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

Saturday, May 30, 2009

We're all in this together

The people of Durham, Ontario, need our help. Despite months of hard work, their politicians continue to listen to the blandishments of the incinerator salesmen. Sign the community's petition today.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Expansion of garbage burning assailed

As the Recycling Council of BC gathers this weekend for its annual conference ~ and as four local politicians set off on their junket to visit Swedish incinerators ~ the problems with garbage burning are attracting public attention in the public media.

A story by Scott Simpson made the front page of the Vancouver Sun's business section this morning, reporting concerns of a local waste analyst who will speak at the RCBC conference. Monica Kosmak says the provincial government's misguided "Bioenergy" strategy is part of what is driving Metro Vancouver's incineration plan.

Zero Waste Vancouver's concerns about the Sweden junket also earned coverage in the local news this week.

At this week's joint meeting of the Metro Waste Management and Environment Committees, politicians received the findings from recent public consultations: over 80% of the respondents called for aggressive waste reduction efforts. Politicians spoke out for continuous improvement, beyond the 70% target proposed 15 months ago by their staff.

If we build the incinerators recommended by Metro staff, we'll be locked into feeding them.

Do we need new disposal facilities in the first place? Metro politicians were told waste has dropped 13% this year over last year due to the recession.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Public not fooled by plastics industry's phoney science

The plastics industry has funded a scientific study that concluded that reusable bags "pose a public health risk." Read the Vancouver Sun coverage here ~ and don't miss the comments from the readers.

The Vancouver chapter of Surfriders is asking Mayor Robertson's Greenest City Action Team to back a ban on plastic bags. Maybe they'll make a presentation to Council like this one in Santa Monica.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Composting dirty diapers in Toronto ~ let's get it right

In an interesting article in the NY Times last month, Oakland was recognized for its green-waste composting program. Citizens there can compost yard waste ~ and also food waste and paper napkins.

But Toronto, it turns out is even greener. They collect dirty diapers, animal waste and kitty litter along with the food waste. They send it all to a facility to be turned into fertilizer for farmlands and parks. Dirty diapers, the article suggests, are "helping Canadian crops to grow."

Which way will we go with composting?

Metro Vancouver is in the final stages of negotiations with two companies to process organics. The Recycling Council of BC has formed an Organics Working Group that will report back to its Policy Committee in June with recommendations on best practices for organics programs.

Will Toronto be our model? Will we provide composting for dirty diapers?

We will want to look at Toronto's system top to bottom before we make up our minds. The NYT article closes with a caution: "Some of the diapers may still end up in a landfill, however, due to an overuse of plastic bags in some areas served by the Green Bin program."

Because Toronto designed their program to allow folks to wrap up their compostable organics in plastic bags, the program produces thousands of tonnes of non-compostable plastic residuals each year that have to go to landfills or incinerators to be destroyed. According to a member of RCBC's Working Group who has visited the Toronto area facility, the non-compostable residuals could run as high as 21 percent of the material collected.

The plastic in diapers would meet a similar fate.

To this blogger it does not make sense to design a composting program to take non-compostable materials. I hope that our programs clearly prohibit plastics of all types.

And I hope that we go after the producers of disposable diapers and require them to take them back ~ the way we make beverage producers take back cans and bottles.

By cleaning up after Pampers and Huggies, Toronto's program will lock in the bad design in disposable diapers that makes them hard to compost.

We should instead require the producers to come up with a design that can be composted.

Pic: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How the other half lives

Next time you're watching the sunset on English Bay, think for a moment about where those old freighters will go after they die.

India and Bangladesh are the centre of the "shipbreaking" industry ~ an industry that has eluded effective regulation designed to stop routine abuse of workers and the natural environment. Visit the NGO Platform On Shipbreaking to learn what goes on.

This is the dark side of recycling, a reminder of how interconnected we all are in a globalized economy.

If you belong to a union, share this weblink with your leadership and see if you can get them to sign on to an international Statement of Concern that will go to the International Maritime Organization later this month. Or, if you want to sign on as an individual, send an email to: (please cc who is helping rally support).

