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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why can't we have this kind of political leadership here?

The Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, is showing the kind of leadership that we need in our region.

Newsome teamed up with a union leader to publish a strong editorial opposing waste incineration. The article appeared December 19, 2009, in the Sacramento Bee. Here are highlights:

"Increasingly, local and state governments are adopting "zero waste" goals to counter the real dangers of climate change and worldwide resource depletion. But what does "zero waste" mean?

... There are some tempting new technologies that reduce the amount sent to landfills, but in doing so they expend vast amounts of energy and other resources.

... For each ton of paper, bottles and cans we don't recycle, we end up generating an additional 71 tons of waste to create a new ton of paper, bottles or cans. This is because 71 tons of "upstream" waste – raw material extraction, product manufacturing and distribution – is created.

That's one reason high-temperature disposal technologies are so problematic (they're called waste-to-energy, gasification, pyrolysis, plasma-arc and a few other things, but they're really just glorified incineration).

Proponents are roaming the globe to sell governments on the idea that all of our discards – plastics, food scraps, computers, almost anything – can be "converted" in a high-temperature (up to 30,000 degrees Fahrenheit) machine to produce energy.

But when we burn a ton of recyclables, we capture only a small amount of energy compared to all the upstream energy used to make those products. We lose the valuable materials that could easily be turned into new bottles, cans and other products, avoiding other environmental costs as well. And again, we generate that 71 tons of upstream solid waste to create replacement products.

Because thermal technology destroys the resources that go into it, you cannot call the energy it produces "renewable" or "green." It also leaves behind toxic ash, slag and air emissions, including putting a lot of carbon into the atmosphere.

... On a per-ton basis, studies show that recycling and composting on average reduce carbon emissions 18 times more effectively than thermal processing.

And while it is possible to capture a percentage of the greenhouse gases emitted from landfills – and while we are on the road to zero waste, we should capture as much of it as we can – we'd be better off if the materials had been recycled or made into compost.

When we turn food scraps, yard trimmings and even used, food-soiled paper into compost, which some cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles are now doing on a large scale, and apply it to farms, we replenish depleted soil with the nutrients and carbon that healthy plants desperately need.

About 90 percent of what people throw away is recyclable or compostable, and manufacturers can improve their products so we can recover even more of what's left. In a zero-waste world, there will not be much waste to burn, and most of what's left would yield little energy.

Equally important for the future of our green economy is that recycling and composting mean jobs. The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports that every additional 10,000 tons recycled translates into 10 new frontline jobs and 25 new jobs in recycling-based manufacturing. Landfilling or incinerating those tons creates only one job.

Recycling and composting have proven benefits for people and the planet; allowing you to read next month's stories on today's paper. Landfilling and incineration waste valuable resources that can never be used again. It makes no sense to burn materials or put them in a hole in the ground when these same materials can be turned into the products and jobs of the future. *
Where are our Mayors and Councillors as Metro Vancouver prepares to send potential jobs -- and our children's future resources -- up in smoke?

Pic: Newsom signs mandatory recycling ordinance last June, SF Examiner

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Study exposes failure of "single stream" recycling

Some municipalities are trying to save money by collecting recyclable materials (newspaper, magazines, junk mail, yogurt containers, bottles and cans, etc. etc. etc.) all jumbled up together in plastic bags or wheeled toters.

They have been convinced that this will increase the payload of recyclable materials ~ based on the assumption that their citizens are too lazy to sort their trash (how condescending is that?)

This is the sales pitch from the garbage industry, which is really concerned with saving itself collection costs.

And indeed, a new report from the US Container Recycling Institute (carried out by a brilliant Canadian researcher named Clarissa Morawski) looked at dozens of careful studies comparing various ways of collecting recyclable materials and concluded that single stream recycling costs more for everyone except the hauler -- and that the evidence that it actually boosts recycling volumes is only "anecdotal."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Watershed Sentinel on incinerators

The first instalment of Joyce Nelson's expose of the incinerator industry's shenanigans is running in the current issue of Watershed Sentinel.

It details how the fancy new-generation "waste-to-energy" plants don't make their profits from actually selling energy (few of them have actually managed to produce any energy). Rather, they ensure their profitability by locking municipalities into long-term contracts to supply the facilities with "fuel."

Series author Joyce Nelson quotes Dino Milli, vice-president of Quebec-based Enerkem Inc., chortling to an audience at an incinerator industry conference last summer: "Supply agreements that are fixed and long-term are virtually worth their weight in gold."

Nelson got a media pass to attend last month's national conference of the Canadian Energy from Waste Coalition and she shares further examples of this industry's business model in the next instalment of her 3-part Sentinel series coming out in January.

(That November conference was the same one where Marvin Hunt was scheduled to explain how to overcome public fears about incineration... until his trip was quietly cancelled without explanation).

Metro waste plan sends wrong signal to businesses (and residents)

The Vancouver Sun ran two columns this morning under the same headline. One was a strange piece of vitriol by the unpredictable Marc Jaccard, who indulged in vilifying environmentalists for setting "unrealistic" targets for GHG reduction (why does this man want to abuse people who could be his base if he were a bit more polite -- and if he could be a bit self-critical of his silver bullet cap-and-trade?).

The other comment, written by the CEO of the Globe Foundation, was the one with the interesting content. The important point of this article was that Harper's climate program sends the wrong signals to the business community.

"Businesses require a clear and unambigous signal that the world is finally serious about tackling global warming," wrote John E. Wiebe.

He pointed out that clear policy signals mobilize private capital and this capital will be critically needed to re-make our economy around cleaner technology. He cited Germany, Sweden and Britain as examples where clean policy has spurred investment in clean technologies.

Drawing on that insight, what kind of signal does the waste management plan presented by Metro Vancouver staff ten days ago send to investors?

The only firm, clear commitment in Metro's waste plan is to build a huge new incinerator. They even signalled the time frame: the new incinerator will be up and running in five years. The suggests that there may be more incinerators in the years to come.

Will this mobilize capital towards opportunities in organics processing, recycling, green design? The Metro plan provides no assurance that such investments will yield returns -- especially since such facilities will be operating in competition against publicly-subsidized incineration.

Zero Waste Vancouver is preparing Plan B -- a better plan for Metro Vancouver's waste. We'll take the Globe Foundation's point and build a better plan that encourages investment in waste reduction instead of waste destruction.

Yes, we can do better.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Massachusetts turns its back on incinerators

Citizen action convinced the state of Massachusetts (pop. 6.5 million) to resist pressure from the incineration industry, which wanted to overturn a 15 year moratorium on new incineration facilities. Read the story in the Boston Globe & Mail.
“We are serious about managing the waste we generate in a way that saves money for cities and towns, curbs pollution, and protects the environment,’’ said Governor Deval Patrick in a statement. “There are better ways than traditional incineration.’’

