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.”