Metro Vancouver faces inevitable choice between burning and burying garbage

For Metro Vancouver, having to choose between what might be seen as the lesser of two evils in dealing with the region’s garbage looks inescapable.

The choice: burning what cannot be recycled or reused in a new waste-to-energy incinerator, or burying this trash in a landfill.

Even if the region reaches its waste-diversion target of 70 percent by 2015, there’s still residual waste that needs to be disposed of somehow.

Incineration opponents like Ben West of the Wilderness Committee argue that it’s not really a choice between burning and landfilling. In an interview with the Straight on August 3, West said that he and his colleagues will continue to advocate for a higher diversion target of 90 percent.

But what to do with the remaining 10 percent remains an unresolved issue.

In an interview with the Straight, Metro Vancouver senior engineer Dennis Ranahan cited what he considers to be a good example of the challenges in encouraging citizens to recycle more.

Ranahan noted that even with the current exchange program for beverage containers, which provides cash for returned receptacles, only 77 percent of these containers end up in the recycling stream.

With respect to other products, Ranahan said there are a lot of plastics that are not recyclable and many wood items that cannot be composted.

“Unless you change the manufacturing process, unless you change consumption patterns, 20 percent will remain in the future that’s just non-recyclable,” Ranahan said.

In a report on the agenda for the July 30 meeting of the Metro board, Johnny Carline, the regional body’s chief administrative officer, outlined how reaching and maintaining the 70-percent diversion goal requires much effort.

“For example, if for the various reasons cited above, a certain portion of the waste stream is not recyclable but we assume that to be only 10%,” Carline wrote. “And if a certain portion of the population do not recycle but we assume that also to be 10% (implying an ambitious 90% participation rate). And if those who do recycle ”˜lapse’ on average just 10% of the time, i.e. recycle a truly recyclable material 90% of the times. The resulting diversion rate is still only 73%. It is for these reasons that some speak of a need for a ”˜paradigm shift’ in people’s behaviour while others see the desired outcome can only be achieved by a global shift towards a zero waste design and manufacturing economy.”

In their July 30 meeting, Metro directors voted to recommend to the province that it allow the region to pursue waste-to-energy options in a waste-disposal facility that may be located inside or outside the Lower Mainland.

B.C. environment minister Barry Penner didn’t make himself available for an interview with the Straight.

In an interview with the Straight, NDP environment critic Rob Fleming speculated that Penner may agree to a waste-to-energy site outside the Metro Vancouver area.

Penner represents the Chilliwack-Hope constituency in the Fraser Valley, a region whose airshed many claim would be affected by emissions from a waste-to-energy facility in the Lower Mainland.

Burnaby city councillors, particularly Sav Dhaliwal, are expected to push for an in-region plant.

“The only reason for us to go out of the region is because the emissions from an incinerator would be harmful to local residents,” Dhaliwal told the Straight. “If that’s the case, then we’re being hypocritical in sending it somewhere else.”

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Aug 4, 2010 at 11:24pm

We have no choice but to deal responsibly with our garbage by recycling no less than 90% of it. The environmental conundrum we find ourselves in, Climate Change, is clearly due to us not dealing appropriately with our waste products.
Exhaust fumes, industrial waste, mining waste, residential waste, military waste.

Burning garbage will not solve Climate Change, it will make it worse. Its time to face the music and recycle everything and stop producing those things that can't be recycled.

9 3Rating: +6


Aug 5, 2010 at 6:14am

We have to stop nonsensical fanatics like nachum from killing us through inaction. The choices for garbage are clear...burn or bury. There's always going to be garbage...let's deal with it now.

8 7Rating: +1

ben west

Aug 5, 2010 at 8:45am

Burying or burning is not really the choice. This is a false dichotomy. When you burn garbage you get highly toxic ash that must be buried. For every 3 -4 barrels of garbage you get one barrel of ash. How is that a choice? Once you burn it then you burn it. Furthermore the rest of the garbage has to go somewhere right? People act like somehow incinerators just make or garbage disappear. Unless Metro Vancouver staff have figured out how to cheat the laws of thermodynamics (which may not be hard to believe given some of the mental gymnastics they have been exposing us to as of late) all incineration does is transform our waste into ash and emissions. Once released from the smoke stack incinerators emissions create what is sometimes called "a landfill in the sky". Canadian Idol star and Fraser Valley resident Shane Wiebe recorded a song with that title to draw attention to this reality. You can check it out here

10 9Rating: +1

ben west

Aug 5, 2010 at 8:46am

If what we are trying to do is close down landfills then building incinerators is not the way to do it. We could close Cache Creek by 2016 just by reducing the amount of garbage overall. This would not only be better for the environment but it would be a lot less expensive. Metro Vancouver plans on spending at least 470 million dollars on a new waste incineration facility and then they want to dump the toxic waste created in the landfill next to burns bog which is already potentially heavily stressed because of the South Fraser Perimeter Road ( Its hard to put a price tag on this kind of potential harm.