If we act now it will make sunsets on English Bay a lot more enjoyable.

Producer responsibility and vertical integration

Why are so many products designed for disposal ~ and what can we do to change that?

The answer: Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). For as long as we can remember, producers sold products with the expectation that someone else would figure out what to do with them when they broke, wore out, or just got outmoded.

The "someone else" was our local governments, who became responsible for providing convenient weekly garbage programs to make all those throw-away products disappear.

BC is a leader in EPR, with a growing list of products (and associated packaging) that now go back for recycling or safe disposal to return centres provided by producers: beverage containers, old paint, medications, motor oil and filters, etc. etc. etc.

EPR can create new local economic opportunities. By extending the service life of products rather than sending them the direct route to the landfill, EPR creates business opportunities in repair, refurbishing, repurposing and resale. A good case in point is FreeGeek in downtown Vancouver, which takes obsolete computers and trains volunteers to service them.

But the challenge of EPR is working out the rights and responsibilities of actors in the new extended "value chain." If the producer has responsibilities under EPR, do they also have property rights over their products after the consumer is done with them? What sort of claim do the repair/reuse/recycling businesses have on these products?

These are interesting legal issues that will be the focus of a private member's bill in the Canadian parliament next week. NDP MP Brian Masse is sponsoring a bill supported by the Autmotive Industries Association of Canada that would give consumers "choice" in whether to take their cars to the dealer for servicing or go to independent repair shops.

Read coverage of the bill in the Vancouver Sun.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Invest in a new economy

In an article published this week in the Globe and Mail, Richard Florida warns that we may squander an opportunity to solve long-standing problems and move ahead to a new economy if we make the wrong kind of infrastructure investments.

During the last Great Depression, Florida reminds us, public investment in roads and infrastructure transformed North America from an aging agricultural economy to a booming industrial/consumer economy.

The investments we made "spurred postwar demand and primed North America for postwar global economic dominance, because the consumption embedded in our suburban way of life stimulated just the right kind of industrial production."

But we're past that stage now. The "old economy" is in overshoot. We are killing the planet and destroying our communities with overproduction, overconsumption and waste.

"We will begin to move toward a durable recovery only when we stop unnecessarily propping up the old economy," says Florida.

Florida says we should use public investment to stimulate a new economy ~ he calls it the "creative economy." Metro Vancouver called it the Zero Waste Economy.

This raises the question: do we want to put public dollars into "shovel-ready" waste incinerator projects that stimulate continuing production and consumption of throw-away products?

Or do we want to put public dollars into creative local ventures that preserve the value of products and materials instead of treating them as waste? Recirculating them in the local economy rather than blowing them into the atmosphere?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Call for a Zero Waste Economy

Metro Vancouver has just wrapped up another round of sparsely attended public meetings about its so-called "Zero Waste Challenge." In this round, citizens were asked to pick a target for cutting our waste by 2015. The starting line, we were told, is 50%, which is how much we currently reduce our waste through existing recycling and composting programs. What were the targets proposed by Metro?

Continued Improvement would get us up to 60%.

Aggressive Change would be really hard and costly, but it could get us to 70%.

The third choice, A Zero Waste Economy, they warned us, would need not only all the cost and pain of Aggressive Change but also the unlikely scenario of provincial, federal and international leaders embracing fundamental changes in the way waste is managed.

Since the finish line of this race was set by Metro at 2015, the third choice seemed patently unrealistic. Nevertheless many in the room the night I attended were not deterred. In the straw vote held at the end of the evening, most participants chose targets higher than 70%.

Do you want a Zero Waste Economy? Go to the Zero Waste Challenge Feedback Form and tell Metro your views. Then send an email directly to the members of the Metro Waste Management Committee (see contact info in the right margin).

Next month, Metro will host a new round of consultations seeking our support for construction of huge new garbage incinerators. If we tell them we want a Zero Waste Economy, they won't need to build any incinerators.

Pic: this is the image Metro adapted for their PPT slide show.