The defeat of incineration was led by a powerful coalition of 25 leading Massachusetts environmental groups including MA Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and MASSPIRG.
Lynne Pledger, one of the organizers of the campaign said: "To me the key elements that make this newsworthy are that Mass has not just rejecting more incinerators or specific gasification proposals, they are rejecting gasification out right and acknowledging that incinerators are not safe."
The Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs committed to producing a state waste plan that emphasizes recycling. Part of their plan is to bring in laws like ours in British Columbia that require producers to set up programs to recycle electronic products and empty beverage containers.

Bowles said that the state will also strengthen the moratorium by tightening up rules on the incinerators that currently burn about 27% of the waste in Massachusetts.

NOTE: The Globe story mentions in the last paragraph that part of the state's recycling strategy will be to "prod communities to increase so-called single-stream recycling, which eliminates the need for households to sort recyclables." Recyclers know that single-stream recycling is bad policy because it reduces the value of the recycled materials, among other reasons. Citizens in Massachusetts will have to get active again to steer the state away from this policy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jackson, Hunt, Hepner seek big backyard in the sky for region's garbage

BCLocal news reporter Jeff Nagel tells us that Delta Mayor Lois Jackson and Tsawwassen Chief Kim Baird are musing about their communities hosting garbage incinerators.

Any wonder we're having trouble at Copenhagen?

Jackson says: "If people find there aren't the concerns that maybe they thought there were, there may be several [cities] that come out to say 'We would like it here.'"

On Chair Jackson's watch, Metro hired a distinguished British tobacco lobbyist (scroll down to read Dr. Bridges' testimony) to reassure us that incinerators are as safe as smoking.

Bridges succeeded in convincing Metro Waste Management Committee Chair Marvin Hunt ("TRASH TALK/Surrey councillor hot for waste-to-energy proposal").

But last Friday Hunt's fellow City Councillor Linda Hepner told the Surrey Now that the garbage incinerator proposed by Hunt in downtown Surrey is "not something I would support."

Even though Councillor Hepner was one of the local politicians sent by Metro Vancouver at taxpayer expense on a junket to Sweden last summer to be wooed by the Swedish incineration industry, she seems to have come home with some qualms.

Hepner wants to ship our garbage to an "out of region" incinerator. Last Friday she insisted that Metro staff put the Gold River proposal on the table for discussion.

But she is forgetting that the atmosphere is everyone's backyard. Once we dump our garbage in the sky, there will be no hiding place.
Pic: Jules Klimaaatblog ~ check this out!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thanks to Reimer and Steves

Time to send a big shout-out to Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer and Richmond Councillor Harold Steves. (<>, <>. These two members of the Metro Board have begun to ask tough questions of Metro staff.

At last Friday's workshop, Steves asked why we were evaluating our disposal options (landfill/MBT vs incinerators) by how much energy they produce or how much money we can make from them.

"The objective should be GHG reduction," Steves said. He made the point out that plastic in an incinerator is a fossil fuel. (Responding to Steves question, CAO Johnny Carline repeated the fallacious $500/tonne cost of MBT.)

Then Andrea Reimer picked up on public polling results intended to reassure the Board that incinerators are politically popular (see slide 40 in the staff presentation which suggests that 63% of people following the issue are "leaning towards waste-to-energy").

Reimer asked: Did you use the term 'waste-to-energy' when you asked the question?

She went on: What would have been the public response if you had asked about 'mass-burn incineration.' (Metro's Ken Carrusca tried to insist that 'landfill' is also a euphemism -- and defended mass-burn incineration as a "proven" technology.)

Reimer also pressed staff on the validity of Metro's repeated claim (slide 36, 37, 38, 39...) that there is scientific consensus that there are no health risks from mass-burn incineration.

Scientists, she reminded the engineers, "won't prove a negative" -- the most they will say is that there is no evidence of a positive.

It turns out that Metro staff's claim rests in large part on a decision by the ironically-named British Health Protection Agency not to look for negative effects. The HPA position is that what we don't measure won't hurt us. (However, even the HPA report flagged the uncertainties around nanoparticles - see page 5 of their report).

Be sure to send your best wishes to Steves and Reimer:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What is MBT and why are Metro's staff so scared of it?

Metro's staff are getting desperate as they keep running into roadblocks to the huge garbage incinerators they want to build.

Last Friday they pulled out all the stops. After grudgingly agreeing -- at the Board's insistence -- to let the public sit in on a "workshop" about the new solid waste management plan, the staff switched the location of the meeting at the last minute.

Nevertheless, a handful of citizens found the crowded meeting room on the Lougheed Hwy in Burnaby and saw the long slide presentation chock full of misleading information that was developed by Metro's staff to sell the plan to the Board.

The cost issue has clearly rattled Metro's staff. Two years ago, they foolishly mentioned in their trial balloon (see Figure 9, page 11) that we'd be facing over $3 billion in costs with incinerators.

But Friday's slide show presented the bizarre assertion (all "bottom line" with no explanation) that continuing to landfill our waste will bring a "$1.5 billion cost" (their emphasis) while if we build incinerators we'll enjoy "$20 million revenue."

Never mind that even after more than 20 years we are still paying down the capital cost of the Burnaby incinerator.

But the most surprising thing to me was the effort that Metro's staff put into debunking the MBT alternative.

"MBT" (mechanical biological treatment) is a simple, low-tech process for screening and stabilizing waste before putting it in a landfill. It is being practiced more and more widely in Europe as an alternative to costly incineration. It not only extends the service life of landfills by reducing the volume of the waste, but cuts the GHG emissions from landfills by 90%.

These facts were right there in Metro's AECOM report, issued last summer.

But the AECOM report based its estimate of the cost of MBT treatment on its experience with a facility in Edmonton. This huge white elephant of a plant was built by Transalta, launched with great fanfare in 2000 as a "composting plant" -- and then sold by Transalta within a year to the City of Edmonton for $97 million.

The Edmonton facility was operated by none other than Earth Tech, a company now owned by AECOM. In 2005, Tech wrote a candid account of the facility's many problems in its design and operations.

The other MBT facility that Metro drew on for cost estimates is a facility in Halifax, also built 10 years ago.

On the basis of this limited information, Metro's staff empahsized in several slides on Friday that MBT treatment "does not add value" and is not recommended.

They clearly don't want us looking around for a state-of-the-art MBT alternative that would out-compete their mass-burn incinerators.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Editor of Solid Waste & Recycling Magazine puzzled by Metro's plan

Guy Crittenden is the long-time editor of Canada's premier recycling magazine, Solid Waste and Recycling, which is read by solid waste professionals all across North America.
Guy wrote to me yesterday about exciting developments in Ontario and Quebec.

Basically, the two provinces in central Canada with the largest populations and largest economies are adopting the very strategies that we pioneered here in British Columbia almost two decades ago. They are putting in place framework legislation similar to our Recycling Regulation that shifts responsibility for waste from local municipalities to the producers of products that made the products (called EPR or Extended Producer Responsibility).

Along with a firm commitment to EPR, these two governments are committing serious money ($650 million in QC alone) to help municipalities beef up their composting infrastructure.

I wrote back congratulating Guy and the citizens of Ontario and Quebec on this success -- and mentioned that here in Lotus Land our largest municipality is preparing to send our EPR programs up in smoke.

