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

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.

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