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

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Frito Lay *compostable* bag a disaster - let's learn from it

Last January the fast-food giant Frito Lay (owned by Pepsico) introduced what it claimed was a compostable chip bag. This would have been good news. It makes great sense to package food in compostable wrappings. But things went terribly wrong.

First of all, the bags aren't actually compostable. The award-winning Durham ON composting program expressly prohibits "compostable chip bags" from its green composting bins.

Second, the bags aren't recyclable either. What little biodegradable property they do have would foul up the works if they ended up in a recycled product. So that will cause problems in the Canada-wide "harmonized" recycling program for packaging proposed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment. The CCME plan expressly lumps all packaging together in one regulatory bag. How will we separate out the recyclable wheat from the compostable chaff in this new program?

And what about the environmental footprint of compostable plastic, compared for instance to alternatives such as compostable paper? Frito Lay claims the bags are made with "renewable, plant-based materials" -- but they provide no information about the energy and other environmental costs of converting the molecules in those materials into plastic.

But these concerns are not why Frito Lay is pulling the bags off the market.

The real problem with the bags, according to a story in today's Wall Street Journal, is that consumers complained that they were too noisy! The WSJ reports that consumers have "lodged fierce complaints on social-networking sites." Worse: sales of the chips are down.

What does this tell us about how far we have strayed from common sense, as we move inexorably towards Peak Oil's day of reckoning?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Don't accept dumbed-down recycling

We have to cover our left flank in the battle against incineration.

With bad advice from certain consulting firms, the producers who sell us throw-away packaging are organizing to entrench inefficient recycling programs for packaging. The programs will collect everything in one messy heap and send most of it to incinerators.

Our provincial policy, on the other hand, has been to regulate producer responsibility for products one category at a time (beverages, paint, electronics, tires, etc.) rather than lump together a whole bunch of materials ("packaging") in one category creating a non-recyclable mess.

But now, because of the influence of Ontario, which has drunk the OMMRI/CIPSI/CSR koolade and is patterning its EPR system after Europe, the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment is calling for EPR for all "packaging" like they have in Europe.

The BC ministry of environment is poised support this by bringing "packaging" in under our Recycling Regulation within the next 3 months.

This is being pitched as a plan to make producers pay the municipal cost of recycling packaging. But the real impact will be lots of "recycled" materials (if Europe is any guide) going to incinerators that pose as recycling plants.

The packaging will be sent to "MRF"s to be mechanically separated. Huge quantities of non-recyclable material will be left over after the cherry-picking. These leftovers will have no practical value except as "fuel." In the EU, producers get credit for recycling when their packaging goes to incinerators "with energy recovery."

The producers of packaged products are celebrating. The cheapest easiest way for them to get off the hook for their excess packaging is to set up a dumbed-down recycling system that minimizes sorting and doesn't hassle them to change their packaging design.

Also thrilled are the big garbage haulers who are already expanding single stream recycling in one community after another all across North America. This is a garbage hauler's dream: get paid for recycling and produce garbage (in the US, where the industry is more vertically integrated, the haulers profit at every stage).

Here in the Lower Mainland, the Surrey Metro Materials MRF is likely being set up to process all the garbage that comes back from the new packaging "recycling" program ("Thanks, Marvin!"). Covanta and the other incinerator companies are rubbing their hands in anticipation of what comes out the MRF's back door. It's part of Metro's plan. The Municipal Industrial Complex shaping our public policy and our children's options.

ACTION:Please write a letter to Penner.

Ask his ministry to:

  • issue an Intentions Paper on Packaging EPR

  • ask him to explain why we should change from our successful one product-category at a time approach to an approach that will mix all kinds of packaging together in the regulation, making it harder to establish accountability and less likely to foster innovation by producers

  • why not instead pass regulations that target the known "low hanging fruit" in packaging?

  • how about EPR for dairy containers (milk, yogurt, etc.)? or those bulky household detergents jugs & cartons? How about amending the section on consumer electronics to include packaging?

The theory is if they have to take back all that styrofoam, to say nothing of those awful clamshells for software, the industry will probably stop using them.

BOTTOM LINE: our cities and the garbage industry have to get out of the business of chasing after bottles and cans other bulky, low value packaging

It costs us a lot of money to collect containers, and yet it contributes very little to actual diversion - because containers don't actually add up to that much waste despite their bulkiness and annoyingness.

Let our cities get busy instead collecting organics/food waste -- and keep on collecting newspapers (Blue Bag) and mixed papers (Yellow Bag). Think about it: these are easy to understand, easy to collect in our city trucks. They have established markets right here in BC.

And lets go after the producers of products that come in easy-to-recycle packaging. Make them set up a system for doing that, instead of taking a free ride in the Blue Box. They'll figure out how to do it.

Over time, all that will be left in the garbage is those annoying blister packs that can't be recycled. When the easy-to-recycle low hanging fruit is not in the garbage any more, you will be able to see who's causing all the trouble. No brand-owner wants to see its brand on garbage!

Here's Penner's email: "Barry Penner, Minister"

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hey, Campbell Company of Canada!

We consume a lot of Pace Picante Sauce in our household. Great big jars like this one. We go one of these every two weeks. (Black beans and rice is our meat and potatoes.)

We were really glad when the company switched from #7/"Other" plastic to #1/PETE. I am interpreting the move as a sign that Campbell sees the writing on the wall -- pretty soon they will have to take back these bottles, and maybe even give me a cash refund.

Since they're coming back, Campbell probably thought, might as well make them with recyclable plastic that we can make some money on.

But for goodness' sake, look at that neck ring! Not only does it get picante sauce stuck in it (see it there?) -- it is also made of HDPE.

Let's see what they can come up with in Version 3.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Will BIAs lead the revolution in waste management?

A revolution in waste management might be at hand -- and the unlikely group leading it could end up being our local BIAs (Business Improvement Associations). They are the biggest customers of the garbage industry and they could drive needed change in the service mix provided by that industry.

