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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why can't we have this kind of political leadership here?

The Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, is showing the kind of leadership that we need in our region.

Newsome teamed up with a union leader to publish a strong editorial opposing waste incineration. The article appeared December 19, 2009, in the Sacramento Bee. Here are highlights:

"Increasingly, local and state governments are adopting "zero waste" goals to counter the real dangers of climate change and worldwide resource depletion. But what does "zero waste" mean?

... There are some tempting new technologies that reduce the amount sent to landfills, but in doing so they expend vast amounts of energy and other resources.

... For each ton of paper, bottles and cans we don't recycle, we end up generating an additional 71 tons of waste to create a new ton of paper, bottles or cans. This is because 71 tons of "upstream" waste – raw material extraction, product manufacturing and distribution – is created.

That's one reason high-temperature disposal technologies are so problematic (they're called waste-to-energy, gasification, pyrolysis, plasma-arc and a few other things, but they're really just glorified incineration).

Proponents are roaming the globe to sell governments on the idea that all of our discards – plastics, food scraps, computers, almost anything – can be "converted" in a high-temperature (up to 30,000 degrees Fahrenheit) machine to produce energy.

But when we burn a ton of recyclables, we capture only a small amount of energy compared to all the upstream energy used to make those products. We lose the valuable materials that could easily be turned into new bottles, cans and other products, avoiding other environmental costs as well. And again, we generate that 71 tons of upstream solid waste to create replacement products.

Because thermal technology destroys the resources that go into it, you cannot call the energy it produces "renewable" or "green." It also leaves behind toxic ash, slag and air emissions, including putting a lot of carbon into the atmosphere.

... On a per-ton basis, studies show that recycling and composting on average reduce carbon emissions 18 times more effectively than thermal processing.

And while it is possible to capture a percentage of the greenhouse gases emitted from landfills – and while we are on the road to zero waste, we should capture as much of it as we can – we'd be better off if the materials had been recycled or made into compost.

When we turn food scraps, yard trimmings and even used, food-soiled paper into compost, which some cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles are now doing on a large scale, and apply it to farms, we replenish depleted soil with the nutrients and carbon that healthy plants desperately need.

About 90 percent of what people throw away is recyclable or compostable, and manufacturers can improve their products so we can recover even more of what's left. In a zero-waste world, there will not be much waste to burn, and most of what's left would yield little energy.

Equally important for the future of our green economy is that recycling and composting mean jobs. The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports that every additional 10,000 tons recycled translates into 10 new frontline jobs and 25 new jobs in recycling-based manufacturing. Landfilling or incinerating those tons creates only one job.

Recycling and composting have proven benefits for people and the planet; allowing you to read next month's stories on today's paper. Landfilling and incineration waste valuable resources that can never be used again. It makes no sense to burn materials or put them in a hole in the ground when these same materials can be turned into the products and jobs of the future. *
Where are our Mayors and Councillors as Metro Vancouver prepares to send potential jobs -- and our children's future resources -- up in smoke?

Pic: Newsom signs mandatory recycling ordinance last June, SF Examiner

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Study exposes failure of "single stream" recycling

Some municipalities are trying to save money by collecting recyclable materials (newspaper, magazines, junk mail, yogurt containers, bottles and cans, etc. etc. etc.) all jumbled up together in plastic bags or wheeled toters.

They have been convinced that this will increase the payload of recyclable materials ~ based on the assumption that their citizens are too lazy to sort their trash (how condescending is that?)

This is the sales pitch from the garbage industry, which is really concerned with saving itself collection costs.

And indeed, a new report from the US Container Recycling Institute (carried out by a brilliant Canadian researcher named Clarissa Morawski) looked at dozens of careful studies comparing various ways of collecting recyclable materials and concluded that single stream recycling costs more for everyone except the hauler -- and that the evidence that it actually boosts recycling volumes is only "anecdotal."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Watershed Sentinel on incinerators

The first instalment of Joyce Nelson's expose of the incinerator industry's shenanigans is running in the current issue of Watershed Sentinel.

