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

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Recycling Council opposes Waste-to-Energy

The Recycling Council of BC (RCBC), a respected voice in waste management in this province for almost 40 years, has issued an important paper about "Waste-to-Energy."

The paper examines the claims of Plasco Energy Group in its proposal for a 400 tonne-per-day facility in Port Moody.

Its findings affirm the concerns that caused Port Moody council to reject Plasco's proposal earlier this month.

But the paper emphasizes that the report is "neither a statement against or in favour of Plasco Energy Group's proposal."

It is rather an indictment of Waste-to-Energy as a waste management option.

The introduction states that that "RCBC recently reaffirmed its position against using WTE as part of the waste-management regime in B.C.

"It is RCBC's position that the use of WTE does nothing to encourage waste reduction, and that WTE would in fact be quite unnecessary if full extended producer responsibility programs (product stewardship) and full organics diversion were in place."

The conclusion states: "With the funds required for Metro Vancouver to build and operate new WTE facilities, a host of ground-breaking Zero Waste initiatives could instead be introduced. These initiatives would ensure that the region's annual disposal rate does not exceed one million tonnes and would have the eventual goal of negating the need to landfill at all."

This paper is a major contribution to a growing number of papers being produced in the public interest that support a Zero Waste planning approach, rather than traditional waste disposal-focused waste solutions.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Alberta to put refundable deposits on milk containers

Which future do we want for our region?

Do we want to build a million tonnes of incineration capacity to vaporize garbage into the atmosphere?

Or do we want to hand the garbage problem to the people who caused it: the producers of throw-away products and packaging?

When the beverage industry switched from refillable bottles to throw-away containers, this dumped a big problem on local communities who were faced with disposing of literally billions of containers that used to go back to stores.

But British Columbia and then Alberta took a strong stand.

They became the first jurisdictions in North America to require beverage companies to take back their empties and issue a cash reward for recycling.

Overnight beverage containers stopped being a garbage problem. Instead they became a fund-raising project for kids' hockey teams and scout groups.
Today 3 out of 4 empty containers find their way back to the producers for recycling in BC and Alberta and the 6 other Canadian provinces that require refundable deposits -- compared to 1 container out of 5 in places like Ontario where there is no producer-responsibility program.

But yesterday Alberta decided even that wasn't good enough.

The Alberta government announced that they are raising the cash recycling reward that producers must pay from 5 cents to 10 cents.
They're also requiring producers to get back 85% of the containers they sell.

And that's not all.
They told milk producers that they had to do the same thing as other beverage companies. Starting next June, consumers will get a cash reward for recycling milk containers, just as they do for all other beverage containers.

This is the future.
No longer will producers of throw-away products and packaging be allowed to dump their waste problem on local communities. Like Alberta, BC is a world leader in producer-responsibility legislation.

When all of the throw-away products and packaging in Metro Vancouver goes back to producers the way beverage containers (and computers and TVS and a whole range of household hazardous products do), our garbage will shrink by 570,000 tonnes each year.

All that will be left is compostable organics.

If we build all those incinerators, what will we put in them?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

City of the Arts says no to garbage gasification

"Upon deliberation of the Task Force recommendations, Council passed these resolutions: THAT the City of Port Moody is not an appropriate location for a waste conversion facility..."

With these words, Port Moody Council made it official last Tuesday night, becoming the first municipality in the region to say NO to hosting a "waste-to-energy" facility for Metro's garbage.

Moreover, Port Moody Council instructed staff to forward six concerns to the Metro Vancouver Board, among them:

THAT any regional waste to energy initiative should be fully evaluated, in both a local and regional context, and should be temporary in nature as we take positive measures to increase diversion and thus reduce the residual waste to a level where it could be handled by existing methods, thus eliminating the need to consider any waste to energy solution...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Penner supports garbage burning

Does the provincial government support garbage burning?

Environment Minister Barry Penner just sent me a turgidly worded but unequivocal response to my email of last April, in which I asked if the government's Bill 29 made garbage burning the equivalent of recycling.

His answer: yes.

Here is what the minister said: The introduction of “recovery” in Bill 29 will allow discussions to occur to determine whether alternatives to landfilling of non-recyclables in BC should proceed and, if so, in what form.

De-constructed, Penner's sentence means: the province is doing what the European Parliament did in 2003 when it redefined garbage burning as recycling.

In 1994 Europe became a world leader for requiring producers to "recover" (recycle) their packaging waste. But a News Report issued by the EU in December 2003 announced a new policy:

"Should incineration of packaging waste count as 'recovery'? Recent judgments by the European Court of Justice stated that incineration of municipal waste in incinerators is to be regarded as a disposal operation if the main purpose of the operation is to dispose of the waste.