Here is what Guy wrote back to me:

Why would Metro Vancouver go the incineration route when the rest of the country is starting to (finally) embrace producer responsibility?

He went on: "BC has been the leader for some time in Zero Waste/EPR and it seems that Metro Vancouver is undermining the provincial policy.

Crittenden says that the draft Ontario waste diversion plan also makes it clear that incineration cannot be counted as 'diversion' (as VANOC is regrettably doing! -- more about that later).

The Ontario government's message is clear that large mass burn units won't contribute to a municipality's or an industry's waste diversion program.

(Metro's Draft Plan actually opens with a suggestion on page 5 that "the conventionally defined" diversion rate includes source separated material that is used as fuel being considered 'recycled.' Prudently, Metro stops short of counting burning as recycling in its plan, but it is clear from the Plan that this is the direction our regional engineers want our province to go.)
Pic: Editor's Blog, SW&R

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New release by Story of Stuff Project

This just in from Annie Leonard:

This morning, The Story of Stuff Project launched our brand new short film, The Story of Cap & Trade.

It's a fast-paced, fact-filled look at the leading climate change solution on the table in Copenhagen and in the halls of the US Congress. If you've heard about cap and trade, but aren't sure how it works (or who benefits), this is the film is for you!

Please take 10 minutes today to watch The Story of Cap & Trade and then check out the film website for more information and ways to get involved...

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's official ~ Metro Vancouver proposes incinerator(s)

Last Friday the Metro regional Board received its staff's proposal for a new solid waste management plan. They will hold a special meeting this Friday to discuss it.

The Plan confirms, in sec. 3.1.2 (a) that: "Metro Vancouver will establish up to 500,000 tonnes per year of new waste-to-energy capacity within the region."

All sorts of things will be burned in Metro's proposed incinerator(s).

Along with regular trash, the Plan proposes, in sec. 3.1.6, to burn "regional utility materials that cannot be recycled." These include "process grit and screenings" from sewage sludge, which can be reasonably expected to contain toxic heavy metals, and "spent activated carbon" from the region's drinking water treatment system. According to a producer of activated carbon filters, activated carbon filters are used to remove the following potential substances from our water: alachlor,atrazine, benzene, carbofuran, carbon tetrachloride, chlorobenzene, 2,4-D dibromochloropropane (DBCP), O, P-dechlorobenzines, forms of dichloroethylens, 1, 2-dechloropropane, cis-1,3-dichloropropylene, toxaphene, chlordane, radon, lindane, simazine, PCB's, toluene, xylenes...

Along with potential health and safety risks, Metro's Plan also promises to undermine our province's Extended Producer Responsiblity (EPR) programs.

Sec. 3.3.4 says Metro will ask the Ministry of Environment to require producers to send their "non-recyclable" products and packaging to Metro's incinerators. The intent of our provincial EPR policy is to encourage producers to design better products and packaging that can be recycled. But Metro's plan will instead open the door to burning the throw-aways instead.

In discussion last Friday, after members of the Board insisted the Plan be "released from closed," Surrey Councillor Marvin Hunt was pushing for a quick approval of the Plan. Other members of the Board, including Richmond Councillor Harold Steves, held off for a more thorough public discussion, especially with people in the Fraser Valley.
That discussion will begin with a Special Meeting of the GVS&DD Board starting at 8:00 am on Friday, December 4th, in the Metro Boardroom, 2nd floor, 4330 Kingsway (Patterson Skytrain Station).
Be there if you can. Politicians always sit up straighter when there are citizens in the room.

Pic: Marvin Hunt, CBC news, June 2008

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Is the tide turning against incineration?

This has been a bad week for the world's incinerator salesmen and their local government backers.

On Monday, China's middle class "lodged its first mass challenge against the government by staging an environmental protest" -- against an incinerator.

Yesterday, an alliance of state legislators and environmental groups in Minnesota foiled plans by the county and its incineration contractor to sneak through a 21% expansion of a local garbage incinerator as an "administrative amendment" to their permit. That contractor asking for the expansion is Covanta, the same company that operates Metro's Burnaby incinerator.

The MN Pollution Control Agency also cautioned Covanta they had better comply with the existing permit. Last week Covanta was fined by the state of New Jersey for violating air pollution control standards.

And yesterday in Scotland, "a number of senior politicians, experts and members of the public yesterday spent almost six hours berating Perth and Kinross Council planning officers over the 'catastrophic' decision to grant outline planning consent for a £100 million incinerator close to Perth town centre." (Courier, 25 November). As a result of their efforts, the incinerator plan is now considered "dead in the water."

Metro engineer Ken Carrusca and Surrey Councillor Marvin Hunt were scheduled to be speakers at a major conference on incineration held this week in Toronto, but their names suddenly disappeared from the agenda. They were supposed to talk about "mitigating negative public perception" of garbage incinerators.

Pic: Guardian, November 23, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

City is being outmanoeuvred by Metro

The City of Vancouver has been seriously outmanoeuvred by Metro Vancouver in the Zero Waste competition.

The question is: can Vancouver politicians pick up their game in time to avoid an embarrassing pratt- fall during the Vancouver Olympics?

Metro Vancouver scored the first point by framing “garbage dumps” as outmoded, dangerous, and barbaric. This subtly reinforced long-held public attitudes and boxed the City of Vancouver in a corner. The City is the owner of the region's largest "dump."

Then Metro framed “waste to energy” as clean, modern, safe and efficient. The region has spared no cost in reinforcing this message through politician junkets to Europe, invited "experts,"and a steady stream of biased commentary through the local media.

Ane what was the City of Vancouver's reponse to all of this? Deafening silence.

Vancouver's staff commissioned two consultant reports in January 2008 as soon as they got wind of Metro's plan. The Deloitte Touche and CH2MHill reports gave the City all the tools they needed to mount an effective campaign against Metro's incinerator plan.

But Vancouver's politicians missed the play.

While Metro is actually rolling out pilot programs to compost food waste (a clever foil for their incinerator preparations) the City of Vancouver will apparently have nothing in place for expanded organics collection until as far away as May, 2010.

Meanwhile, what will the world see when they visit in February?

The Vancouver landfill -- although it meets all of our environmental requirements here in British Columbia -- would be illegal in Europe.
Under a directive by the European Union, all of the nations of Europe have laws banning the disposal of organics in landfills. They took this strong action years ago to prevent the formation of the potent GHG methane in landfills.

When European athletes and fans arrive here in February and learn that the host city is dumping raw, unprocessed organic wastes in its city landfill, they will see us as worse than syrup-suckers. They will see us as climate outlaws.

How embarrassing will that be to our Greenest City mayor?

Pic: It will take more than photo-ops, like this one posted by City Farmer, to win Vancouver the Greenest City medal.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

GVS&DD Board starts spending on a facility not yet approved by the province

I missed the GVS&DD Board meeting two weeks ago but I heard some of the news coverage.

Several media outlets reported that the Board had approved some stiff increases to our regional taxes (50% increase in 5 years!). There was also mention of the hike in the garbage tipping fees, from the current $70/tonne to $82/tonne.