It details how the fancy new-generation "waste-to-energy" plants don't make their profits from actually selling energy (few of them have actually managed to produce any energy). Rather, they ensure their profitability by locking municipalities into long-term contracts to supply the facilities with "fuel."

Series author Joyce Nelson quotes Dino Milli, vice-president of Quebec-based Enerkem Inc., chortling to an audience at an incinerator industry conference last summer: "Supply agreements that are fixed and long-term are virtually worth their weight in gold."

Nelson got a media pass to attend last month's national conference of the Canadian Energy from Waste Coalition and she shares further examples of this industry's business model in the next instalment of her 3-part Sentinel series coming out in January.

(That November conference was the same one where Marvin Hunt was scheduled to explain how to overcome public fears about incineration... until his trip was quietly cancelled without explanation).

Metro waste plan sends wrong signal to businesses (and residents)

The Vancouver Sun ran two columns this morning under the same headline. One was a strange piece of vitriol by the unpredictable Marc Jaccard, who indulged in vilifying environmentalists for setting "unrealistic" targets for GHG reduction (why does this man want to abuse people who could be his base if he were a bit more polite -- and if he could be a bit self-critical of his silver bullet cap-and-trade?).

The other comment, written by the CEO of the Globe Foundation, was the one with the interesting content. The important point of this article was that Harper's climate program sends the wrong signals to the business community.

"Businesses require a clear and unambigous signal that the world is finally serious about tackling global warming," wrote John E. Wiebe.

He pointed out that clear policy signals mobilize private capital and this capital will be critically needed to re-make our economy around cleaner technology. He cited Germany, Sweden and Britain as examples where clean policy has spurred investment in clean technologies.

Drawing on that insight, what kind of signal does the waste management plan presented by Metro Vancouver staff ten days ago send to investors?

The only firm, clear commitment in Metro's waste plan is to build a huge new incinerator. They even signalled the time frame: the new incinerator will be up and running in five years. The suggests that there may be more incinerators in the years to come.

Will this mobilize capital towards opportunities in organics processing, recycling, green design? The Metro plan provides no assurance that such investments will yield returns -- especially since such facilities will be operating in competition against publicly-subsidized incineration.

Zero Waste Vancouver is preparing Plan B -- a better plan for Metro Vancouver's waste. We'll take the Globe Foundation's point and build a better plan that encourages investment in waste reduction instead of waste destruction.

Yes, we can do better.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Massachusetts turns its back on incinerators

Citizen action convinced the state of Massachusetts (pop. 6.5 million) to resist pressure from the incineration industry, which wanted to overturn a 15 year moratorium on new incineration facilities. Read the story in the Boston Globe & Mail.
“We are serious about managing the waste we generate in a way that saves money for cities and towns, curbs pollution, and protects the environment,’’ said Governor Deval Patrick in a statement. “There are better ways than traditional incineration.’’

The defeat of incineration was led by a powerful coalition of 25 leading Massachusetts environmental groups including MA Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and MASSPIRG.
Lynne Pledger, one of the organizers of the campaign said: "To me the key elements that make this newsworthy are that Mass has not just rejecting more incinerators or specific gasification proposals, they are rejecting gasification out right and acknowledging that incinerators are not safe."
The Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs committed to producing a state waste plan that emphasizes recycling. Part of their plan is to bring in laws like ours in British Columbia that require producers to set up programs to recycle electronic products and empty beverage containers.

Bowles said that the state will also strengthen the moratorium by tightening up rules on the incinerators that currently burn about 27% of the waste in Massachusetts.

