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

Friday, November 21, 2008

No more closed doors

On November 13 I received an email from the province inviting Zero Waste Vancouver to participate in a new Working Group On Waste.

On November 18 I received the Terms of Reference for the Working Group.

I immediately sent an email to the province outlining concerns about the group's Terms of Reference.
On November 20, I spoke by phone with the province outlining my concerns.

I said I was concerned about the focus of the group. The "key question" set to the group was: "How can BC better utilize the carbon and energy that is currently going to waste." I said the focus should be on how we can prevent carbon and energy from going to waste, rather than finding opportunistic ways to exploit waste as if it were a "renewable" resource.

I said I was concerned about the make-up of the group. Why was the Canadian Energy from Waste Coalition at the table, but not the Georgia Strait Alliance?

But most of all, I said, I was concerned about the "confidentiality" clause in the Terms of Reference.
Does this mean, I asked, that Zero Waste Vancouver could not speak publicly about any concerns we had about whether the Working Group was asking the right questions?

And I was told that, yes, that's what it means. "We wouldn't want you saying those sorts of things publicly."

I explained that unlike the other "stakeholders" on the group, Zero Waste's stake is public awareness and engagement in public policy on waste. Our core purpose is to engage the public in a conversation about what sort of policies we want to have in place to solve our waste problem.

Three hours later I received a phone call from the province advising me that the government was withdrawing the invitation to Zero Waste Vancouver to sit on the Working Group.

I later confirmed that the government also withdrew its invitation to the Sierra Club to sit on the Working Group.

Now we have a Working Group on Waste made up of the waste-to-energy industry and its customers (our regional districts), along with several businesses who are part of the waste supply chain including:

Encorp Pacific, who would love to be able to burn all the hard-to-recycle beverage containers they collect through the deposit system;

Metro Waste, who sort out the mess that is collected through single-stream curbside recycling programs;

International Composting Corporation, who are finding that the markets for compost are just as sluggish and fickle as the markets for paper and plastic and are looking for alternative uses for organic wastes.

And none of us will ever know what is said behind those closed doors. But you can be sure that the Premier and his government will listen to their recommendations seriously.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The next three years

Municipal elections only come around every 3 years in British Columbia. What do we do the other 1,095 days?

Zero Waste Vancouver wants to make it easy for you to be informed and involved in waste issues in your community between now and the next election.

We'll tell you who is representing you at City Council and Metro Vancouver. We'll tell you when important decisions are coming up when your politicians need advice from you.

The next three years could bring a lot of exciting changes in our communities -- or it could be the same old same old. The thing that will make the difference between same-old-same-old and exciting change is citizen input.

We'll help you be part of the change.

So first go out and vote. Check the results of our candidate survey. See which candidates cared enough to respond to the poll, find out where they stand, and reward them at the polls.
The responses to our survey keep coming in. Here are some more candidates who said NO to incinerators: Dave Loewen (Abbtfd), Sue Halsey-Brandt (Rmd), Chris Jones (PoCo), Candace Gordon (Maple Rdge), Ernie Daykin (Maple Rdge)....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Special mention for the Work Less Party

In our survey of the civic election landscape this season, one electoral organization stood way out in front of the others for the depth of its analysis of the waste problems we face and the solutions available to us.

The Work Less Party platform features a detailed plank of waste policies and positions. And it's right on the front page.

Rightly so.

Our waste problem is intimately linked to the whole range of other problems facing our communities, from marginalization of local artists, to depreciation of the natural environment, to neglect of the homeless, to loss of jobs overseas -- all the way to the emptiness of our lives, spent working too hard just to support our "endless consumption."

The Work Less Party position on waste is a tough one. They want our cities to set rules and enforce them. They want to hold producers responsible. At the same time, they want to create economic opportunities in our communities from activities that reduce waste. Their waste solutions are part of their broader program of localization, innovation, building government from the grassroots upwards: community based governance.

