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

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"No forest of any kind should be used to make toilet paper." Alan Hershkowitz, NRDC

Read this interesting story from the New York Times/Herald Tribune:

Americans like their toilet tissue soft: exotic confections that are silken, thick and hot-air-fluffed.

The national obsession with soft paper has driven the growth of brands like Cottonelle Ultra, Quilted Northern Ultra and Charmin Ultra — which in 2008 alone increased its sales by 40 percent in some markets, according to Information Resources, Inc., a marketing research firm.

But fluffiness comes at a price: millions of trees harvested in North America and in Latin American countries, including some percentage of trees from rare old-growth forests in Canada. Although toilet tissue can be made at similar cost from recycled material, it is the fiber taken from standing trees that help give it that plush feel, and most large manufacturers rely on them...

Here's the Greenpeace shopper's guide to ancient-forest friendly tissue.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Can Christina Lake douse plans for a waste incinerator?

The 1600 winter residents of the Christina Lake vacation area in BC's Kootenay Boundary region are scrambling to block regional district approval of a new hazardous waste incinerator in their community.

According to a recent article in the Globe & Mail, the project was proposed last fall just after the thousands of summer residents had vacated their seasonal property. The year-round residents are hoping to put the proposal to a public vote so absentee landowners would be able to weigh in on the decision.

The facility proponent is a Vancouver based company, Aquilini Renewable Energy, which spawned by the Aquilini Investment Group. They are seeking to pull land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve to burn petroleum industry waste from as far away as California.

Aquilini company president John Negrin says the company is "keenly focused to provide a solution to the world's energy needs ..."
Negrin's company is a member of the Canadian Energy From Waste Coalition, which has a seat at the table of the Working Group convened by the provincial environment ministry to discuss the future of waste in BC. (This is the same Working Group that Zero Waste Vancouver and the Sierra Club of BC were "disinvited" from earlier this winter.). Small, interconnected world.
Local residents have put up a community website with a petition that has already drawn over 1200 signatures.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What you can't see can hurt you

Incinerator salesmen reassure politicians by taking them on tours of incinerators. Politicians come home and tell citizens:

"We have visited plants in Denmark and we were very impressed. They are incredibly clean. There was nothing toxic coming out at all - they were shining and spotless and you could have eat your dinner off the floor."

But what you can't see can hurt you.

Things like nanoparticles, particles so small that they penetrate living tissue in a way that larger particles can't do. Scientists, who understand uncertainty, sound the alarm.
But regulators, who are supposed to be our bulwark against uncertainty, say:

"It's possible to have a really well-controlled incinerator. I know there's a lot of scare out there just with the word incinerator in general, but it can be done right."

Those are the words of Heather Valdez, an environmental engineer with the US Environmental Protection Agency. She is quoted above in an article in a Salem, Oregon, newspaper back in April 2005, reassuring citizens worried about a medical waste burner in their county.
Heather will be speaking in Richmond on March 9th in a panel discussion hosted by the Fraser Basin Council. The event is paradoxically titled "BC Clean Air Forum 2009."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Agricultural Urbanism

Last summer Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan requested a report telling the Metro Vancouver Board how much money the taxpayer had thrown away on its now-abandoned plan to build a new landfill in the BC Interior. That report started making its rounds of Metro Board Committees this week (see Item 6.1 on the Finance Committee Agenda).

The news is pretty bad. We've sunk $12.6 million into an agricultural operation that is now valued at $10.8 million. Richmond Councillor Harold Steves (himself a cattle rancher) commented to the Vancouver Sun, "The [cattle] producers in B.C. are just going broke," but recommended that Metro hang on to the land and continue working the ranch: "It's one of the most productive ranches in the Cariboo when times are good."

Who ever thought our regional government would get in the business of cattle ranching?

It's not as outlandish an idea as it might seem. A report went to the Metro Agriculture Committee last week (see Item 6.7 on the meeting Agenda) arguing convincingly that municipal and regional governments should incorporate agriculture and the food system into their planning.
But I suspect the last thing the new group of Agricultural Urbanists had in mind was building a garbage landfill on a cattle ranch. Nor, I imagine, did they have in mind garbage incinerators adjacent to Agricultural Land Reserve property here in our own region, like the Burnaby incinerator pictured above.

Much more in the Agricultural Urbanist direction was a very cursory report to the Metro Waste Management Committee (see Item 5.2 on the meeting agenda) that Metro is finally in negotiations with two companies to open food waste composting plants in the region. Staff wouldn't divulge much to the curious committee members but Black Press reporter Jeff Nagel obtained details that were reported in the Surrey Leader.

These two composting facilities, if they are run right, could be a tangible way we can all participate in Agricultural Urbanism. And Councillor Harold Steves, who sits on both the Agriculture and Waste Management committees could help us get there.
When our food waste goes to local farms and everything else goes back to the producers for repair, reuse, or recycling, we can gradually decommission our current landfill and incinerator.