But why didn't anybody mention the $440 million dollar "material and energy recovery facility"?

The Board approved the first $4 million dollars as a 2010 capital expenditure. The project is identified as a "Solid Waste Management Plan Initiative," but such a facility is not authorized under the current SWMP.

The new regional waste plan has not even been unveiled yet, let alone shared for comment by the region's municipalities, let alone approved by the province. We're still being told at all the public meetings that "no decision has been made."

In 2000, need we be reminded, Metro didn't tell anyone before going out and spending $4.5 million on a ranch to build a 100 year landfill that was also not authorized under the waste plan. Now Metro is trying to figure out how to stop bleeding money operating a ranch.

Raising buffalo may look like a good option compared to where Metro is taking us next.

Monday, November 9, 2009

EU has an oversupply of incinerators, says industry analyst

Europe has built so many incinerators that they're holding "fire sales" to attract garbage from overseas, according to a November 5, 2009, news item from the International Solid Waste Association.

Jeff Cooper wrote that Switzerland has incinerators capable of burning 105% of the waste actually produced in the country.

Germany built four million new tonnes of incinerator capacity in the past five years. Today there is overcapacity, exacerbated by the recession which is reducing waste generation. The market price for waste going to incinerators has declined throughout Germany. In the Eastern half of Germany incinerators are cutting prices down to a low of €50 per tonne (the wall still stands) while even in the south of Germany the lowest prices (around €80 per tonne) are half the market price of five years ago.

The Netherlands, like Germany, increased its incinerator capacity from 6 million tonnes to 8 million over the past two years ~ in the same period waste coming in to incineration facilities has declined from 7.5 million to 7 million tonnes, due partly to the recession.

Metro Vancouver (then GVRD) spent $4.5 million on a cattle ranch just before the BSE scare.

Now they propose 3/4 billion dollars in solid waste capital expenditures by 2019 to build shiny new facilities that we'll have to supply by importing trash from who knows where...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Port Coquitlam Mayor understands composting, now we just have to help him understand incineration...

Port Coquitlam's mayor looks good in bright green. And he earns his colours with his community's leadership in food scraps composting.

His city was the first in the region to give it a try last year, when he was on Council. Today he was a guest on Metro Vancouver's Zero Waste Breakfast panel talking about what it was like to be the Mayor taking heat for showing leadership. This month PoCo expands the program to include all kitchen waste (not just raw fruits and vegetables).

Moore said the biggest pushback was when the City switched the waste collection schedule.

Instead of collecting trash weekly and yard waste bi-weekly, they now empty the food scraps/yard waste bin weekly and the trash every other week. Citizens apparently inundated their Mayor with angry emails.

They saw this as a "reduction in service" -- until Mayor Moore phoned each angry citizen back and assured them it was the same level of service as before -- only better!

They still pick up the stuff that smells bad every week. And, of course, the trash can wait the extra week because there's less of it and it smells great!

I asked Mayor Moore if he didn't think Metro Vancouver should reconsider building big incinerators, now that our waste was dropping so fast. His reply was muddled, but the message came through that deep down he doesn't think the rest of us are going to be such super composters as his citizens (let's just show him!) and he hasn't given enough thought to incinerators to take a clear stand.

I have confidence that Mayor Moore will be a quick study. He will get it that once all the nice clean organics are gone from the trash what's left will be things that we probably shouldn't be burning at all.

Right after the Zero Waste Breakfast, Metro hosted a webinar where Dennis Rannahan said we'd be burning "composites," contaminated waste (meaning: trash that people failed to sort), plastics, textiles... Who knows what's in that stuff?? Do we want to blow it into the sky?

Maybe Mayor Gregor and Mayor Greg should have a chat. Greg can help Gregor get moving on his long-promised food scraps program (words, words, words....) and Gregor can explain why his Vision party rejected incineration on Zero Waste Vancouver's survey last fall.
Then they can both commiserate about the problem where they both committed to make a difference: homelessness.
Make no mistake, the same basic attitudes underlie both our trash problem and our homeless problem. And would we consider putting 30% of the homeless in incinerators?

Pic: Mayor Moore's blog - send him a line.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Change the law, or ban bags province-wide, says report adopted by Vancouver City Council

Vancouver City Council has been trying to get traction on the plastic bag ban for almost two years. The Mayor's Greenest City Action Team issued a challenge to the province:

"Plastic bags and polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) take-out food containers, cups and utensils should be banned or taxed, as many cities and even nations have already done. (Vancouver currently lacks the statutory authority to enforce such a ban, so the provincial government should be pressured to either impose a province-wide ban or amend the Vancouver Charter to allow the city to act on its own.) Vancouver lags behind other cities (e.g. San Francisco, Toronto) in tackling these symbolic sources of trash and litter. San Francisco has achieved 94 percent compliance with its bylaw prohibiting Styrofoam and requiring all take-out food containers to be compostable or recyclable."

Pic: Vancouver Surfriders Plastic Bag Monster on the bridge to a cool planet... they hold their AGM on November 5th.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The future is of garbage is plastics.

Vancouver City Council signed on last week to the Greenest City Action Team's ambitious plan of cutting the city's waste by 40% in ten years.

What will our waste look like when we meet that goal? The biggest change is going to be a dramatic reduction in compostable organics.

Four Metro Vancouver pilot food scrap composting programs are already underway in smaller cities in the region, and the City of Vancouver is preparing to roll out the first phase of a city-wide composting program within weeks.

In addition to food scraps composting, both Metro Vancouver and the city are targeting wood and paper products for more aggressive recycling programs. The reduction of food, wood and paper products is going to change the composition of the region's waste.

A report presented to Vancouver City Council last March suggests that this will have a big impact on the GHG emissions of incinerators compared with landfills.

Currently a tonne of waste sent to the Vancouver landfill emits the equivalent of 382 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent. Incinerating that waste, by comparison, emits only 336 kg of CO2 equivalent.

But in ten years, because of the change in the composition of our waste, the landfill will have lower GHG emissions than an incinerator. Because there will be less biodegradable material going to the landfill, there will be fewer methane emissions. The study estimates that the GHG emissions from a tonne of waste in 2020 will be reduced to 243 kg of CO2 equivalent.

The emissions from an incinerator burning that tonne of waste, on the other hand, will increase to 460 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent. Why is that?

Because when we get all those biodegradable organics out of our waste what's going to be left is a higher and higher proportion of non-recyclable plastics. (Remember, plastics are made from fossil fuels.)

One more reason to hold the order on waste incinerators.

Sun shines on climate change agents

How about the way the clouds parted on the Cambie Bridge this weekend
for our climate change action!

The Zero Waste booth was swamped all afternoon. One hundred and eleven people entrusted us with their names and email addresses. People are ready to take action. We'll be contacting them with action alerts.
And small actions can have such large impact on regional issues.

The decision on Metro's waste incinerators isn't being made in Copenhagen, or Ottawa, or even Victoria. An email to a City Councillor or Mayor carries real clout.