BIAs are beginning to understand that we took a wrong turn a hundred years ago when our waste system became oversimplified, resulting in 20th Century "state of the art" waste management looking like the photo above.
Dumpsters and the monster front-loading trucks that service them are not only a blight to today's gentrifying downtowns. They are the reason that businesses in our region are laggards in recycling. Businesses using dumpsters include the property management companies in apartment buildings as well as small and large local businesses -- to say nothing of the ubiquitous construction companies with dumpsters on worksites. Together they produce 3/4 of the garbage in our region, largely because they use dumpsters instead of separating their wastes.
Five years ago a half-dozen of Vancouver's downtown BIAs tried to fix this problem by working together to get rid of the dumpster. They were following the lead of Seattle and Kelowna, which are already enjoying benefits from going "dumpster free."
Things were progressing well until the recession hit. At that point, the garbage hauler that the BIAs had signed on to deliver the new services presented a revised estimate of the cost. The current economy and failing recycling markets meant a huge jump in cost for recycling. And so the plan was scrapped.
But now there has been a new policy development.
By 2015 all those businesses will be prohibited from putting "compostable organics" in their dumpsters. This could be a total game changer.
Unlike recycling, compost doesn't rely on volatile global commodities markets. Metro Vancouver is busy putting local organics processing facilities in place. There will soon be strong, ongoing, recession-proof local demand for feedstock. There is a whole range of local uses for compostable materials ranging from soil amendments to biogenic fuel.
The requirement for separate organics collection will force the garbage industry to provide businesses with convenient, low-cost alternatives to the dumpster.
Could we see micro-scale solutions that fit with gentrified city alleyways? I'm picturing vast fleets of United We Can bicycles collecting trailerloads of fresh organic wastes from neighbourhood restaurants and produce stores and hauling them to local mini-processing plants that supply soil for the City's 2,010 new community gardens...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The kids are all right

Metro politicians really let us down this summer.

Check out this video and answer this question: will the Metro Board's incinerators help solve our problem? What is going to be left the kid who made this video and the rest of his generation if we burn their inheritance...

It's not over until the Minister signs off -- he's waiting to hear from us:

Monday, August 16, 2010

Prattfall by the Metro Board

When the Metro Board was fumbling around looking (in vain, it turned out) for a reasonable resolution to the total confusion created by their staff around the future of waste in this region, I was flying in an airplane. The news caught up with me in Montreal that our politicians had utterly failed to rise to the occasion, delivering instead a decision that was even more incoherent than the staff recommendations.

They couldn't choose between in-region incineration or out-of-region incineration. So they chose both -- with a landfill thrown in for good measure. Steadfastly, they ignored the voices of their own citizens, saying let us prove that we can cut our waste so we won't need a new waste facility.

A moment of real possibility. And we blew it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The crass exploitation of Lois Jackson

Lois Jackson is perfectly capable of looking out for herself, but I don't think she realizes how she is being exploited by senior Metro staff in their effort to pursue an agenda that is entirely their own.

Jackson is the only politician in our region (with the exception of Marvin Whatsisname) who has taken a strong stand in favour of the "waste-to-energy" agenda. All the other politicians have been very skillful at avoiding profile on this issue. But Jackson, once again this week, has put her political career on the line by backing the incinerator plan.

Metro Vancouver staff sometimes refer to our regional politicians as "the temporary help." Temporary because, after all, they come and go with the political winds, whereas the professionals on senior staff can survive for decades. Temporary, too, because they only come in once or twice a month -- busy the rest of the time with their real jobs representing the interests of their municipalities.

Metro staff brilliantly exploited Mayor Jackson's love-hate relationship with the Vancouver landfill (hate the concept, but love the millions of dollars in royalties and free dumping) to recruit her as an incinerator backer. They have convinced her - somehow - that turning the Vancouver landfill into a permanent dump for toxic ash is going to be a win for her community.

Staff are counting on Jackson's well-deserved personal popularity on the Board and her high profile as the Board Chair to convince fence-sitters on the Board to vote their way on Friday. What Jackson doesn't seem to see is that she will lose no matter which way the vote goes.

If the Board votes with her to approve an in-region incinerator, Jackson will be the lightning rod when it inevitably comes time to site the first facility in someone's community.

And if the Board turns down her recommendation on Friday and votes for a plan that says the burning is OK but it should be in someone else's backyard, Jackson will lose face (and the politically ambitious Chair of the Waste Management Committee will win a point).

The third alternative -- a majority vote that rejects the positions of both the popular Metro Board Chair and the promising Waste Committee Chair -- seems increasingly unlikely. It is late in the day for the Temporary Help to muster the political will to take back the region's waste policy from the bureaucrats.

But you never know.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Beyond incineration

The important question before us now that Metro's incinerators are pretty much off the rails is this: What will we do instead of building incinerators?

Our recycling programs are failing. The formulation that waste is a "resource" is rooted in a 19th Century economic world view. Just as we set up industries to plunder our natural resources (forests, fisheries, mineral deposits) for a quick financial return, we are setting up recycling programs that squander far more value than they conserve. We are culling bales of low-grade commodities from our garbage and selling them off cheap on the global market -- and the irony is: we don't even get much return (recycling has a net cost of $190 million a year!).

Meanwhile at every month's end, I am told by those who know, there are long line-ups at the garbage transfer stations. People are bringing stuff by the truckload that they don't want to take with them when they move. Perfectly good pots and pans, furniture, building materials, clothing, etc., etc., etc. These are things that have far greater value -- if exchanged -- than dirty plastic or old newspapers.

As we approach Peak Oil, and supply lines are cut off and we can no longer rely on the constant flow of cheap goods from Asia (sorry, Gateway), the inventory of stuff in our basements and closets is going to be hugely valuable. What are our cities going to do to help us "steward" those goods, so they can create new cycles of economic activity in our communities?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Metro doesn't get it

Metro's waste plan could have been written in 1990. It is completely uninformed by all the important developments that have happened over the past 20 years. It's like they've been in a time warp.

This province is setting the pace for North America -- even the world -- in Extended Producer Responsibility, which will eliminate waste by shifting waste management from a public bail-out to a strict producer/consumer responsibility.

Through EPR, we could be the leaders in re-visioning recycling, so it becomes part of the shopping experience rather than part of the garbage collection experience.

If we do it right, producers will be courting consumers with enticements to bring back their worn-out products so they can be safely "stewarded" from cradle to cradle. Retailers are already showing signs of recognizing this opportunity: London Drugs taking back styrofoam, retailers making a commitment to cut plastic bag use in half.

But Metro is doing it wrong. Rather than building on these promising starts, Metro is proposing welfare for waste.
Metro's recycling innovation: a bunch of publicly funded Eco-Centres. These centres will compete against EPR. They will steal business from the small businesses that could provide better service at no cost to the taxpayer. Corinne Atwood, Executive Director of the BC Bottle Depot Association, made an impassioned statement at the Metro consultation session in Delta last week. She -- and I -- want to see the recycling industry grow, but Metro will kill it.

The rest of the world is looking to British Columbia to show the way to cradle-to-cradle EPR recycling. Metro's ill-conceived public Eco Centres will fail at recycling and their staggeringly costly public incinerators will turn the next generation's resources into Greenhouse Gas.

