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

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.