"As a result of these judgments, packaging waste incinerated in such installations could no longer be counted towards the recovery targets of the Packaging Directive.

"Consequently, in order to reach an agreement the EP and Council clarified the word "recovery" in the light of the Court's judgment.

Whereas the 1994 Directive calls for packaging waste to be "recovered", the revised law will now read "to be recovered or incinerated at waste incineration plants with energy recovery", thereby broadening the definition of what is understood by 'recovery' in this context."

At the stroke of a legislative pen, political leaders in Europe and BC are blurring an important distinction between recycling and burning -- a distinction that has guided waste policy for nearly two decades.

By opening the door to "recovery" of energy, our provincial parliament and the European Parliament are letting producers off the hook, encouraging the production of throw-away products and packaging that cannot be recycled.

Do you think this is a step in the wrong direction? Tell Barry Penner:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fin Donnelly pushes on last 30%

Coquitlam Councillor Fin Donnelly pushed staff at the regional Waste Management Committee meeting yesterday to tell the public what their plan is to get beyond 70% recycling -- to 80%? 90%?

He seemed to be probing the problem of whether incinerators will create an obstacle to further recycling.

The staff gave its stock response: the last 30% is "material that has no recycling value." But Donnelly quickly interjected "at this point in time."

Donnelly can always be counted on at Committee meetings to ask probing questions that show he's carefully read every page of the 3-inch-thick agenda packages the committee members receive each month.

During the entire discussion at yesterday's meeting, this graph from Zero Waste Vancouver was up on the screen in the Metro Boardroom. It shows what our waste will look like after we have succeeded in achieving the 70% recycling goal.

The tall black bar that looks like an incinerator stack represents over half-a-million tonnes of throw-away products and packaging that will become dirty "fuel" in Metro's plan. The smaller black bars, including one representing 60% of the compostable organics in our waste in 2035, will also be burned.

Do you think we can do better? Tell Fin Donnelly:

How much is Marvin Hunt prepared to spend on incinerators?

Today Zero Waste Vancouver is beginning a campaign to make waste management an issue in the civic elections.

As a courtesy, we went along to the monthly meeting of the regional Waste Managment Committee to give them a heads-up. They, after all, are the ones on whose watch Metro has made its "commitment" to garbage incineration.

The committee heard an earful today -- and not just from Zero Waste Vancouver.

Lara Tessaro speaking for Ecojustice and the Georgia Strait Alliance, called Metro's draft Liquid Waste Management Plan "fundamentally inappropriate" for backsliding on commitments to get moving on long overdue upgrades to the North Shore sewage treatment plants. In response, the committee spent a lot of time formulating a motion blaming the senior levels of government for not providing funds.

Then Elaine Golds and Jo-Anne Parneta (a self-described "angry voter" and former Port Moody City Councillor) gave a vivid demonstration of how the citizens of Port Moody chased Plasco out of town.
(Their Mayor Joe Trasolini, who had been an outspoken proponent of Plasco, sat silently at the Committee table while they talked.)
Marvin Hunt, Surrey Councillor and chair of the committee, kept interrupting to assure the citizen delegations that we will have plenty of opportunity "next year" to help decide what kind of technology we will use to burn our garbage.

Then, when Parneta mentioned the bylaw decision last April authorizing a quarter-billion dollars in borrowing for waste-to-energy facilities, Hunt gave a long-winded response that ended up: "after all, a quarter-billion won't go very far."

These politicians won't shell out to provide minimal sewage treatment -- but money seems to be no object when it comes to burning garbage.
How much is Marvin Hunt prepared to spend on incinerators?
Ask him: "Marvin Hunt" <>

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What Metro's incinerators will cost us

One of the things that Metro Vancouver is not talking to us about is the cost of incinerating waste.

The Scenarios for Metro Vancouver are to spend $2.5 billion on a "centralized" system with 3 incinerators, or $3 billion on a "distributed" system (6 facilities required).

The Metro Board has already authorized the first quarter of a billion dollars on "Waste-to-Energy" facilities.

Is this where we want our money spent?
Do we want to spend billions of public dollars to build and maintain machines that will destroy materials that will someday have greater value for recycling?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Plasco dragon slain ~ but more on the way

Congratulations to the citizens of Port Moody ~ democracy is alive and well.

Through the dog-days of summer, hundreds of citizens showed up night after night and made an irrefutable case against Plasco Energy Group's dioxin factory.
Listening to arguments from citizen heroes like JoAnne Parneta, Elaine Golds and dozens of other well-informed speakers, the City's task force had no choice but to recommend that Council not pursue the foolish plan to let Plasco gasify hundreds of thousands of tonnes of garbage in their city.