Surely we can do better. After four years of trying to talk sense to Metro, Zero Waste Vancouver is going to give up and start working with local municipalities to pursue the vision of community economic development that EPR promises. Municipalities will fill the gap that Metro has left.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Municipalities busy solving waste problem while Metro dithers

Metro Vancouver is increasingly living in a world of its own, isolated from the reality unfolding all around it.

Two cities have openly challenged the regional government's proposed solid waste management plan. More cities will defect as the preposterous cost and risk of Metro's proposal become clear.

And meanwhile, our cities are busy building programs to eliminate the million tonnes of "non-recyclable waste" that Metro wants to burn.

Half the waste in our region is compostable organics. Port Coquitlam and Port Moody are already reducing their waste by collecting food scraps for composting. The City of Vancouver is prepared to ban compostable organics from disposal in a mere 5 years. By that time there will be composting plants and anaerobic digestion facilities across the region turning these materials into soil amendments and truly clean energy. Abbotsford has already approved a special facility to turn agriculatural manure into clean energy through anaerobic digestion.

The other half of our waste is the throw-away products and packaging that have become a hallmark of our Disposable Society. But these, too, are not inevitable. Policies are in place to make them obsolete.

A ground-breaking waste reduction policy pioneered in British Columbia two generations ago when the Social Credit Party introduced North America's first mandatory deposit refunds on beer and soft drink containers will end the municipal responsibility for cleaning up after the producers of throw-away products.

Producers are being called to the table one sector of industry at a time, and told to take back their products and recycle them: old paint, old televisions and computers, used oil, tires -- soon any appliance with a cord will go back to be recycled instead of ending up in our municipal waste system. The current minister of environment has told municipalities that ultiimately provincial law will require producer responsibility for all products and packaging.

Our municipal and provincial governments are busy solving the waste problem while Metro Vancouver is still caught in a time-warp.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cities defecting from Metro's incinerator plan

Two data points don't make a trend yet, but Metro staff are probably not going to be pleased that a second city appears to be defecting from the region's incinerator plan.

Coquitlam Council's Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Environment received a report on Monday that is sharply critical of assumptions in Metro's proposed waste management plan and recommends asking the Metro Board to develop a better case for building incinerators.

The report presents a number of "issues that are yet to be resolved," mainly relating to Metro's projections of the actual cost of incineration compared to other options. The report calls for Metro to either put out a request for proposals with detailed cost estimates or have an independent review of Metro staff's assumptions.

Cost and risk are important issues for the region's municipalities.

"Local ratepayers will have to carry the full cost of capital and operations [of new disposal facilities] as it is highly unlikely that other levels of government will participate in capital cost-sharing, unlike in other Metro Vancouver services where senior governments often assist with capital costs."

(Metro's draft plan proposes senior government financial support.)

The report also covers a number of measures that Coquitlam is undertaking right now to reduce waste, including a going city-wide with a comprehensive composting program. A successful pilot this year found that the city-wide program could cut disposal costs by $70K per year.

Pic: Lou Sekora, long-time Coquitlam politician who leads the city's Regional Solid Waste Solutions Standing Committee appointed by the Mayor.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

E-waste program success story?

In BC we take computers back to be recycled in a program that is authorized by Sony, Dell, HP, Apple, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

All those good names and logos are on the line that our e-waste won't end up in the place pictured here.

This is the place where our federal government sent its e-waste until good work by the Basel Action Network brought images like this home.

The timing couldn't have been better. British Columbia's landmark, earth-changing Industry Product Stewardship legislation was shining the spotlight on major brand-owners, calling them to the table, saying: "This is your problem. Solve it."

The brand-owners got the message. Seeing the handwriting on the wall -- that they were going to have to take back e-waste and recycle it -- they developed a sheet of Vendor Qualifications setting out for the recycling companies wanting to do business with them what could, and couldn't, happen to all those products bearing their brands. What couldn't happen was prison labour or export to non-OECD/EU countries (such as China).

The Electronic Stewardship Association of BC is the group of brand-owners that oversees what happens to ewaste in our province. They are asking their Advisory Committee (on which Zero Waste Vancouver has a seat) what should be their priorities for the coming year when they sit down in the fall to develop an Annual Plan for 2011.

What should I tell them on your behalf?

For myself, I'm going to ask them what they are doing to avoid the public relations disaster being suffered this week by the Ontario government, which is allowing e-waste to end up in landfills.

Friday, April 23, 2010

plastic teabags?????

Day One of Vancouver's new food scraps composting program:

Bev Ramey of Nature Vancouver & BC Nature writes that she has found ghosts of past teabags all over her garden.

Turns out some company has switched from biodegradable to nylon teabags. Bev put them in her compost bin all last year. Can someone find out who that company is, so we can start sending them emails?


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Metro is hiding data on waste quantities

At last Friday's meeting of the Metro Board I requested specific information that should be made available to the public before the consultation on the regional waste plan begins.

I was speaking of information requested in a letter of April 1, 2010, signed by myself and three others and copied to all members of the Board as well as the Minister of Environment and other interested parties.

I said to the Board that it was impossible for the public to evaluate the propsed waste plan without this information.

One of the things we asked for was the annual solid waste management plan reports for the years 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

At the meeting, I held up a copy of the Annual Report from 2004. It is no longer accessible on Metro's website. And it was the last Annual Report ever published, as far as I know.

Why are these reports so important?

Metro is basing its case for building a huge incinerator on the premise that we are running out of landfill space. They have been instilling fear in the region for years that we are about to be buried under a tide of garbage if we don't act quickly to build new disposal facilities.

Metro introduced its draft plan by saying (see page 3 of 13 of this report) that "waste quantities in Metro Vancouver are increasing every year as the population expands and particularly since 2004 when the economic fortunes of the region improved."

Far from being substantiated by annual reports, this claim was actually contradicted by a staff report to the Metro Finance Committee in July 2009 (Item 5.1, page 23 of 72).

This report advised the Committee that the waste disposal "tipping fee" has to be raised from $71/tonne to $82/tonne this year because of "declining waste flows".

The report advised the Committee that, along with declining waste flows, another factor that will drive up household costs still further (to as high as $126 per household by the year 2014) is "[t]he financial impacts of the current draft of the Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP) which is currently in the consultation process."

"In particular," the report explains, "the [rate increase] projection reflects the debt service costs associated with the projected construction of new waste management facilities at a cost estimated, at this stage, to be likely in excess of $700 million...."

This report not only contradicts Metro's public messaging about our waste, it also discloses the huge financial risk we will incur if we build too much disposal capacity at huge public cost.

