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.