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

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's official ~ Metro Vancouver proposes incinerator(s)

Last Friday the Metro regional Board received its staff's proposal for a new solid waste management plan. They will hold a special meeting this Friday to discuss it.

The Plan confirms, in sec. 3.1.2 (a) that: "Metro Vancouver will establish up to 500,000 tonnes per year of new waste-to-energy capacity within the region."

All sorts of things will be burned in Metro's proposed incinerator(s).

Along with regular trash, the Plan proposes, in sec. 3.1.6, to burn "regional utility materials that cannot be recycled." These include "process grit and screenings" from sewage sludge, which can be reasonably expected to contain toxic heavy metals, and "spent activated carbon" from the region's drinking water treatment system. According to a producer of activated carbon filters, activated carbon filters are used to remove the following potential substances from our water: alachlor,atrazine, benzene, carbofuran, carbon tetrachloride, chlorobenzene, 2,4-D dibromochloropropane (DBCP), O, P-dechlorobenzines, forms of dichloroethylens, 1, 2-dechloropropane, cis-1,3-dichloropropylene, toxaphene, chlordane, radon, lindane, simazine, PCB's, toluene, xylenes...

Along with potential health and safety risks, Metro's Plan also promises to undermine our province's Extended Producer Responsiblity (EPR) programs.

Sec. 3.3.4 says Metro will ask the Ministry of Environment to require producers to send their "non-recyclable" products and packaging to Metro's incinerators. The intent of our provincial EPR policy is to encourage producers to design better products and packaging that can be recycled. But Metro's plan will instead open the door to burning the throw-aways instead.

In discussion last Friday, after members of the Board insisted the Plan be "released from closed," Surrey Councillor Marvin Hunt was pushing for a quick approval of the Plan. Other members of the Board, including Richmond Councillor Harold Steves, held off for a more thorough public discussion, especially with people in the Fraser Valley.
That discussion will begin with a Special Meeting of the GVS&DD Board starting at 8:00 am on Friday, December 4th, in the Metro Boardroom, 2nd floor, 4330 Kingsway (Patterson Skytrain Station).
Be there if you can. Politicians always sit up straighter when there are citizens in the room.

Pic: Marvin Hunt, CBC news, June 2008

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Is the tide turning against incineration?

This has been a bad week for the world's incinerator salesmen and their local government backers.

On Monday, China's middle class "lodged its first mass challenge against the government by staging an environmental protest" -- against an incinerator.

Yesterday, an alliance of state legislators and environmental groups in Minnesota foiled plans by the county and its incineration contractor to sneak through a 21% expansion of a local garbage incinerator as an "administrative amendment" to their permit. That contractor asking for the expansion is Covanta, the same company that operates Metro's Burnaby incinerator.

The MN Pollution Control Agency also cautioned Covanta they had better comply with the existing permit. Last week Covanta was fined by the state of New Jersey for violating air pollution control standards.

And yesterday in Scotland, "a number of senior politicians, experts and members of the public yesterday spent almost six hours berating Perth and Kinross Council planning officers over the 'catastrophic' decision to grant outline planning consent for a £100 million incinerator close to Perth town centre." (Courier, 25 November). As a result of their efforts, the incinerator plan is now considered "dead in the water."

Metro engineer Ken Carrusca and Surrey Councillor Marvin Hunt were scheduled to be speakers at a major conference on incineration held this week in Toronto, but their names suddenly disappeared from the agenda. They were supposed to talk about "mitigating negative public perception" of garbage incinerators.

Pic: Guardian, November 23, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

City is being outmanoeuvred by Metro

The City of Vancouver has been seriously outmanoeuvred by Metro Vancouver in the Zero Waste competition.

The question is: can Vancouver politicians pick up their game in time to avoid an embarrassing pratt- fall during the Vancouver Olympics?

Metro Vancouver scored the first point by framing “garbage dumps” as outmoded, dangerous, and barbaric. This subtly reinforced long-held public attitudes and boxed the City of Vancouver in a corner. The City is the owner of the region's largest "dump."

Then Metro framed “waste to energy” as clean, modern, safe and efficient. The region has spared no cost in reinforcing this message through politician junkets to Europe, invited "experts,"and a steady stream of biased commentary through the local media.

Ane what was the City of Vancouver's reponse to all of this? Deafening silence.

Vancouver's staff commissioned two consultant reports in January 2008 as soon as they got wind of Metro's plan. The Deloitte Touche and CH2MHill reports gave the City all the tools they needed to mount an effective campaign against Metro's incinerator plan.

But Vancouver's politicians missed the play.

While Metro is actually rolling out pilot programs to compost food waste (a clever foil for their incinerator preparations) the City of Vancouver will apparently have nothing in place for expanded organics collection until as far away as May, 2010.

Meanwhile, what will the world see when they visit in February?

The Vancouver landfill -- although it meets all of our environmental requirements here in British Columbia -- would be illegal in Europe.
Under a directive by the European Union, all of the nations of Europe have laws banning the disposal of organics in landfills. They took this strong action years ago to prevent the formation of the potent GHG methane in landfills.