NOTE: The Globe story mentions in the last paragraph that part of the state's recycling strategy will be to "prod communities to increase so-called single-stream recycling, which eliminates the need for households to sort recyclables." Recyclers know that single-stream recycling is bad policy because it reduces the value of the recycled materials, among other reasons. Citizens in Massachusetts will have to get active again to steer the state away from this policy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jackson, Hunt, Hepner seek big backyard in the sky for region's garbage

BCLocal news reporter Jeff Nagel tells us that Delta Mayor Lois Jackson and Tsawwassen Chief Kim Baird are musing about their communities hosting garbage incinerators.

Any wonder we're having trouble at Copenhagen?

Jackson says: "If people find there aren't the concerns that maybe they thought there were, there may be several [cities] that come out to say 'We would like it here.'"

On Chair Jackson's watch, Metro hired a distinguished British tobacco lobbyist (scroll down to read Dr. Bridges' testimony) to reassure us that incinerators are as safe as smoking.

Bridges succeeded in convincing Metro Waste Management Committee Chair Marvin Hunt ("TRASH TALK/Surrey councillor hot for waste-to-energy proposal").

But last Friday Hunt's fellow City Councillor Linda Hepner told the Surrey Now that the garbage incinerator proposed by Hunt in downtown Surrey is "not something I would support."

Even though Councillor Hepner was one of the local politicians sent by Metro Vancouver at taxpayer expense on a junket to Sweden last summer to be wooed by the Swedish incineration industry, she seems to have come home with some qualms.

Hepner wants to ship our garbage to an "out of region" incinerator. Last Friday she insisted that Metro staff put the Gold River proposal on the table for discussion.

But she is forgetting that the atmosphere is everyone's backyard. Once we dump our garbage in the sky, there will be no hiding place.
Pic: Jules Klimaaatblog ~ check this out!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thanks to Reimer and Steves

Time to send a big shout-out to Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer and Richmond Councillor Harold Steves. (<>, <>. These two members of the Metro Board have begun to ask tough questions of Metro staff.

At last Friday's workshop, Steves asked why we were evaluating our disposal options (landfill/MBT vs incinerators) by how much energy they produce or how much money we can make from them.

"The objective should be GHG reduction," Steves said. He made the point out that plastic in an incinerator is a fossil fuel. (Responding to Steves question, CAO Johnny Carline repeated the fallacious $500/tonne cost of MBT.)

Then Andrea Reimer picked up on public polling results intended to reassure the Board that incinerators are politically popular (see slide 40 in the staff presentation which suggests that 63% of people following the issue are "leaning towards waste-to-energy").

Reimer asked: Did you use the term 'waste-to-energy' when you asked the question?

She went on: What would have been the public response if you had asked about 'mass-burn incineration.' (Metro's Ken Carrusca tried to insist that 'landfill' is also a euphemism -- and defended mass-burn incineration as a "proven" technology.)

Reimer also pressed staff on the validity of Metro's repeated claim (slide 36, 37, 38, 39...) that there is scientific consensus that there are no health risks from mass-burn incineration.

Scientists, she reminded the engineers, "won't prove a negative" -- the most they will say is that there is no evidence of a positive.

It turns out that Metro staff's claim rests in large part on a decision by the ironically-named British Health Protection Agency not to look for negative effects. The HPA position is that what we don't measure won't hurt us. (However, even the HPA report flagged the uncertainties around nanoparticles - see page 5 of their report).

Be sure to send your best wishes to Steves and Reimer:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What is MBT and why are Metro's staff so scared of it?

Metro's staff are getting desperate as they keep running into roadblocks to the huge garbage incinerators they want to build.

Last Friday they pulled out all the stops. After grudgingly agreeing -- at the Board's insistence -- to let the public sit in on a "workshop" about the new solid waste management plan, the staff switched the location of the meeting at the last minute.

Nevertheless, a handful of citizens found the crowded meeting room on the Lougheed Hwy in Burnaby and saw the long slide presentation chock full of misleading information that was developed by Metro's staff to sell the plan to the Board.

The cost issue has clearly rattled Metro's staff. Two years ago, they foolishly mentioned in their trial balloon (see Figure 9, page 11) that we'd be facing over $3 billion in costs with incinerators.