Don't let the funny name fool you. Some of their solutions are more practical than others, but the Work Less Party is starting a conversation that many other candidates we surveyed are ready to join. Especially in the turbulent economic period we are entering, new solutions will be the only ones available to us.

Voting for Zero Waste

Interested in knowing where your favourite civic candidates stand on Metro Vancouver's plan to build waste incinerators?

See our news release to learn the names of the 80 candidates across the Metro region who have gone on record as opposing incinerators in anyone's backyard.

The opposition to incineration in our region spans the political spectrum. It reflects a broad commitment to waste reduction rather than band-aid solutions like landfilling and incineration.

Notably, in Vancouver the Vision/COPE/Green slates responded to the survey opposing incineration but neither the NPA nor any individual candidates on that ticket chose to respond to the survey.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Recycling retrenchment

Last April Zero Waste Vancouver posted an urgent comment about "single stream" recycling. This refers to curbside recycling programs that collect all materials -- paper, bottles, cans, plastic -- in a single container.

We cautioned that single-stream recycling is a bad idea because the materials lose value when they are all mixed up together. The perceived benefits (simpler for the public, larger quantities of material collected) are more than offset by the disadvantages.

The current economic downturn is putting communities that collect recyclables in a single stream at even greater risk.

Recyclers across North America are reporting that recycling markets are tanking. Because of reduced consumer demand, there is also reduced producer demand for recycled materials. This means recycling markets are becoming very picky about quality.

A consultant who works with recycling brokers just stated on a recycling listserv that "quality is a huge issue right now and commingled
recyclables do not hold as high a value than single stream collected."

Another consultant who works with the paper industry confirmed: "domestic paper mills are now able to drive down the prices they pay for fiber and they can now choose among sources for the highest quality. This means that single stream processors with commingled bales of fiber are in the weakest position and they're the ones scrambling for storage facilities because they're having trouble selling their materials. Clean, sorted fibers have the widest market options. Only a limited subset of mills can use commingled fibers, so the more processors that produce that, the more limited their options."

Even before the economic downturn, a 2002 study by Eureka Recycling in the US found: "Single-stream collection — where all recyclables are put in one container — proved to be more expensive because a lot of sorting is required before the materials go to market. It also resulted in higher contamination and more materials being thrown out."

Citizens need to inform themselves about the reality of recycling markets and educate the public and their elected representatives about the importance of keeping materials clean and separate.

Pic: Eureka Recycling

Friday, November 7, 2008

Rainy weekend fun

Get out of the rain this weekend at the second annual Re:Vision Art of Recycling show. Plan to spend plenty of time browsing this tiny show full of works of art that have been created out of scrounged items ~ things useful, beautiful, odd, playful, or thought provoking.

See how fun it will be when we have no-where to go but our landfills and attics for raw materials...

Saturday features music by SWARM. Sunday will have a workshop with Ruby Dog's Art House making "altered books."

Don't miss it. It's at the Granville Island Hotel, 11 - 5 Sat & Sun.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Economic collapse extends landfill life

Metro doomsayers can breathe easier. We may not have to ship garbage to the US after all. Economic collapse may save the day.

Last week I sent out a query to Zero Waste associates asking if anyone is seeing declines in waste volumes.

Seattle waste manager Jenny Bagby reported declines in their waste that began in December 07. Waste volumes down overall 8.3% from a year ago.

A consultant based in Phoenix said his clients are reporting dips of 10% to 40%, depending on the company's core business or the waste stream they deal with.

Jerry Powell, who publishes Resource Recycling magazine, said the bigger declines are in construction waste, but they will be seen in commercial and residential waste too.

Last week at a waste conference in Courtenay, Jerry told all the delegates something they already knew: not only is waste down, but the markets for recycled materials are "in the tank." The other end of the slowdown. Wayne Turner in North Carolina mused that landfill disposal may be "our new crystal ball."