When European athletes and fans arrive here in February and learn that the host city is dumping raw, unprocessed organic wastes in its city landfill, they will see us as worse than syrup-suckers. They will see us as climate outlaws.

How embarrassing will that be to our Greenest City mayor?

Pic: It will take more than photo-ops, like this one posted by City Farmer, to win Vancouver the Greenest City medal.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

GVS&DD Board starts spending on a facility not yet approved by the province

I missed the GVS&DD Board meeting two weeks ago but I heard some of the news coverage.

Several media outlets reported that the Board had approved some stiff increases to our regional taxes (50% increase in 5 years!). There was also mention of the hike in the garbage tipping fees, from the current $70/tonne to $82/tonne.

But why didn't anybody mention the $440 million dollar "material and energy recovery facility"?

The Board approved the first $4 million dollars as a 2010 capital expenditure. The project is identified as a "Solid Waste Management Plan Initiative," but such a facility is not authorized under the current SWMP.

The new regional waste plan has not even been unveiled yet, let alone shared for comment by the region's municipalities, let alone approved by the province. We're still being told at all the public meetings that "no decision has been made."

In 2000, need we be reminded, Metro didn't tell anyone before going out and spending $4.5 million on a ranch to build a 100 year landfill that was also not authorized under the waste plan. Now Metro is trying to figure out how to stop bleeding money operating a ranch.

Raising buffalo may look like a good option compared to where Metro is taking us next.

Monday, November 9, 2009

EU has an oversupply of incinerators, says industry analyst

Europe has built so many incinerators that they're holding "fire sales" to attract garbage from overseas, according to a November 5, 2009, news item from the International Solid Waste Association.

Jeff Cooper wrote that Switzerland has incinerators capable of burning 105% of the waste actually produced in the country.

Germany built four million new tonnes of incinerator capacity in the past five years. Today there is overcapacity, exacerbated by the recession which is reducing waste generation. The market price for waste going to incinerators has declined throughout Germany. In the Eastern half of Germany incinerators are cutting prices down to a low of €50 per tonne (the wall still stands) while even in the south of Germany the lowest prices (around €80 per tonne) are half the market price of five years ago.

The Netherlands, like Germany, increased its incinerator capacity from 6 million tonnes to 8 million over the past two years ~ in the same period waste coming in to incineration facilities has declined from 7.5 million to 7 million tonnes, due partly to the recession.

Metro Vancouver (then GVRD) spent $4.5 million on a cattle ranch just before the BSE scare.

Now they propose 3/4 billion dollars in solid waste capital expenditures by 2019 to build shiny new facilities that we'll have to supply by importing trash from who knows where...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Port Coquitlam Mayor understands composting, now we just have to help him understand incineration...

Port Coquitlam's mayor looks good in bright green. And he earns his colours with his community's leadership in food scraps composting.

His city was the first in the region to give it a try last year, when he was on Council. Today he was a guest on Metro Vancouver's Zero Waste Breakfast panel talking about what it was like to be the Mayor taking heat for showing leadership. This month PoCo expands the program to include all kitchen waste (not just raw fruits and vegetables).

Moore said the biggest pushback was when the City switched the waste collection schedule.

Instead of collecting trash weekly and yard waste bi-weekly, they now empty the food scraps/yard waste bin weekly and the trash every other week. Citizens apparently inundated their Mayor with angry emails.

They saw this as a "reduction in service" -- until Mayor Moore phoned each angry citizen back and assured them it was the same level of service as before -- only better!

They still pick up the stuff that smells bad every week. And, of course, the trash can wait the extra week because there's less of it and it smells great!

I asked Mayor Moore if he didn't think Metro Vancouver should reconsider building big incinerators, now that our waste was dropping so fast. His reply was muddled, but the message came through that deep down he doesn't think the rest of us are going to be such super composters as his citizens (let's just show him!) and he hasn't given enough thought to incinerators to take a clear stand.

I have confidence that Mayor Moore will be a quick study. He will get it that once all the nice clean organics are gone from the trash what's left will be things that we probably shouldn't be burning at all.

Right after the Zero Waste Breakfast, Metro hosted a webinar where Dennis Rannahan said we'd be burning "composites," contaminated waste (meaning: trash that people failed to sort), plastics, textiles... Who knows what's in that stuff?? Do we want to blow it into the sky?

Maybe Mayor Gregor and Mayor Greg should have a chat. Greg can help Gregor get moving on his long-promised food scraps program (words, words, words....) and Gregor can explain why his Vision party rejected incineration on Zero Waste Vancouver's survey last fall.
Then they can both commiserate about the problem where they both committed to make a difference: homelessness.
Make no mistake, the same basic attitudes underlie both our trash problem and our homeless problem. And would we consider putting 30% of the homeless in incinerators?

Pic: Mayor Moore's blog - send him a line.