Is our waste growing -- or declining? If it's declining, why are they proposing we go out and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new incinerators that we may not need? Why won't Metro show us the actual data about our waste?

The Board listened politely to my presentation, but took no action on our request.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Vancouver takes a stand against Metro's incinerator plan

It was a remarkable reversal of the evasive namby-pambyness that has been the hallmark of Metro politicians in their public statements about our region's proposed waste plan.

The City of Vancouver came into last Friday's showdown meeting of the Metro Board with four amendments to the region's plan before it went out for consultation.

Vancouver's amendments were not adopted by the Board (they were "deferred to Committee" in one last gesture of timidity by the Metro Board) but they are going to prove a game-changer. They were accurately deemed "contrary to the motion" on the floor (meaning that they fundamentally altered the Plan).
But the Vancouver Amendments will be appended to the plan when it goes out for public consultation. And they are sure to be the focus of public interest because they finally speak to the real needs of our region.

Here they are:
  • set a waste reduction target - Vancouver proposed a 56% reduction in waste generation (from 1.65 tonnes to 1.1 tonnes of waste per capita per year). Presently the Plan contains only a "diversion" target to increase the percentage of waste we recycle. But embedded in the Plan is an assumption that our waste will actually increase in the years to come, justifying the construction of the big new incinerator.

  • ban all compostable organics from disposal - this sends a clear policy signal to everyone in the region that we are serious about reducing our waste and about reducing the horrific climate impacts of our landfills through simple measures that everyone can understand and contribute to.

  • ban all commercial wood waste from disposal - this will cut an additional 90,000 tonnes of waste from public waste facilities, in addition to reducing the appalling wastefulness of the construction industry in our wood-producing province.

  • remove "combustion" from the waste-to-energy options - this is the coup de grace. It would leave some niche forms of energy recovery on the table, but prohibit the traditional mass-burn incineration that is currently proposed.

The Vancouver Amendments may be the instruments for derailing a plan that has been sliding towards approval for three years -- despite being fundamentally out of step with public desire for waste reduction.

Vancouver may have created the space for other political leaders to step forward and take a stand for real waste reduction. It may grate on some suburban politicians to be annexed into the "Green Capital" -- but their alternative will be to make a convincing case for spending a half-billion dollars on a waste incinerator when schools, parks and libraries are being cut back.

Pic: Vancouver Green Capital

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Metro politicians begin asking staff hard questions

Metro politicians are raising good questions about the proposed Solid Waste Management Plan. And they are not getting good answers.
First Vancouver Councillor Heather Deal pointed out that 93% of the money in the new plan seems to be directed to burning and burying waste, and only 7% allocated for the plan's first two goals: minimizing waste generation and maximizing reuse, recycling and material recovery.

And then Deal noted that 91% of that 7% is directed to the establishment of "Eco-Centres."

At a cost of up to $14 million dollars each, Deal sensibly asked: what performance targets have you set for these centres? what level of waste diversion will they contribute?

To which staff, if you can believe it, had no answer. The plan provides no information about what an "eco-centre" is. But staff confirmed that the first one will start up in Surrey in 2010.

(This could come as bad news to the established recycling businesses that pay taxes in Surrey, which would now have to compete against a publicly run facility duplicating their services.)

Then it was West Van Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones who raised her hand. She wanted to know why the "Financial Plan" within the waste plan was alloted less than half a page. "This is not a financial plan," she said. "I hesitate to receive this report."

CAO Johnny Carline replied that you don't normally include financial information in plans "because you would be tied to that," Plans are "strategic documents."

But at Goldsmith-Jones' insistence, Carline committed to bring back further financial detail to the meeting in two weeks time when the Board is intended to sign off on the plan.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

BC leads -- let's lead further

Today, after a show of unanimous bi-partisan support in the Maine legislature, the first extended producer responsibility "framework" legislation, LD 1631, was signed into law by Governor John Baldacci.

Not only is this the first framework law in the nation, but the bill passed the legislature unanimously.

Business, environmental groups and legislators came together to make it happen.

Product Policy Institute has been working for five years to bring the framework producer responsibility approach to the U.S. We developed the model framework producer responsibility legislation that was the starting point for Maine and several other states. The movement is beginning to take hold. We’re excited to see it finally bearing fruit in Maine.

It’s especially significant that the business and environmental communities worked together to make it happen. Read PPI’s press release, and NRCM’s release. To Rep. Walsh Innes, Matt Prindiville and Chris Jackson: You rock!

The legislation that has now been passed in Maine, and is in play in several additional states, is modelled after British Columbia's recycling regulation.

As the Board President of the Product Policy Institute, I have travelled as far as Australia explaining our "made-in-BC" solution to the garbage problem. We are recognized as leaders all over the world for the BC legislation that gave rise to our successful "Extended Producer Responsibility" (EPR) programs for beverage containers and a whole list of household products, with the list growing every year.

Our blueprint is now being used to build new programs to get products out of landfills in other places.

Three quarters of the waste in our landfill is products & packaging, for which there will one day be EPR programs. The other quarter is compostable organics.

EPR + composting = Zero Waste.

Unless we build an incinerator and let the producers off the hook.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Metro staff continue to bungle waste file

Things appear to be in complete disarray over at Metro Vancouver.

At last week's meeting of the waste committee, Commissioner Johnny Carline did the same thing he did several years ago when he was trying to steer through a 100-year landfill in Ashcroft without public support. He suddenly laid on politicians a recommendation that seemed to completely contradict all his previous advice.

In both cases, politicians were put in a very awkward position. They were confused, divided, and incapable of governing confidently.

In the earlier instance Carline called an unscheduled meeting of the waste committee (December 7, 2004). There was only one item on the agenda: a last-minute recommendation during the environmental assessment process (EAO) to add a second liner to the proposed landfill at an additional cost of $20 million, even though politicians had been assured all along that a single liner would suffice. Here is what I recorded as the comment by Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan:

"I don’t like being ambushed like this at such a late stage here in the EAO process. These are exactly the kinds of decisions that I don’t want to make at the last minute. If the science-based decision was right, then I don’t want to spend $20 million just for political reasons. There is no way we’ll satisfy the opponents of the landfill with this. This action could be used by the opponents as evidence that the costs will be more than we thought for the landfill. If the science-based decision was wrong, then why didn’t staff bring it to us earlier? Why couldn’t staff provide an accurate budget earlier. Maybe we should be evaluating whether the project should go forward at all."

Pitt Meadows' Don Maclean also voted against Carline's recommendation.

When the recommendation went to the Metro Board later that month, it provoked more anguished discussion and then failed. The Board actually voted against their CAOs recommendation.

