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

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.