(The members of the MV Waste Committee are listed in the bar to the right, with email addresses. They are waiting to hear from you!)
Pic: Simon and Noelle practicing answering questions before the crowd arrived...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Greenest City sets a hard, measurable target for waste reduction

Mayor Gregor Robertson's Greenest City Action Team delivered a tough but realistic ten year action plan to Council this week.

In adopting the GCAT recommendations, Council has committed the city to a 2020 target of "40 percent reduction in solid waste per-capita going to landfill or incinerator."

GCAT Co-Chair David Boyd told me at the Council meeting that the baseline year for that reduction will be 2007. According to the 2007 Vancouver Landfill Annual Report, our solid waste in that year was 634,844 tonnes. With a 40% reduction, barring a huge influx of population, we will send only 381,000 tonnes of waste to the landfill in 2020.

Along with cutting the sheer volume of waste, we're going to get serious about hazardous wastes, compostable organics (source of potent GHG methane and toxic leachate) and "symbolic sources of trash and litter" such as plastic bags and styrofoam.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Metro politicians buried under piles of paper

Imagine if you were a Metro politician.

Off the side of your desk, on top of all the work you do governing your own city, you are responsible for oversight of a regional utility with an annual budget of nearly half a billion dollars.

You fulfill this duty by attending monthly meetings of one or more committees -- such as the Waste Management Committee. The Waste Management Committee oversees the solid and liquid waste utilities provided by the Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District. These utilities account for over half of the total spending by the regional district ($278 million in 2009).

This month you receive an agenda package for the October Waste Management Committee that is 254 pages in length.

Buried in this package (Item 5.1) is a 108-page report summarizing your committee's Programs and Priorities for the coming year.

Buried in this report are some staggering facts. On page 42-43 you are advised that $1,134,000 will be spent on "Ashcroft Ranch - Operations." The purpose of this expenditure is "to continue the traditional agricultural use of the Ashcroft Ranch in order to preserve the ecological heritage, protect and enhance the sensitive grasslands communities, and improve agricultural productivity."

GVS&DD bought the ranch in 2000 to build a new landfill -- a project that was shelved in January 2008.

How many politicians -- to say nothing of their citizens -- know that we are spending over a million dollars a year to operate a ranch? At this rate we have spent more than twice as much operating the ranch as we paid for it originally ($4.5 million).

That is for the scrapped landfill project. On pages 53 - 54 we read that we must spend $19,361,000 to "maintain ISO 1401 certification" of the Burnaby incinerator and to "complete test trials of a dry treatment system for bottom ash."

That second cost is apparently on top of a $630,000 expenditure on page 39 for "Trial post-processing of bottom ash and use as a higher value product," and "Secure alternative disposal site for stabilized fly ash," and "Trial post-processing of fly ash and use as a higher value product."

What a heavy burden we impose on our elected officials. I spent most of the Holiday weekend trying to get my head around this agenda package. Surely there is a better way for Metro to work with its Board and committees.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Showdown coming: the people versus the "experts"

Metro Chair Lois Jackson is going way out on a dangerous limb.

In a half-page column in today's Vancouver Sun, Jackson casts her lot with a group of shadowy "experts" with ties to the incinerator industry -- and even, it seems, the tobacco industry.

In her column (probably penned by former Sun reporter Glenn Bohn, who is now part of the propaganda department at Metro Vancouver) Jackson trots out the same case for "why burning garbage is the best option" that was pitched at Metro's four forums earlier this month.

But the audiences at the forums weren't fooled. At every one of the four events, members of the audience stood up and complained to Chair Jackson that the panels were one-sided. All we were hearing was the case for incineration, people said. Why didn't Metro invite anyone to make the case against incineration?

Zero Waste BC distributed information sheets at the four events to make the case against incinerators and to expose the industry connections of the two "experts" that Metro flew in to convince us to accept incinerators in our communities.

Volunteers handed the Zero Waste information to as many members of the audience as we could reach. But, of course, Metro determines who sits at the front of the room -- and who gets half-page billing on the Op Ed page of the Vancouver Sun.

Later this month, Zero Waste Vancouver (an affiliate of Zero Waste BC) will be issuing an Alternative Plan for waste management in our region. We want to give Chair Jackson and the other political leaders in our region support in finding truly sustainable solutions that benefit the people of our region rather than big corporations from New Jersey.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trash worth more to us if we don't burn or bury it

Good start, the Vancouver Sun put one of its best investigative reporters on the Metro garbage file. And today Pete McMartin uncovers an important part of the story: the huge profits that come from handling garbage.

Pete, look deeper now into the context: the multi-billion dollar municipal-industrial complex that has grown up around the humble function of getting garbage out of sight, out of mind is a story that Canadian Harold Crooks began documenting almost 20 years ago.

The question we need our pundits to raise is why should 'giants of garbage' like Covanta get all the spoils?

No matter how you look at it, burning and burying garbage is the worst deal for local communities like yours and mine. The Institute for Local Self Reliance in the United States has been documenting the economic opportunity costs of landfills and incinerators for years. Their early report Waste to Wealth: Recycling Means Business shows what we're losing. Recycling is a tool for local economic development, creating economic opportunity in all sectors of the local economy. Why should we giving all our waste to a corporation from New Jersey that will take all the profits out of our community, when we could be creating local economic opportunities with here?
A newer ILSR report published last year makes the case (confirmed by the US EPA and PPI data this month) that phasing out landfills and incinerators is "one of the fastest, cheapest and most effective approaches we can use to protect the climate and the environment."

Today's Sun is full of stories reminding us that Canada is a laggard on climate change. We can't build a long-term economy around burning and burying resources, whether we're talking about raw materials or the highly processed materials that we throw out every day in that landfill in your backyard.

(And by the way, Pete, both garden waste and many old appliances are banned from disposal in the Vancouver landfill. They should be trucked to a recycling centre instead.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

New reports shed light on GHGs from waste

Some important new work by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the non-profit Product Policy Institute add to the evidence that we need to be recycling -- and redesigning products and packaging -- rather than burning our waste in incinerators.

Read the New York Times coverage by John Collins Rudolf, which provides links to the new reports.

The gist is that we have been underestimating the GHG emissions from waste management by only looking at the end of the pipe. Metro's AECOM report says that waste contributes only 5% of BC's GHG emissions. But the US EPA analysis looks at the whole life-cycle of the stuff we throw away and finds that the provision and use of goods (throw away products and packaging) is responsible for 37% of US GHG emissions.

The New York Times notes that if you add in provision of food (industrial agriculture), the GHG impact rises to 42%.

The Product Policy Institute report expanded the analysis to account for imported products and packaging and found that our consumption produces 44% of our GHG emissions.

Both reports conclude that improved recycling and Extended Producer Responsibility policies are important tools for reducing GHG emissions.

By burning throw-away products and packaging incinerators, we add to GHG emissions. By recycling and redesigning products, we reduce them.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Politicians want soil testing for Burnaby incinerator emissions

After a week of sustained public relations centred around the reassuring message that dioxins from waste incineration are not a health concern (... greater exposure from 15 minutes at a fireworks display, intoned Metro's visiting expert Jim Bridges over and over) it was clear at last Thursday's meeting of the Metro Vancouver Waste Management Committee that dioxin is still an issue to some of our politicians.