Last week, after piles of "scientific" evidence supporting the development of an in-region incinerator, Carline suddenly recommended to the waste committee that the plan be amended to allow an out-of-region incinerator as a back-up option.

Again, there was much confusion at the table. Read about it in Jeff Nagel's coverage for Black Press.

No wonder the Minister intervenes!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Metro politicians looking for places to cut? Start with a half-billion dollar incinerator.

At today's meeting of the Metro Waste Committee the taxpayer burden was very much on our politicians' minds.

They're faced with billions of dollars in urgent needs -- Translink, upgrades to the sewage system, the water treatment system. It goes on and on. When, our politicians wondered aloud , are our local taxpayers going to revolt?

While they were anguishing over this, Johnny Carline (CAO) introduced the topic of whether the new Solid Waste Management Plan should allow the use of out-of-region incineration as a back-up plan to in-region incineration. (cost: an extra 30% by Metro's own reckoning - but Carline didn't mention this).
If our politicians are looking for a place to trim public costs, isn't the incinerator project where they should be starting?

Why are we even talking about going into debt to clean up a mess that should be handled by the producers of throw-away products and packaging? What about producer responsibility?

Incinerators not only let producers off the hook -- they do it at taxpayer cost. Darrell Mussato (North Van City) noted that EPR programs get municipalities out of paying the high cost of waste management. Then the moment passed.
But when the penny drops that building a big incinerator is going to be a public hand-out to the corporations that Derek Corrigan (Burnaby) and Joe Trasolini (Port Moody) were rightly criticizing as not interested in waste reduction, we may see a turn-around.
Write a quick note of encouragement!
Pic: Darrell Mussato

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mayor Corrigan: is the Burnaby incinerator a good neighbour?

It's a point of pride to Metro that many folks are unaware we have a garbage incinerator right here in the region.

But the fact is that the Burnaby incinerator has been destroying resources and pumping out emissions since 1988. It is owned by Metro Vancouver and operated under a contract to a private company. That private company has changed hands three times within my memory.

Now the contract is owned by the largest incinerator company in the world, Covanta (the same company pushing a new incinerator in Gold River).

Watch this video to learn more about Covanta.

When Covanta "acquired" the contract to operate the Burnaby incinerator I wondered if Metro would be able to terminate the deal because of uncertainty about Covanta's record. As far as I know, the subject never came up (though we would never know because the public is always shut out of discussions about contracts).

Along with incurring fines for pollution, Covanta has also provoked a campaign by unions seeking "Justice for Covanta Workers."

Does this sound like the kind of company that Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan and his Council would seek out to be their neighbour? Send Mayor Corrigan a quick email and ask him what he thinks of Covanta's record:

Pic: Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan

Monday, March 8, 2010

Carline still pushing incinerators down the Fraser Valley's throat

Even as spring breaks out all over, with food scrap composting programs blooming across the Lower Mainland, I am told that Metro Vancouver CAO Johnny Carline is still fanning the flames of incineration, slandering the science that questions the rationality of burning the furniture to heat the house.

Here's what the legendary Paul Connett, slayer of dragons across the world, says about how to beat incinerators:

"In our experience you don't beat incinerators with lawyers or experts but by mobilizing the public to put excruciating pressure on your politicians. This approach has served us well from the USA to China. I like to say in my presentations that 'effecting change is like driving a nail through a piece of wood, experts can sharpen the nail but you need the weight of public opinion to drive the nail home'."

Right now, Carline is organizing a campaign to put excruciating pressure on Abbotsford Councillor Patricia Ross, the Chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District, who has been fighting for clean air in the Valley for a decade - first against the Sumas 2 burner and now against Metro's incinerators. Send her a quick email of support:

Pic: Councillor Ross in Grist Magazine, August 2001

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Will Vancouver come from behind to win gold?

You might have noticed I took 2 weeks off. It was time well spent cleaning the garage -- and watching the unfolding of our remarkable Olympics from a distance.

When I left my desk back in the darkness of February, when the Olympics were still a legitimate subject for whining, the one bright spot was that Metro Vancouver's incinerator plan seemed to be coming off the rails.

There was no more "landfill crisis" driving the construction of garbage burners because the province extended the life of the Cache Creek Landfill. On top of that, the recession had clearly taken a big bite out of the garbage. I learned today that the shipments of trash to Cache Creek are down from forty truckloads a day to 28. Cities that had foolishly invested in incinerators are running out of fuel.

And now I come back to my desk, flush from our community's truly endearing success hosting the Winter Olympics (Transit is Fun!) and, like everyone else, I am feeling that we are capable of achieving great things.

The first email I open this week tells me that the City of Vancouver is going to hit the ground running and bump Port Coquitlam from the top podium in Zero Waste. A staff report will go to Vancouver City Council tomorrow setting out a 3-step program for cutting our waste in half.

By this time next year, residential garbage service will be scaled back from weekly to bi-weekly. How will we do it? By getting serious about food waste. Vancouver has drunk the kool-ade, as they say. PoCo got off the blocks first, but we are going to come from behind and win gold.

Kelly Sinoski reports in today's Vancouver Sun that the field of contenders in the Food Scrap Composting race is getting crowded, with a half-dozen cities rolling out new programs. But what will give Vancouver the edge, based on this report, is the staff's recommendation to seriously beef up communications and "community based social marketing."

What drives excellence in any race is good training. It looks like the City is ready to invest in helping us Own the Podium.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Netherlands puts a moratorium on incineration

Using the interesting regulatory approach distinct to the country, Netherlands has signed a "covenant" that no new incineration capacity will be built in that country.

Why? Because they have too much incineration capacity. The recession -- with declining waste volumes -- shot many European countries over the optimal capacity.

Netherlands is also legally rebranding their top-performing incinerators as energy "recovery plants" in hopes that they can recover some of their costs by importing waste from other countries. That sucking sound you hear in Europe is waste flowing in from across national borders.

We still have time to get ahead of the curve, not build excess capacity in the first place, and put our effort into real recycling.

Will we be clever enough to do that?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Taking back the news

Alter-net news sources are proliferating. The latest to come to my attention is, a feisty brand-new venue for Sunshine Coast citizens to rant against the people at Sunshine Coast Regional District who run their waste system.

A photo of one of SCRD's drop-off recycling stations graced a post to this blog a couple years ago, sent to me by a local recycling business operator, Buddy Boyd of Gibsons Recycling. Buddy has been in constant battle with SCRD over their program of dumbed-down single-stream recycling and transporting the mess to distant recycling plants, effectively bypassing Buddy's local business.

