pretty subject, but when we shovel untreated garbage full of juicy organics into a landfill, the enteric bacteria in the landfill's bowels produce staggering quantities of potent and smelly methane.

An urgent priority for public policy is to reduce society's contribution of methane to the atmosphere.

The provincial government is seeking public comment right now on a landfill gas regulation that won't help much, because its focus is on landfill gas capture rather than landfill gas prevention.

Turns out it's hard to capture methane ~ the estimates of efficiency range from 2% - 90%. At an intensity 21 times worse than carbon dioxide, methane does not provide that much room for error.

Right now our region is sending 350,000 tonnes of compostable organics to landfills every year ~ simply because we have no alternative. Add to that over 30,000 tonnes of pet wastes (there's a subject you will be hearing more about!). We could cut our waste by one-third ~ and prevent climate change ~ just by setting up programs for organics.

Back in the late 1880s, New York City's Commissioner of Streets Colonel George E. Waring, Jr. said:

“There is no surer index of the degree of civilization of a community than the manner in which it treats its organic wastes.”

Thursday, August 7, 2008

What Metro Vancouver doesn't want us to think about

Prevent Cancer Now, a Canada-wide movement to eliminate the preventable causes of cancer, has just launched an anti-incineration campaign.

Their website says:

Almost all of us know someone who has cancer, or who has died from one of over 200 different types of cancer. We know the anguish, suffering and grief cancer causes. It has become so common that we think of it as an unavoidable part of life.

People are being diagnosed with cancer at unprecedented rates. Melanomas, breast and prostate cancers, colon cancer, testicular cancer and multiple myeloma are all increasing. During the 25 years from 1976 to 2001, the age-adjusted incidence of cancer among males increased by 27.7%, and the female rate increased by 17.8%. (Canadian Cancer Statistics 2006)

After examining 10 million people over a 70-year period, a recent Swedish study found that cancers were 90% environmental in origin, with "environmental" meaning everything outside our bodies that can make its way in, including tobacco smoke, toxic chemicals, alcohol, radiation from nuclear power plants, and the sun, processed foods high in sugars, fats and additives, some pharmaceutical drugs, medical x-rays, and more.

These are avoidable substances, which should not be trespassing into our bodies. With changed policies, and industrial/agricultural practices that focus on prevention and precaution, with healthier diets and other personal habits, we can prevent this epidemic.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Plasco gets chilly reception in Port Moody

A larger-than-expected audience turned out for last night's public meeting hosted by the Port Moody Environmental Protection Committee's Waste Conversion Task Force. They came out on a hot Tuesday night after the long weekend to hear about the Plasco garbage gasification process proposed for their city.

It was hard to judge what the 100 people in the room were thinking as they listened to Rod Bryden, Plasco President and CEO. Bryden has a very effective speaking style: quiet, sincere, understated. The audience remained polite and attentive even as the presentation went on for double the allotted time (60 minutes, rather than 30).

Then the members of the Council-appointed Task Force, which is made up of citizens and chaired by Councillor Mike Clay, began posing questions.

For instance, they asked Bryden to clarify Plasco's position on composting. Surprisingly, Bryden suggested that composting is a "sacred cow" and that the city might do better not to spend money separating organics from the garbage and just have them gasified instead.

The organic materials would be "returned" to their "preceding natural elements" just as the other wastes are. And all these simple "elements" would then "recombined" into one product: syngas.

One product that can serve one purpose: producing energy.

(What extreme simplification, it occurred to me. Willing to give up all that diversity and all those opportunities for a quick shot of energy. When will someone notice that energy is the elephant in the room: we've already demonstrated that we don't know how to use energy responsibly ~ now we're willing to burn anything we can get our hands on to make more....)

Bryden was then pressed by members of the audience on his claim that the Plasco facility will have "no stack." People pointed out that the energy generation component of the Plasco facility is combustion of the syngas in an internal combustion engine, a process that cannot occur without a stack to allow the release of carbon dioxide... along with other substances including dioxins, furans and nanoparticles that Bryden had to admit were theoretically possible in the emissions, company predictions notwithstanding.

In response to another question from the audience, it came out that in addition to the stacks there are "flares" for the synthetic fuel to be burned off without producing energy, in the event of a malfunction in the engine.

And malfunction of the equipment was a problem, Bryden admitted under insistant questioning from the audience. When the Ottawa test plant stopped using "surrogate material" and moved on to real garbage, the feeder system jammed up ("crankcase stuck in the shredder") and they had to ship the waiting waste back to the city landfill while they resolved the problem. This is why the test plant was able to process only half the waste the city delivered to it. Welcome to the real world of dirty fuel, Plasco.

Asked if Port Moody's plant could be scaled smaller than the proposed 400 tonnes per day (which is approximately 36 times more waste than is produced by the households in Port Moody), Bryden said they could scale it down some ~ but if they went below 200 tpd it would reduce the "efficiency" and perhaps make the plant uneconomic.

The economics were of interest to the audience who probed, among other things, the $3.6 million dollar "royalty" to Ottawa if Plasco drums up business in other communities.

The audience also posed a question to Councillor Clay: why the rush to complete this enquiry in the summer? Can there be a referendum in the fall election? To which Clay did not shut the door.

If there is a referendum, the process that Clay is leading will be a huge contribution to the process. Hats off to Port Moody, a town of 30,000, for conducting a public "due diligence" process that brings out an audience of this size. And hats off to the good citizens of Port Moody who are taking the trouble to dig for answers before the city signs up.