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.”