Now it turns out SCRD is maneuvering to shut down the landfill in Pender Harbour, directing that community's trash to its own landfill in Sechelt instead. In an unusual twist, citizens in Pender Harbour are organizing a Yes In My Backyard campaign -- and using very reasoned arguments to do so. Read all about it in the News section of

Citizens of this province are taking matters into our own hands. We are writing our own news -- and making our own decisions about what happens to our rubbish.

Pic: Illegal dumping on Sechelt Band land by SCRD's garbage contractor. Source: SustainableCoast

Time for Metro Vancouver to forget about incineration, get going on composting

Canada figures prominently in a survey of North American cities that have moved "beyond recycling" and are providing composting programs for organic wastes -- but BC is hardly on the map.

Of the 121 cities surveyed, 55 were Canadian, but only one was British Columbian. (The BC city that made the survey? It was Mission - a community that has been collecting food scraps separately since the 1990s.)

The major cities in BC are late entrants to food scrap composting. None had the track record to make the EPA survey. Vancouver, which touts itself as the Greenest City, hasn't even left the starting blocks.

The EPA report offers a rich mix of lessons learned by these 121 communities over the years.

While our waste management officials dither about what kind of incineration technology to choose, other cities are cutting their waste in half at a fraction the cost to burn it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The hypocrisy of energy from waste

I woke up today with a severe case of White Guilt.

I am a citizen in a community where my politicians and waste engineers are fatuously promoting waste as "renewable fuel" to heat our gleaming downtowns.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan -- rightly respected by his citizens as a champion of workers' rights -- is insisting that his community has no problem with the waste incinerator that produces valuable steam and electricity there.

Meanwhile the workers producing that fuel are dying from chemical exposure.

It's bad enough that we have squandered our children's share of the planet's supply of fossil fuels. Now we are preparing to compound the offence by building a new energy system that relies on a continuing flow of cheap goods from the so-called Developing World.

And we are protected from guilt by science.

Is this the Greenest City we want to build?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Giants of garbage staking claim on our organics

As reported a couple days ago, the garbage industry is recognizing that landfilling is "flatlining" and they are looking for future growth opportunities. The biggest one looming is biodegradable organics -- up to half our waste is biodegradable and there is big money to be made as local communities get serious about keeping these volatile materials out of landfills.

Already, Wall Street and the Giants of Garbage are laying claim to the territory.

Fraser Richmond Soil and Fibre was their first target. It is a family owned company (mainly in the business of hauling wood chips) that has been processing Metro Vancouver yard trimmings for the past several years. The company just signed a modest contract with Metro to process 50,000 tonnes of mixed food scraps and yard trimmings. The City of Vancouver will shortly announce that they have signed a separate contract and will begin shipping mixed yard trimmings and food scraps in the spring.

This was enough for Fraser Richmond to be snapped up by a bigger company called Harvest Power.

With typical Wall Street hype, Harvest is describing this primitive little facility as "the largest composting facility in North America."

Also, Harvest Power touts itself as a company with "industry leading technologies" but it turns out Fraser Richmond is the only plant they have "up and running." And the Fraser Richmond facility is in fact a very simple windrow composting operation that has never done the anaerobic digestion process that Harvest is marketing as its key product.

Now Harvest has signed a deal with garbage giant Waste Management Inc.

Is this a sign that the garbage industry is re-inventing itself as a composting industry -- or will all this go up in a puff of Wall Street smoke and mirrors?

Friday, January 22, 2010

When corporations leave town

Today's news that the Catalyst's two recycling mills in BC will close is an opportunity to consider the bizarre reality of global marketing -- and the continuing impacts on local communities.

Two decades ago I wrote a newsletter for the Recycling Council of BC that was prompted by a call from Newstech Recycling, as Catalyst was called then. They were ramping up production of recycled newspaper to satisfy growing demand in the US, where we sell most of our newsprint. Their problem was obtaining adequate quantities of recycled newspapers in good enough condition to use in their recycling plants.

Looking into the background of that story I learned that Canada supplied almost 2/3 of the world's newsprint. We were emptying our forests to provide groundwood pulp and paper to countries that didn't have forests.

But the upsurge in demand for recycled paper created serious problems for our industry -- and potentially for our environment.

I calculated that if Canada shifted to just 10% recycled content in all the newspaper we produce to meet that demand, we would have to import staggering quantities of old newspapers (I've forgotten the exact figures) to use as feedstock in our mills.

Furthermore, the amount of toxic ink washed out of the old newspaper to prepare it for recycling would be greater the total tonnage of old newspapers that we throw out ourselves here in Canada. By becoming recyclers of the world's newsprint, we would end up importing far more waste than we avoid.

Any surprise that Catalyst set up a paper recycling mill in Arizona, right next door to the vast "urban forest" in California? It makes much more sense to put the recycling plant where the supply of old newspaper is.

Since the early 1990s when I wrote that newsletter, Canada's share of the global newsprint market has dropped from 62% to 53%, reflecting the rise in recycling. The companies like Catalyst can just shift their assets to where the market exists. But our forests and the communities they supported are left behind to start all over again.

Even with the decline in Canada's share of the market there is still a huge imbalance when a country with 0.5% of the world's population supplies over half of the world's newspaper. This system is going to crumble, piece by piece, one plant at a time.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Big shake-up on Metro Waste Committee

Today brings yet another sign that Metro's waste plan is off the rails.

Surrey Councillor Marvin Hunt -- the chief champion of incinerators -- was demoted from the chair of the Waste Management Committee. Metro Board Chair Lois Jackson, who makes the appointments, told BC Local News reporter Jeff Nagel: "Marvin's been there for a long time and we've been having some difficulties concluding this file. Maybe some new ideas and a fresh look will assist us."

I don't think Hunt deserves all the blame for the mess we're in. It has been my observation that almost all the Metro Board members have been allowing their staff to lead them deeper and deeper, one breadcrumb at a time, into the dark forest they find themselves in now, with no clear path out. They have assented to a series of staff recommendations that shut off debate and drew needed resources from better courses of action.

And this Board is not alone. For a hundred years elected officials all over North America have been relying on their professional staff for guidance in utility decisions. Like most citizens, politicians have very little understanding of the technical issues around waste management. When I started going to Waste Management Committee meetings, the meetings wrapped up so fast I hardly got a chance to pull out my agenda. All of the staff recommendations were approved essentially without discussion, sometimes bundled together and approved all at once as a "consent agenda."

But things have changed on that committee in the past few years. The meetings can go on for several hours of lively discussion.