Two delegations raised concerns about dioxins and other emissions at the beginning of the meeting.

Elaine Golds (Burke Mountain Naturalists) pointed out that the Burnaby incinerator seemed clean but that there was no soil testing going on. She said that Metro was proposing a 3 - 5 fold increase in emissions from additional incinerators and she was concerned about the cumulative load of emitted compounds, especially at dairy farms in the region.

Rick Glumac, a citizen member of Port Moody's Environmental Protection Committee, showed a photo of a baby to remind the committee of what was at stake if we failed to control emissions. He said that there is no continuous monitoring of dioxins at the Burnaby incinerator (a fact confirmed to me at a tour of the incinerator this month: dioxins are measured manually once every two years).

Vancouver Councillor David Cadman asked staff why there has been no soil testing from the Burnaby incinerator.

(There were tests of the soil and vegetation carried out at 7 sites in the region for 2 years before and 2 years after the Burnaby incinerator was commissioned. The report on the test findings recommended ongoing testing of soils and vegetation. This has not happened.)

Councillor Cadman asked about the dissemination of dioxin and other emissions beyond the local area and mentioned high levels of toxic compounds being found in Inuit women's breast milk.

Brenda Broughton from Lion's Bay also voiced concern. Burnaby Councillor Dan Johnston said he wanted the dioxin results for Burnaby.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Open letter to the Vancouver Sun

Miro Cernetig has broken the story that Metro Vancouver's "garbage crisis" is entirely manufactured.

It is about time the media caught on to this.

The facts are clear: there is plenty of capacity remaining at the Vancouver landfill and the Burnaby incinerator to manage our municipal waste far into the foreseeable future. This fact was confirmed to me months ago by a senior manager at Metro Vancouver. Why do we need to build incinerators?

Now it is time for investigative reporters follow up on this story:
  • Why did Metro Vancouver manufacture a garbage crisis?

  • Why, if we're running out of landfill space, is Metro Vancouver proposing to shut down the Vancouver landfill long before its scheduled closure?

  • Why is Metro Vancouver asking us to spend half-a-billion dollars (and counting) on new garbage facilities when the existing ones could meet our needs?

  • And, as Coquitlam Councillor Fin Donnelly asked at yesterday's Metro Vancouver Waste Management Committee meeting: "What if we took half of the money that it would cost to build a new incinerator, and put it into waste reduction measures instead?"

We don't need a costly "trash panel" to start all over, asking the wrong questions.

We need good investigative reporting that will shed light on the bungling at Metro Vancouver and get our region's waste management planning process back on track.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Time running out Metro incinerator plan

Carlito Pablo suggests in the Georgia Straight that it's going to take a "long, hard campaign" to defeat Johnny Carline's incinerator plan for Metro Vancouver.

I think the truth is that time is running out for Metro's incinerator plan.

Metro had a chance to develop a good waste management plan that would be supported by the public and the region's municipalities -- but they have bungled it every step of the way. It's time to retire this plan and get a fresh start on the process.

The first task is to dispel the trumped-up panic that we are "running out of landfill space."

Why has no one challenged Carline's Chicken Little claims that we are about to be buried under a wall of waste? The fact is that we have plenty of capacity at the Vancouver landfill and the Burnaby incinerator to manage the waste we will produce when the Cache Creek landfill eventually closes (the date has already been pushed back from 2008 and now looms some time in the indefinite future).

If you look close, you see that Metro has been quietly waffling on the quantities of waste that we produce, revising the estimates downward and downward.

In the spring of 2008, it was 1.5 million tonnes (Strategy for Updating the Solid Waste Management Plan). In the spring of 2009, it was 1.26 million tonnes (AECOM report). Marvin Hunt was telling the audiences at the waste forums this week it was "one million tonnes." And then -- amazingly -- engineer Konrad Fichtner pegged the figure at "800,000 - 850,000 tonnes" in his public presentation in New Westminster yesterday.

To put those numbers in perspective: the Vancouver landfill is permitted to take 750,000 tonnes of garbage each year and the Burnaby incinerator another 290,00o tonnes. That's 1,040,000 million tonnes per year. The recently permitted expansion of the Cache Creek landfill gives us a bit of extra breathing room while we gradually reduce our waste as the public is demanding.

We are blessed to be in a comfortable position to stop talking about incinerators and get busy with the waste reduction measures that the public wants. And while we're at it, Metro's AECOM report provides good advice for immediate improvements to our landfills to reduce their environmental impacts until the day we can finally close them down.

Who will step up to the plate and show leadership here?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Watershed Sentinel to probe Sweden's smugness: are they really all that green?

Canadian journalist Joyce Nelson (Sultans of Sleaze) provides some context for our politicians' recent junket to Sweden in the forthcoming Nov/Dec issue of BC's environment magazine Watershed Sentinel. She found rising imports of waste from other countries in the past decade - and resulting increases in ash and emissions. Find Watershed Sentinel at

One sided panel criticized at Metro Forum

OK, Metro Vancouver CAO Johnny Carline is no longer pretending that he is open-minded about how we should manage waste in the region. He is reported in today's Vancouver Sun to be in "the burn-it camp."

But yesterday's news warned that he will face "a wall of public opposition" if he tries to move his agenda forward. And he got a taste of that at the first of Metro' sgarbage forums yesterday.

Metro was repeatedly critized for presenting a one sided panel. Here is some
background on the "experts" Metro flew in from Europe to speak at the forums and a Myth Busters reference sheet for deconstructing the experts' testimony.

These were being handed out by the new Zero Waste BC Network. A whole lot of new people are helping to build that wall of opposition.

The experts will face their fourth and final audience this noon in New Westminster.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Will composting become part of Vancouver's food policy?

The Vancouver Food Policy Council advises City Council on how to improve our food system, including production, processing, access, distribution, consumption and waste management. Its members include nutritionists, food wholesalers and distributors, food retailers and grocers, managers of non profit organizations and academics engaged in the food system.

Meetings are open to observers from the public. They are held every second Wednesday of the month. The September meeting is tomorrow night, September 9th, in the Strathcona Room, sub-basement of City Hall, 6:00 pm.

As a new member -- the first appointed from the "waste management" part of the food system, I'm on the agenda to explain why food waste composting is the new recycling. I'm going to urge the FVPC to use its clout and convince our City Council to get out front and make our city a North American leader in food waste composting.

And all the groups they need to make it happen will be in the room. Watch it happen!
Pic: Food guru Herb Barbolet, active member of the VFPC

Do we want Covanta to run the Burnaby incinerator?

For the third time in my memory, the company that holds the contract to run our local incinerator has been flipped: Montenay -> Veolia -> Covanta. Just who is Covanta?

Read this interesting story about Covanta's record of environmental violations. It ran in a US newspaper last month. Is this the kind of neighbour we want moving in next to our agricultural land reserve?

