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

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A year without waste...

Vancouverites Jenny, Grant and Rhyannon of the Clean Bin Project are days away from the finish line in their year without waste. Check their blog to see what they've learned in the past 354 days about consumption, waste and living within our means.

Jenny and Grant brought along their year's accumulation of garbage to Zero Waste Vancouver's meeting this week. It all fit in a trailer behind Grant's bike. Grant's was mostly tech waste related to his production of the documentary film that will come out of the project. Jenny's discards seemed to relate to parties and celebrations.

Grant told us that the first thing he will go out and buy when he breaks his abstinence is a new toothbrush...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer reading for citizens and politicians

Last week Metro staff presented two reports, totalling nearly 350 pages, that open up a whole new conversation about how we should manage our waste while we ramp it down to Zero.

Suddenly there are 8 options on the table. It's great news because one of them is really promising.

Metro's original plan was to shut down the Vancouver landfill and replace it with incinerators. This provoked the City of Vancouver, which owns the landfill and had looked forward to another 40 years of service out of it.

But Metro's new Option #6 proposes that we use the Vancouver landfill as planned, but pretreat the waste to make it safe before we put it in the landfill.

The pre-treatment process is called "Mechanical Biological Treatment" or MBT. This process is widely used in Europe to comply with strict landfill rules there designed to deal with the climate impacts of landfills.
European and U.S. environmentalists support MBT because it provides an alternative to incineration. It addresses the worst problems with landfills, while retaining the benefit of a disposal system that can be ramped down over time.

All of the region's politicians are gathering on June 27th in a "Council of Councils" meeting to hear a presentation about this report. Zero Waste Vancouver is preparing some questions for them to ask the consultant who did the study. If you can go to this meeting, do so! It always makes the politicians sit up straight when there are citizens in the audience.

Metro will be organizing a consultation with the rest of us in the Fall. These 2 reports will make good beach reading for wasteheads, so we can come back to work ready to help shape a really good solid waste management plan for this region. If you have thoughts as you read the report, post them here. I'll be reading them during breaks from fixing up an old house in Montreal with our kids.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Will pols listen to Swedish salesmen or their own constituents?

Today the four regional politicians who went to Sweden last month were summoned to report back to their peers on what they learned about "waste to energy."

To hear the travellers tell, Sweden is a perfect fairy tale land where everything is harmoniously integrated through "systems thinking." A cheery sort of Escheresque community in which waste is tranformed into pure energy. It was all summed up in diagrams that the travellers brought home and put up on the screen: "Symbio-City."

Waste incineration in Sweden happens in clean buildings that fit right into the urban landscape. (The buildings have smokestacks, but, the delgation was told with wry Swedish humour, the smokestacks serve no purpose. They were just put there to comply with quaint rules that were written before technology advanced.)

"We saw a different culture there," testified Metro engineer Ken Carrusca, who was along on the trip, "People carry their own ceramic plates." In one travel photo, West Van Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones is indeed seen picnicking in a park holding a tray with a china cup and plate.

So what can we learn from their visit? How do we transform ourselves from rude louts who line up at Tim Horton drive-throughs and pitch our cups into landfills, into citizens worth of living in magical Symbio-Cities like the ones in Sweden?

The answer, it was clearly implied, is that politicians must exert "political will."

They must show leadership and overcome their constituents' strong misgivings about waste incineration. You can bet that there will be a full-court press this summer to nurture Sweden-envy in our populace.

Pic: Lego Escher impossible staircase

Monday, June 8, 2009

Public meeting June 17th!

We scheduled this meeting in June to coincide with Metro's public consultation on incineration. It must have spooked the planners at Metro, because they've postponed the consultation till next September!

But come on out to the meeting just for the fun of it.

We'll have a couple of very interesting speakers and a chance to send an early signal to our regional politicians, including those who were flown to Sweden to help Metro staff make their case that we need incinerators.

Three of our four junketing pols were on CKNW's The World Today on Saturday, reporting out on their trip. But they got a wake-up call from listener "Joe" who warned that they'll be in the incinerator, politically, if they follow Sweden's example.

Our meeting is Wednesday, June 17th, at SPEC House (2150 Maple Street). Doors open at 6:30, with speakers, awards and action starting at 7:30. Our meeting is part Langara's 2009 Summer School on Building Community, organized by the inimitable Leslie Kemp in collaboration with Village Vancouver and a whole host of other interesting groups. The series runs June 15 - 25 (details about the series in a current Common Ground article). Hope to see YOU there!

Why the silence on composting?

Way back in November 2007 Metro politicians insisted that a line-item be added to the 2008 budget to get composting going... but here it is, half-way through 2009 and we still don't have any service for composting our food waste.

And it looks like another month will go by without the politicians hearing an update from Metro staff on the development of the program.

The agenda for Wednesday's meeting has not a word on composting. Instead, politicians will learn in the Manager's report that the public won't get a chance to weigh in on Metro's incineration plans until next September.

Rumours have it that the municipal engineers in the region are turning out to be as skeptical of Metro's reasoning about so-called "waste-to-energy" as the public is. The Regional Engineers Advisory Committee apparently got a look at a long-awaited Metro report that compared the effects of landfilling and incineration (guess what the conclusion was!) and were not impressed. I'm told the engineers scoffed at both the report's methodology and its findings.

Meanwhile down at Vancouver's landfill on Saturday, busloads of families were touring the city's landfill. They saw dozens of majestic Bald Eagles dodging the bulldozers, along with hundreds of gulls, trying to get at the rotting food on the pile.

Zero Waste Vancouver was there promoting the COOL 2012 campaign to keep Compostable Organics Out of Landfills.

Why are we creating an attractive nuisance that threatens wildlife, when we could be feeding the soil in the Fraser Valley? Vancouver pays falconers to scare away the eagles and gulls. Wouldn't it make more sense just not to put out the bait in the first place?