My impression is that politicians are beginning to realize that we are in a paradigm shift here. Progressive waste policy is acknowledging that the old solutions have patently failed. Public programs to guarantee convenient removal of anything the resident puts out at the curb, no questions asked, is one of the root causes of our Throw-Away Society. Wasting has become normalized. (Never mind that we produce 13 times more garbage than our grandparents did.)

Ask Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, who has just been appointed to replace Hunt at the head of the waste committee.

Mayor Moore is taking political heat in his community for scaling back garbage collection to once every two weeks. Quite a few angry citizens feel a sense of entitlement to waste as much as they want. Never mind that PoCo is offering scaled up organics service to compensate for the scaled back garbage service.

This makes Mayor Moore an interesting pick for waste committee chair. He is the one politician in the region who seems ready to spend real political capital helping his community become a leader in the 21st Century Zero Waste approach. Maybe he can build some teamwork on that committee and spread the vision region-wide.

Metro claims about waste growth contradict waste industry's assessment

When the US EPA issued its latest annual update on waste trends in November 2009, the waste industry's largest trade publication saw the handwriting on the wall.

The article in the December 1, 2009, issue of Waste Age said: "The growth trend between 1960 and 1980 suggested that both the amount of waste generated and landfilled would grow dramatically in subsequent years. However, while 249.6 million tons of MSW [municipal solid waste] were generated in 2008, only 135.1 million tons of that material was disposed in landfills. Disposal at landfills essentially flatlined for the past three decades."

The EPA study also reports (page 9) that incineration has flatlined since 1990. In fact, the amount of waste incinerated declined, per-capita, from a high of just under one pound per person per day in 1990 to just over half a pound in 2008. Less than 13% of US waste is incinerated, a percentage that has also declined since 1990.

The US EPA figures on waste disposal are national averages, showing the broad trends in the United States. But they are entirely consistent with the data from Metro Vancouver's own local waste composition reports, cited in this blog yesterday. Waste disposal here has also flatlined.

Next year's numbers will show a drop in landfill volumes which will last until the recession is over. This is not a good time to be investing in new disposal capacity.

Organics composting is a "recession-proof" waste market. Unlike recycling, composting doesn't rely on global commodity markets. The markets are right here in our own backyard.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tide turns on Metro's incineration plan

It took a few days for the penny to drop but the press seems to be approaching a consensus that Metro's incineration plan is "burning out."

Those were the words of Province reporter Brian Lewis, published yesterday under the headline "Extension buries incinerator proposal." The previous day Coquitlam's former Mayor (and current City Councillor) Lou Sekora laid out several good reasons why he opposes Metro's incinerators in an interview with . "

So the big question hanging in the air is: where will Metro's waste go, now that the First Nations don't want it and the incinerators are off the table?

The first step is for Metro to put the real numbers on the table. Just how much waste is actually there to be disposed of?

Every three years Metro does a "waste characterization study" looking at samples of our waste to see what kinds of things we're throwing away. Then they look at "the total municipal solid waste stream received by the entire Metro Vancouver waste transfer and disposal system" and project how much of each kind of waste (newspaper, food scraps, plastic bags, etc.) we throw away.

Here are the total amounts of waste reported in the last 3 studies:
2000: 1,066,520 tonnes
2004: 1,060,748 tonnes
2007: 1,013,700 tonnes

What's surprising about these figures?

Do you see the staggering growth in our waste that Metro Vancouver keeps claiming in order to justify the construction of incinerators (or even new landfills)?

We are well within the limits of our existing landfills and incinerator. Even if we lost the Cache Creek landfill this year, we would still have nearly enough space at the two remaining facilities (Vancouver landfill is permitted to take 750,000 tonnes each year and the Burnaby incinerator 290,000 tonnes).

It's a success story. We managed, largely through an expansion of composting programs for yard trimmings, to hold down our disposal for the last decade to zero growth.

And what of the future? The latest waste study found 350,000 tonnes of compostable organics that are taking up space in our landfills (and producing methane and toxic leachate). It also found 144,000 tonnes of recyclable paper, which is banned from disposal in our region.

That is a half-million tonnes of waste right off the top that we don't need to send to the waste incinerator or landfill. On top of that, there is 136,000 tonnes of non-recyclable plastic packaging and other products that we could give back to the producer to recycle, instead of ending up in our disposal system at community cost.

Doesn't it make sense to get aggressively behind programs to solve these problems instead of investing billions and offending our neighbours by building new incinerators and expanding landfills?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Metro’s source on health impacts of incinerators doesn’t actually measure health impacts of incinerators

Metro Vancouver frequently cites the conclusions of the UK Health Protection Agency to reassure us that incinerators won't harm our health.

The HPA is often quoted as saying things like this: "The HPA considers that modern, well-run incinerators pose only a very small and probably undetectable risk to health. This is because they have a very small impact on pollution levels locally or at a distance. In assessing risk, we take into account not only the toxicity of the compounds concerned but, very importantly, the likely concentrations to which people may be exposed."

In a letter posted on a UK Health Research website, HPA Chief Executive Justin McCracken repeats this statement, and goes on to admit that "we have not studied the 'rates of illness or premature deaths at electoral ward level around any incinerator'."

Why don't they look at the health of people living around incinerators?

Because "the number of people around an incinerator is too small to detect whether or not the incinerator is having an impact on health."

If people aren't healthy around incinerators, the HPA contends, it could be any number of things that are causing their problems: "Such studies need to be able to distinguish any influence of the incinerator (which is expected to be extremely small) from the many other factors that influence rates of illness or premature deaths."

How would you feel if the agency established to protect your health based its conclusions on what it "expects" rather than what it actually finds -- or doesn't find because, in fact, it doesn't even bother to look.

What you don't look at is, indeed, "probably undetectable."

(Metro Vancouver and the Ministry of Environment made a similar call 20 years ago when they ignored a recommendation from an early study of emissions near the Burnaby incinerator. The study had said it was unable to establish a clear link between the new incinerator the elevated levels of toxics it found in soil and vegetation in the area. It recommended that the measurements continue, to build a better database. Those tests have never been done.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Carline advises Metro Board: put a ceiling on recycling to ensure fuel for incinerator

A report from Metro CAO Johnny Carline didn't make it to the Board agenda on Friday. But it is definitely worth a read (see Item D1 on this agenda) It shows, right there in black and white what Metro staff's priorities are. It also raises the question of whether staff are overstepping their role as implementers of political direction.

The report was Carline's response to Metro politicians who have called for a higher diversion rate in the new waste plan. This has been a frequent question asked by politicians (and the public) ever since Metro staff pitched its arbitrary 70% target two years ago. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is only one of the politicians who called for the Plan to set higher goals.