Will the Metro Vancouver Board have to sign off on this company taking over a contract they signed with Veolia?

Pic: Durham Environment Watch. (Citizens spoke, but Covanta had other means.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Take a day off work to talk rationally about incinerators

We hope lots of folks can take time off work next week to attend the Metro Vancouver Forums on Waste Management. They'll be held from noon to 2 pm on September 15 (Vancouver) and September 16 (New Westminster).

Tell the boss that $3 billion dollars and your family's health are at stake. In times like these we have to get our priorities straight.

Pic: image from GAIA, used by Sierra Club of/du Canada: "Sacrifice Zones are Not Acceptable"

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Kamloops Council rejects industrial incinerator

Incinerator developers, take note. One more community has mounted a successful defence against a proposal for "waste-to-energy."

This one happened in record time.

Citizens in the interior BC town of Kamloops (pop. 83,000) apparently got wind of a proposal to install an incinerator in their community on August 18th. It went down in a unanimous vote of disapproval by Kamloops City Council on September 1st.

The project had the Canadian Pacific Railway behind it -- the plant would get rid of their creosoted wood ties.

There was also the suggestion of support from First Nations people -- the proponent was called Aboriginal Cogeneration Corporation. First Nations are sharply divided on waste projects in this province, and this division is cynically exploited by opportunistic entrepreneurs.

But the community threw up an amazing website with a rich menu of actions to take -- and the community stood up and took action. Almost 200 people showed up at the City Council meeting on a couple days' notice.

Along with Christina Lake, Kamloops was a wake-up call for the incinerator industry and the governments who think waste-to-energy is our future. We want real economic development that builds our communities.
Congratulations, Kamloops!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What does the Cache Creek landfill extension mean?

Once again the province has foiled Metro Vancouver's effort to expand its garbage empire.

Metro has been active for well over a decade trying to build huge new regional garbage disposal facilities, and now twice the province has intervened. It isn't at all clear what the province's motives are.

In June 2005 the EA process to approve the then-GVRD's Ashcroft Landfill was suddenly suspended by the Minister of Sustainable Resource Management George Abbott. GVRD had spent $4.5 million to purchase Ashcroft Ranch and a further $5.5 million on consultants and spin-doctors pushing the project forward.

The official spin on this decision was that the province didn't want to offend First Nations who opposed the project, but the Ministry's Brian Grant had advised in a 2003 letter to the EAO that this project was not approved under the region's 1995 Solid Waste Management Plan.

We were all surprised when Metro suddenly abandoned the Ashcroft project in early 2008 and announced it was planning to build incinerators instead.

No one was madder about that than the City of Vancouver and Wastech Services, who were running profitable landfills serving our region's needs. The City of Vancouver immediately commissioned Deloitte Touche to write a report on the financial impacts on the city if Metro shut down the Burns Bog landfill and Wastech has carried out a very effective behind-the-scenes information campaign against incineration.

A central plank in Metro's garbage empire strategy has been trumping up a "landfill crisis." The fear of being buried under a wall of garbage in 2010 drove the Metro Board to grudgingly approve exporting our surplus garbage to the USA until Metro's new disposal facilities were in place.

This past weekend Environment Minister Barry Penner hinted on CKNW that Wastech's Cache Creek landfill might not close next year as scheduled and yesterday Wastech announced that a 2-year extension of the landfill's permit has been approved by Penner's ministry.

Metro claims to be as furious about this development as they were when the province shut down the Ashcroft project. Speaking after Minister Penner on the CKNW radio show on Saturday, Metro Waste Committee Chair Marvin Hunt asked how the Ministry could reject Ashcroft on the grounds of First Nations objections while approving the Cache Creek extension -- pointing out that the First Nations are just as divided in their opinion about Cache Creek.

Point scored, but it won't win the game for Metro.

Unless what's really going on is some deeper collusion between Metro and the provincial government aimed around their shared vision of garbage-to-energy incineration.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gold River incinerator exempted from Environmental Assessment

The Covanta garbage incinerator proposed for Gold River BC was quietly granted an exemption from the Environmental Assessment process by an order signed on August 5th.

The considerations in making the exemption included "various community benefits" and "no apparent significant adverse effects of any type after mitigation."
The order also stipulates that the proponent (Covanta and partner Green Island Energy) will have to monitor the air quality.
They will also have to "assist" any regional districts that determine that they want to use the facility for managing their waste. No problem. A March 2008 Reuters announcement of the Covanta/GEI proposal noted: Negotiations with municipal governments, including Metro Vancouver, will be important in ensuring the continued progress of the Project.
A bit more detail about Gold River and the Covanta/GEI proposal was published on Forest Talk, Canada's "forestry blog." The story recounts the booms and busts of this small BC town, including the recent turn-around after their mill shut down, the locals moved out, and the houses were sold at auction to Europeans: Since then Gold River has reinvented itself as a west-coast tourism hub. Affordable housing, a friendly small town atmosphere, excellent civic amenities and a paved all weather road connecting it to the more populated eastern coast of Vancouver Island have helped fuel a rebirth of the community.

Wonder what those folks think about the incinerator proposal.
Pic: Covanta's destination for garbage from all over BC

We can't build a new economy on dirty energy

Economic hard times create opportunities for the opportunistic. Governments are desperate to spend bundles of cash on "infrastructure" just to show their citizens that they're not standing idly by while the economy crashes.

This gets the attention of politically connected entrepreneurs like Rod Bryden, who was profiled in the Globe and Mail last weekend. Read all about his glitch-ridden Plasco gasification technology that will flourish as long as it can count on government capital grants, municipalities paying him to use their garbage as fuel and electric utilities paying premium rates for dirty energy.

And the BC Liberal government's Speech from the Throne this week was a full-barrelled commitment to subsidizing "alternative energy." The government promised to "use all the means at its disposal" to suport this industry.

Ominously, the Throne Speech also promised to "outlaw" export of waste from the province. Are they looking at garbage as the alternative fuel?

That was the proposal in proposed "clean and renewable energy" guidelines put out for comment this summer.
The responses were sharply divided between citizens (who said the government should not under any circumstances encourage the burning of waste for energy) and opportunists (the longest submission was a consescending sermon from Covanta, who are expanding their incineration empire into BC by buying the company that operates the Burnaby incinerator and pitching an additional project in Gold River).

Jeff Nagel reports that the garbage industry is deploying politically-connected lobbyists in Victoria to get access to our garbage. Metro Waste Committee Chair Marvin Hunt complained to The Tyee that he's been "flooded" with calls.

Who will get the government's ear? Not us, unless we begin flooding them with calls of our own.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Big turn-out for Christina Lake meeting to oppose incinerator!

Last winter we told you about a preposterous proposal to build an industrial waste incinerator in scenic Christina Lake, BC. It looks like the community is not going to take this lying down.

Monica Phillips just wrote: The meeting last night was a huge success -- 400 people really energized with Paul [Connett] and Raimund (local presenter). It was very evident the huge numbers against this. Lots of plugs from Paul re the Vancouver incinerator situation -- you can watch the presentation when we get it up on our site. I'll let you know...