But the work has just begun.
"Waste-to-energy" is still is still lurking like a cancer at the heart of Metro Vancouver's mendacious "Zero Waste Challenge."

Need evidence?

Next week Metro's Waste Management Committee will consider a budget that allocates over $33 million dollars in 2009 on direct expenditures for incineration. (For comparison, the amount they are allocating for "solid waste demand reduction" -- measures to work with the community to make less waste in the first place: $939,159.)

The incineration expenditures will include not only building new incinerators, but ongoing costly upgrades to the existing facility in Burnaby.

One of the "Operational Priorities" in the budget is inspection and overhaul of WtEF turbo-generator." The turbine was installed only 5 years ago at a cost of $36 million and it already needs an "overhaul"??

Build incinerators and you just keep spending good money after bad.

Zero Waste Vancouver has been silent for a while because we are gearing up for a campaign to make these incinerators an election issue in the civic election campaign. Not a single elected official has made a peep against the plan to spend $3 billion on garbage burners. Most of them, I am betting, don't even know it's in the works.

Watch for our launch at the Metro Waste Management Committee meeting next week, where we'll be joining JoAnne and Elaine and their delegation from Port Moody. We will be issuing a 4-page backgrounder that lays out an alternative plan of action for Metro and our communities. And while you're waiting for the campaign to start, sign our petition to Choose Zero Waste over Incinerators.

Pic: Deliberative Democracy Handbook

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Another inspiring recycling movie

My friend Guy Crittenden, editor of Canada's premier recycling trade magazine Solid Waste & Recycling, wrote to say that he's steering his readers in next month's October/November edition to a movie that celebrates a great Zero Waste icon.

Garbage Warrior (winner of the Audience Award at last year's VIFF) profiles "biotect" Michael Reynolds. Reynolds builds sturdy, earthquake and recession-proof homes out of pop bottles and tires. The structures are beautiful to Crittenden's eye, achieving what he called a kind of “Salvador Dali meets the Flintstones” effect.

As we hunker down for the Great Depression ahead, emissaries from the Back to the Land movement in the early 70s will have valuable lessons for us.

Garbage Warrior is available at Limelight Video at Broadway and Alma. Anyone want to come over and watch it at my house?

Monday, October 6, 2008

More handwriting on the wall

This week Canadian Springs made big headlines in Ontario by announcing that they will charge refundable deposits on bottles they deliver to customers. The new program is rolling out in Ontario, BC and the Maritime provinces.

It won't make much of a splash here or in the Maritimes. We already have refundable deposits on water bottles.

But Canadian Springs is really rocking the boat in Ontario. The beverage industry there has been fighting refundable deposits for twenty years. Ontario is still the only province in Canada besides Manitoba where consumers don't get a cash reward for recycling.

The defection of Canadian Springs is one more sign that the tide is going out for the shaky enterprise of collecting bottles and cans in the Blue Box.

Why send diesel trucks door to door to collect bubbles of air, when you can support a local hockey team with a bottle drive instead?

Pic: Eco-friendly graffiti in Greece

Saturday, October 4, 2008

How to make progress

I missed the Metro Board meeting yesterday, but the coverage this morning in the Vancouver Sun suggests it was a real prattfall by the Directors.

The Sun reports that the Metro Board voted to "work with local business associations, retailers and consumers to discourage the use of plastic shopping bags" but then in the same breath disparaged that industry's offer to take responsibility for the problem.

Some working relationship!

I am no Pollyanna when it comes to voluntary industry promises, but I see in this proposal something that we can work with. A broad group of retail associations have made a commitment to cut plastic bag use in half in five years. Measurable goal, clear timeline.

Meanwhile, Councillor Hunt is counting his chickens of 60% and 70% and 75% reduction before he has hatched any program at all.

The fact is that the only people who can fix the plastic bag problem is the folks who hand out plastic bags. With proper oversight by government and the public.
Zero Waste Vancouver has sent a letter to the ministry of environment asking:

  • has the retail industry has reported a baseline (the number of bags used now) for us to measure their progress against?

  • will the industry be reporting to the ministry on their progress?

When industry comes to the table, play -- but make sure there is a referee. I just hope that the grocers won't take their marbles and go home, leaving their bags to "clog up our landfills" (though I'd rather have them stored safely underground than vaporized into the atmosphere in one of Marvin Hunt's planned incinerators).

Zero Waste Vancouver will watchdog this program and hold the industry's feet to the fire if they fall short, just as our friends in Australia are doing. pic: Zero Waste South Australia