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

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.

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