Check out this amazing video produced by two local kids to Protect Christina Lake. The future is in good hands...

Pic: - tourist destinations that will be lost if they build the incinerator.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Paul Connett Tuesday afternoon

If you're in town and want to relax with an interesting visitor next Tuesday afternoon, drop in to the SPEC Meeting Room. We'll have refreshments and a very stimulating discussion:

WHAT: briefing meeting for community activists to meet with a legendary environmental activist.

WHO: Dr. Paul Connett is a tenured professor of Chemistry from New York and Executive Director of the American Environmental Health Studies Project. During the 1980s and 1990s, Connett helped citizens across North America to block dozens of proposed waste incinerators. His Waste Not newsletter provided factual information to counter misinformation from incinerator salesmen.

Today, the incineration industry is on the march again, and Connett is responding by forming a new network to block the expansion of waste incineration and steer us on the road to Zero Waste.

WHERE: SPEC Meeting Room, 2150 Maple Street
WHEN: Tuesday, August 18, 2:00 pm

See you there!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Recycle your CareCard!!

I just received my new CareCard in the mail.

The new look reflects the evolution of BC's style. They've abandoned the cheery, vaguely Nautical red, white and yellow banner in favour of an understated, bronze pinstripe that smacks of Howe Street ...

But did you know your old card is "recyclable by manufacturer"? What do you expect, in the province that leads the world in Industry Product Stewardship? But there's nothing on the card telling us who takes them back.

I went to the Health Insurance BC website looking for instructions, kept digging, and found the following:

MSP is concerned about the environment and recycles the plastic of any returned cards. Old CareCards should be cut in half and returned to the address on the back of the card.

(They don't make this easy... it's a little like a Treasure Hunt.) Here's where to send your old CareCards: PO Box 1600 (I think - the embossing on the other side makes the address hard to read), Victoria BC V8W 2X9.

Let's inundate them and show we care.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Here we come, Covanta!

In the 1980s a powerful North American incinerator industry was hog-tied by local citizens groups.

Elected politicians in dozens of local communities were nodding in a torpor ~ a state of altered consciousness induced by the empty promises of incinerator salesmen. They were about to sign contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars that would have shackled the communities with debt (to say nothing of the unmeasurable impacts on their health and safety).

But in one community after another, citizens managed to snap their Mayors and Councillors out of their trance just in time. Over 250 waste incinerator projects across North America were cancelled between 1985 and 1995.

The citizens were successful because of a crackling information network that connected local communities together and dispensed the magic weapons they needed -- facts and figures that could dispell the misinformation from the incinerator salesmen and release their politicians from their daze.

That movement was led in large part by Paul Connett, who will be stopping through Vancouver next week. Connett is coming to BC to help the Interior community of Christina Lake. They need to talk some sense into the Kootenay Boundary Regional District Board, which will shortly be considering a proposal to burn petroleum waste from California in that bucolic corner of the province.

Connett says that the incinerator industry has risen from the ashes of its 1980s defeat, and in response he is pulling together a new citizens' movement to defeat it again.

The focus of the new campaign will be a company called Covanta Energy, which he describes as "a giant octopus." Like a lot of companies in the garbage industry, Covanta's strategy is acquisition. They grow by taking over other companies and then spreading into new communities.

We will be Ground Zero for a Covanta campaign. The company is taking over Veolia, who currently run Metro Vancouver's Burnaby incinerator. And they are also pitching a proposal to politicians to rescue the community of Gold River from economic ruin by building a big garbage incinerator.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Board of Trade speakers blast Metro study!

While I was away this summer the Vancouver Board of Trade convened a forum on Metro's waste situation. It can't have been a good day for Metro.

Both speakers sharply criticized the regional waste authority's current direction to build huge new waste incinerators. Economist Jeffrey Morris challenged Metro's assumptions about future waste volumes (Metro is basing its plan on a forecast of 75% recycling, while Morris says higher rates are possible).

Morris also stressed the need for the plan to include effective economic instruments to drive waste reduction, which will yield much better outcomes in the long run than infrastructure that competes against recycling (incinerators have to be fed...). See Morris's PPT here.

But most damning was the critique by accounting firm KPMG's Paul Levelton. He focused his remarks on the new study that Metro released last June (see the full AECOM Report here, or the Executive Summary here).

Levelton's presentation must have been humiliating not only for the report's authors (who include, incredibly, an appointed member of Metro's advisory panel on waste ~ talk about conflict of interest!) and also for the Metro employees who presumably reviewed and approved its release to the Board.

Levelton's presentation reads like the margin notes of a tough professor, pointing out elementary errors and omissions in a lazy student's work.

He opens with the statement: "a review of the recently released report by AECOM Metro Vancouver raises significant concerns that insufficient work has been done to make a decision on the future of waste management in the Lower Mainland, including an apparent preference for a waste to energy solution."

For instance, there's no financial risk analysis. There are no criteria for comparing different options. There is simply not enough information for the public to make meaningful comments or, most important, for political leaders to make informed decisions.

Levelton warned his audience that businesses in the region will bear more than half of the costs of Metro's ultimate scheme. He suggests ~ hopefully? ~ that there's still time for Metro to re-write the paper and get a passing grade.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How about some junkets to the Maritimes?

Mary-Em Wadding of Computers for Schools wrote this about her observations on a recent trip to the Maritimes:

Hi Everyone – I just returned from a trip to the Maritimes and was pretty impressed with what I saw out there in terms of home recycling and composting options for the residents in PEI and Nova Scotia.

New Brunswick had a program similar to BC with the exception of glass, which is land-filled there.
[Ed Note: landfilling glass is not so dumb. The glass we recycle is not "recycled" into new glass but "downcycled" into sand and gravel substitute. This is a complete write-off on all the energy used to create the glass. The only really good use of glass is in refillable bottles ~ as is still done by Canada's beer industry.]

My hostess in PEI had a little waste can in the bathroom and a bigger can for compost! For tissues and other assorted paper products etc, a very active green organics collection program, and their local recycling plant had a wind turbine on the roof!

All kitchen scrap is collected in Nova Scotia, and many of the fast-food restaurants have bins for both waste and compost available for consumers to use after their meals – see the photo. (not that they were used without confusion as to what went where, but I didn’t take a picture of inside the waste containers).

Perhaps Metro shouldn’t be sending politicians to Sweden to look at waste-to-energy. It seems a trip to the Maritimes might prove a better example at moving towards zero waste. If they can do it, why can’t we?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Composting in Montreal?

Instead of complaining when the city wouldn't provide food waste composting, Montrealler Steve McLeod stepped in and filled the void.

For $5/week, Compost Montreal provides you with a bucket to collect your greenwaste. You put the bucket on your porch once a week. He picks it up, empties it and installs a nice clean liner ready to be filled again. As if that weren't enough, once a year you get back a big load of compost for your own yard.

The city's parks department is part of the program, providing the facility for processing the food waste.

Read this 2008 write-up from CBC. I'll post more details after I contact them.