But Friday's slide show presented the bizarre assertion (all "bottom line" with no explanation) that continuing to landfill our waste will bring a "$1.5 billion cost" (their emphasis) while if we build incinerators we'll enjoy "$20 million revenue."

Never mind that even after more than 20 years we are still paying down the capital cost of the Burnaby incinerator.

But the most surprising thing to me was the effort that Metro's staff put into debunking the MBT alternative.

"MBT" (mechanical biological treatment) is a simple, low-tech process for screening and stabilizing waste before putting it in a landfill. It is being practiced more and more widely in Europe as an alternative to costly incineration. It not only extends the service life of landfills by reducing the volume of the waste, but cuts the GHG emissions from landfills by 90%.

These facts were right there in Metro's AECOM report, issued last summer.

But the AECOM report based its estimate of the cost of MBT treatment on its experience with a facility in Edmonton. This huge white elephant of a plant was built by Transalta, launched with great fanfare in 2000 as a "composting plant" -- and then sold by Transalta within a year to the City of Edmonton for $97 million.

The Edmonton facility was operated by none other than Earth Tech, a company now owned by AECOM. In 2005, Tech wrote a candid account of the facility's many problems in its design and operations.

The other MBT facility that Metro drew on for cost estimates is a facility in Halifax, also built 10 years ago.

On the basis of this limited information, Metro's staff empahsized in several slides on Friday that MBT treatment "does not add value" and is not recommended.

They clearly don't want us looking around for a state-of-the-art MBT alternative that would out-compete their mass-burn incinerators.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Editor of Solid Waste & Recycling Magazine puzzled by Metro's plan

Guy Crittenden is the long-time editor of Canada's premier recycling magazine, Solid Waste and Recycling, which is read by solid waste professionals all across North America.
Guy wrote to me yesterday about exciting developments in Ontario and Quebec.

Basically, the two provinces in central Canada with the largest populations and largest economies are adopting the very strategies that we pioneered here in British Columbia almost two decades ago. They are putting in place framework legislation similar to our Recycling Regulation that shifts responsibility for waste from local municipalities to the producers of products that made the products (called EPR or Extended Producer Responsibility).

Along with a firm commitment to EPR, these two governments are committing serious money ($650 million in QC alone) to help municipalities beef up their composting infrastructure.

I wrote back congratulating Guy and the citizens of Ontario and Quebec on this success -- and mentioned that here in Lotus Land our largest municipality is preparing to send our EPR programs up in smoke.

Here is what Guy wrote back to me:

Why would Metro Vancouver go the incineration route when the rest of the country is starting to (finally) embrace producer responsibility?

He went on: "BC has been the leader for some time in Zero Waste/EPR and it seems that Metro Vancouver is undermining the provincial policy.

Crittenden says that the draft Ontario waste diversion plan also makes it clear that incineration cannot be counted as 'diversion' (as VANOC is regrettably doing! -- more about that later).

The Ontario government's message is clear that large mass burn units won't contribute to a municipality's or an industry's waste diversion program.

(Metro's Draft Plan actually opens with a suggestion on page 5 that "the conventionally defined" diversion rate includes source separated material that is used as fuel being considered 'recycled.' Prudently, Metro stops short of counting burning as recycling in its plan, but it is clear from the Plan that this is the direction our regional engineers want our province to go.)
Pic: Editor's Blog, SW&R

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New release by Story of Stuff Project

This just in from Annie Leonard:

This morning, The Story of Stuff Project launched our brand new short film, The Story of Cap & Trade.

It's a fast-paced, fact-filled look at the leading climate change solution on the table in Copenhagen and in the halls of the US Congress. If you've heard about cap and trade, but aren't sure how it works (or who benefits), this is the film is for you!

Please take 10 minutes today to watch The Story of Cap & Trade and then check out the film website for more information and ways to get involved...