Interestingly, while waste and recycling are down, compost volumes are not. Dan Knapp in the California Bay area noted that plants keep growing even when manufacturing is down: "Compost facilities may turn out to be more or less 'recession-proof'."

Knapp: "This could be a good argument for having compost facilities in every community instead of concentrated on agricultural lands. The tip fees and product sales from compost disposal can then act as a stabilizing force within the local economy.?

Is there a lesson here for Metro Vancouver?

No one's backyard!

The early results of our candidate poll are pretty interesting. They suggest that Metro will have trouble finding backyards for their six incinerators.

We sent out 278 surveys on Monday (to all the candidates that had posted email addresses). By noon today we had 81 responses and 77 completed surveys.

We asked 3 simple questions: do you think waste is an important issue, would you support a waste incinerator being built in your community, and do you support Metro's plan to build waste incinerators in the region?

There were 4 respondents who told us they would accept an incinerator in their own community (two in Langley City and one on the North Shore).

The Hypocrite Award goes to the six respondents who said not in my community -- but it's fine if they build it somewhere else in the region.

The survey found overwhelming opposition to Metro's plan to build waste incinerators: 58 of the 77 respondents said they disapproved. Another 10 respondents are still thinking about it...

And the opposition crossed all political lines. More details later...

COOL 2012 ~ sign us up!

"As communities work to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, the first place to look is in the garbage can..." This is the basis of the COOL 2012 campaign ~ Compostable Organics Out of Landfills by 2012.

The campaign is being organized by a formidable team (Grassroots Recycling Network, BioCycle magazine and EcoCycle). They say that organics composting is "the quickest and cheapest way to immediately reduce your community’s greenhouse gas emissions."

Visit their website for details.

Back to basics

Here's a picture that came today from international campaigner Bev Thorpe, who is preparing a report for the Prime Minister of Bhutan on what to do with his country's waste.

This is their only landfill and it's almost full.

The rest of the country, Bev says, is "all mountains and valleys with no flat land ... up and down Himalayan geography."

Bev reports that they are getting a composting plant up and running and that up to 80% of their waste is compostible organics (food and paper).
As this picture illustrates, "the wonderful thing about Bhutan is that they have NO hazardous waste and they have a VERY LOW consuming society."

I suggested that she advise the Prime Minister to buy a baler and bury what's left (mostly flimsy plastic packaging) in tight bales that don't take up much space. Come to think of it, that's a pretty good plan for Metro Vancouver too!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Chilliwack rallies for clean air

On Monday afternoon, the good folk of Chilliwack will gather at their new Courthouse Square, a venue that was opened two years by their representative in the BC Parliament, Environment Minister Barry Penner.

They will be meeting there to rally against Metro's proposed garbage incinerators.

"All 3 of Chilliwack's Mayoral hopefuls will attend (with equal speaking time)," said organizer Norm Smith, "in a non-partisan show of unity against Vancouver's incinerators."

Organizers of the rally say that "Every candidate in Chilliwack is opposed to the incinerator plan and all seem well educated regarding the environmental and health risks involved."

"This will be a day for all Fraser Valley residents to put aside their differences and stand together for an essential goal that we all share."
The rally gets going at 3:30 and ends at 5:00. If you go, dress warmly!

For details send an email to

pic: Opening Day at the new Courthouse Square, May 2002

Monday, November 3, 2008

Zero Waste Call to Action!

It's election time in Metro Vancouver. Where do your candidates for Mayor and Council stand on waste incineration?

Zero Waste Vancouver has issued a Call to Action outlining 7 reasons we think Metro's plan to build waste incinerators would be a terrible mistake for our region.

Read our Call to Action and then ask your favourite candidates where they stand on Metro's plan. If they are elected, they will be called on to take a stand. Ask them which way their vote will go -- for $3 billion dollar garbage incinerators or for real waste reduction?

It's time for change we can believe in....