What we really need is a plan to be less wasteful. We don't just need diversion targets we need a reduction of how much garbage is created overall. A big part of that expanding product stewardship programs, sometimes called extended producer responsibility (EPR). This does not require change the global economy just continuing to expand on existing BC legislation. We already have some of the best EPR laws in the world. Check out this FAQ piece by the Recycling Council of BC for more details

EPR is important because it forces the manufacturer of a product to shift away from the whole idea of disposable. Ideally we make legislation that helps companies reduce their wastefulness and reduce their impact through "design for the environment". If done right this can actually save companies a lot of money. Just look at the beer industry. They have saved millions by re-using and recycling bottles and cans. Already BC has banned electronics, batteries, car tires and other items from our landfills. The plan will continue to expand in the years to come. We need our waste management staff all across BC to be focused on making these programs work not wasting time dealing with waste incineration issues.

At last Fridays meeting Metro directors committed to ban compostable organic material and wood from our landfills and incinerators by 2015. This is not only good because it will eliminate the source of methane from our landfills but it also it will drastically reduce the amount of what we consider waste. Currently more than half of what is in our waste stream is either compostable or recyclable in the existing blue box program. In fact 25% is paper... if you are worried about the protection of our forests then addressing this is critical.

Metro Vancouver directors also committed to reach 80% diversion by 2020. This is a big step in the right direction. The 90% diversion target I refer to in the story above is not intended to be a final destination. I believe we can and must achieve a closed loop consumption model that just like in the natural world wastes nothing. In fact the sustainability of life on this planet depends on it. If we are to move beyond being like a cancer cell in this biosphere we must evolve beyond endless consumption and disposal. That is all there is to it. This is also equally relevant in the context of dealing with climate change. We must completely decarbonize the global economy by 2050 in order to survive according to the worlds top climate scientists. I believe we must achieve zero waste to achieve zero CO2. If we can hit 90% waste reduction by 2030 then we should be able to get to zero waste by 2050. The point is to continue to set targets and work towards them. If Metro Directors and staff aren't on board for the kind of change that we all need then they should get out of the way for the next generation of leaders that will get the job done.

For more on how to get to Zero Waste check out this link

11 6Rating: +5

Hans Goldberg

Aug 5, 2010 at 3:00pm

You are barking up the wrong tree, Metro does not produce the garbage, they just have to deal with it. It is people, that are the problem. Did you happen to notice the pile of garbage after the fireworks? So maybe you should try to focus on that.

9 11Rating: -2


Aug 5, 2010 at 3:39pm

Ben West is just another one of these nonsensical fanatics who don't want to deal with real problems, but would rather just play social engineer. People create garbage. Governments have no control over that. Burn or bury are the choices.

11 9Rating: +2

ben west

Aug 5, 2010 at 4:40pm

Hans, this is not the only thing that is being done by zero waste activists but its a 470 million dollar "tree" we are barking up with big consequences connected to it. You may have noticed that the emphasis of my comments was on the need for the reduction of garbage being produced and getting rid of the idea of disposable. Aren't we agreeing?

Reality Check... who are you? I thought you needed to use your real name to post on here? Thanks for your thoughtful comments... did you actually read what i wrote or do you just like to call people fanatics? Can you at least agree that the choice you are describing is between bury or burn and then bury the ash?

Incineration does not get rid of the need for landfill it just turns landfills into a place to dump highly toxic ash. I posted a lot of links in an attempt to have a discussion about the fact surrounding this issue. Can we please try to keep comments respectful and reasonable? How exactly do you think i am playing social engineer?

I would probably be better off just ignoring your silly comments but I try to give folks the benefit of the doubt, perhaps you should consider doing the same. Have a nice day.

6 8Rating: -2

John Vissers

Aug 5, 2010 at 6:42pm

Waste is wasteful. Nothing fanatical about that. In our world of diminishing resources and increasing energy costs, we can no longer afford, either economically or environmentally, the real costs of being wasteful. Burning and burying only distract us from the obvious necessity of reducing waste. How many times must this simple truth be repeated before we act?

8 9Rating: -1

Angus Ross

Aug 5, 2010 at 7:33pm

Basic problem. People produce garbage and always will. We are able to recycle most of it but there will still be trash. Vancouver is already ahead of most other regions in terms of recycling / compost / yard trimmings / etc. Also the for profit recycling firms like Return It have been a great success in improving accessibility for the recycling of complex parts. We still have garbage. Burning is dirty and not a great idea as it will only make the air quality for those up in the valley much worse. Canada does however, have an overabundance of land. (We are the second biggest country in the world) It shouldn't be that hard to find some out of operation quarry, open pit mine, creek, or other site where we can put this stuff. Again, we will always have garbage, can we recycle more yes, can we recycle everything economically: probably not.

Mary Jones

Aug 6, 2010 at 9:34am

If we are worried about government being involved in waste disposal perhaps we can engineer the marketplace with out dollars. Don't buy products that are over packaged with plastic and cardboard. Write the manufacturers and tell them you passed on their product because of the packaging. As far as that goes do you really need the product in the first place?

It's working with the food industry, I'm seeing more and more "no high fructose corn syrup" on food items, a direct response to consumers. No government intervention. The corn lobby is powerful, but the bottom line still talks.

8 9Rating: -1