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

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.