Carline's recommendation was NOT to establish a higher target. He said:

"It is recommended that the 70% diversion target... be retained. It is also recommended that additional in-region waste-to-energy capacity be established... to ensure adequate in-region capacity is available for all waste that is not diverted to recycling."

With that second sentence, Carline makes it clear that he is more concerned about building new disposal facilities than about building a system that reduces waste.

He is making the political judgement that balancing supply and demand of waste is a more urgent priority than reducing waste -- and that building too much waste disposal capacity is better than building too little.

Carline's case that our current disposal facilities won't be enough to manage future waste volumes is far from air-tight. The figures in the report are misleading and should be challenged by politicians (I suggested questions that should be asked in an email to the Directors last week.)

Furthermore, Carline presents absolutely no scientific basis for the claim that higher diversion rates are unachievable. Rather, he offers a news article saying that Toronto is going to miss its recycling goal. According to Statistics Canada, Ontario has lagged behind BC in waste reduction for years. In 2006, their per capita waste was 822 kg, while ours in BC was 675 kg. Furthermore, Ontario has just introduced sweeping changes to its recycling legislation to bring it more in line with ours in British Columbia. We are world leaders in Producer Responsibility policies ~ why should we compare ourselves with Ontario?

Carline tells politicians that getting beyond 70% diversion "will require significant changes to the global economy." The question for our politicians -- not Carline -- to answer is whether we are going to adopt a waste management plan that supports global change and extends our leadership -- or one that locks us into yesterday's levels of wastefulness.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Metro Board's embarrassing exploitation of the gentle Chief Pasco

Today's meeting of the Metro Board was a study in what's wrong with governance in our region.

The first thing the Board did was to retreat behind closed doors. For an hour and a half the rest of us -- several local citizens and a much larger group of people from First Nations communities as far away as Fort St. John -- milled awkwardly in the lobby waiting to be re-admitted to the Board Room.

At quarter to eleven, the doors were re-opened and Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council Chief Bob Pasco was admitted to the microphone. Pasco has sat in that chair many times, and over many years, speaking out against Metro's earlier plan to build a 100-year dump in Ashcroft. On those occasions, the Board gave him a patient hearing and then directed staff to continue doing just that.

This time Chief Pasco was invited to appear before the Board.

They gave him all the time he wanted to speak from the heart about what the land means to him and his community and future generations, and to invite one patient articulate First Nations speaker after another to take a turn at the mike. (Only Don Maclean from Pitt Meadows spoiled the moment by asking the Chair at one point how much longer this would go on and then sitting back and fuming in his chair until it was over.)

At the end of the delegation, Pasco noted that "there's a difference after all these years." In earlier times, he said, the message he picked up in the Metro building was "you don't belong here." But now "things have changed."

What has changed? Merely that Pasco is now a convenient tool in Metro's petty turf war with the provincial government, a totally trivial non-issue that has eclipsed all matters of public interest in deliberations about the future of our region's waste.

It turns out that the Board laboured so mightily behind those closed doors this morning to issue forth a long-winded motion that Metro send a delegation to Victoria.

What really has the Board's knickers in a knot -- the "elephant in the room" as Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan called it -- is the infuriating fact that Victoria approved the Cache Creek landfill permit extension while rejecting an essentially identical facility in Ashcroft. It was Corrigan who noted that Victoria's high-handed interference in Metro affairs was lubricated by paid lobbyists working for entities with a "financial interest" in the matter.

It was gruesomely clear in the discussion that followed that some on that Board appear to be more worried about the public money lost when Ashcroft was turned down than about the disdain for First Nations they would rightly have been accused of if it had gone ahead. Pasco's lessons had clearly fallen on deaf ears.

Corrigan I feel sure spoke for many on that Board when he expressed the view that recycling has "reached the point of diminishing returns." We should just get on with it, Directors kept saying, and build a landfill, or an incinerator, "or whatever" -- because, after all, we're in a desperate situation.

In a desperate situation to find someone's airshed or someone's traditional territory -- whatever -- to get rid of a problem that, after all, we can't do anything about.

After the meeting I went up to Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore and asked him how things are going with their food scraps program. He said he's still taking lots of heat from citizens, but it's mainly about switch from weekly to bi-weekly garbage pickups.

Unlike Mayor Moore, who is not afraid to wade in and take political heat for helping his community get their waste on a diet, the rest of the politicians on that Board -- to a person -- seem ready to cave to the troglodyte element in every community who feel that wasting is an entitlement: "I pay my taxes," they hear, "now you clean it up or we'll remember you at election time."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Landmark lawsuit challenges New York City recycling law

We are poised at a turning point in the history of waste management, and the outcome of a lawsuit against New York City may confirm that we have really turned a corner -- or send us back to the bad old days.

Computer makers are challenging a municipal ordinance that requires them to collect old computers ("e-waste") from households and recycle it. This is a somewhat unusual formulation of a broader principle, called Extended Producer Responsibility (or EPR). BC happens to be the place where this new principle is most widely applied in law, so this suit could be interesting to us.

Here's what the plaintiffs in the New York suit said, according to a recent article in the magazine Recycling Today (emphasis added):

“The E-waste Program retroactively and fundamentally alters the terms of the original contract of sale for a CEE (consumer electronics equipment) between the manufacturer and the consumer (or distributor, retailer, etc., as the case may be). Prior to the enactment of the E-waste Program, a manufacturer sold the CEE for a certain price, relying on the fact that the manufacturer was permanently transferring full title and it would not be required to take title to the product again at the end of its useful life.”

The article says that the brief was jointly filed by several non-electronics manufacturing associations who said they 'are also greatly concerned that allowing the E-waste Program to take effect will encourage other jurisdictions to adopt laws that shift disposal costs historically borne by voting local taxpayers who discard consumer products onto non-voting, out-of-state or off-shore manufacturers who make them.'"

Clever lawyers!

By sticking up for aggrieved out-of-state manufacturers they are distracting the Court from the greater injustice. For the better part of a century global corporations have been dumping responsibility for disposing of their products on voting local taxpayers in local communities -- many of whom may not have purchased a computer at all.

Indeed a whole raft of legislation exists now that puts the onus on local governments to clean up after the Throw-Away Economy, spending hundreds of millions of our tax dollars dollars on incinerators and landfills.

It will be really interesting if this lawsuit finally tests whether a company can absolve itself of responsibility just by transferring ownership of a product from itself to the consumer. EPR is based in the idea of a chain of custody that starts with the brand owner and ends with the consumer -- but does NOT include the taxpaying public in the communities where the products are sold, used, and discarded.