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.”

Comments (16) Add New Comment
nachum
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.
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RealityCheck
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.
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ben west
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 http://zerowastebc.org/category/landfill-in-the-sky

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ben west
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 (http://WildernessCommittee.org/gateway). 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 http://rcbc.bc.ca/files/u3/nm_070223_EPR_BC_Overview_Fact_sheet.pdf

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 http://zerowastebc.org/category/the-zero-waste-solution
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Hans Goldberg
Ben,
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.
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RealityCheck
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.
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ben west
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.
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John Vissers
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?
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Angus Ross
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.
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Mary Jones
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.
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Ron van der Eerden
Require manufacturers to take back all packaging and the products themselves once they are broken or obsolete. Watch how quickly "garbage" would diappear. There is no garbage. Only waste.
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Mary Lou Van Deventer
Angus and Reality Check are trying to be reasonable but are incorrect in saying "People produce garbage and always will." People will always discard things, but the garbage compactor truck manufactures garbage by mashing together resources that might have been recoverable otherwise. As a professional reuser with a company that salvages at a transfer station, I think everybody ought to go to the dump to take a look at what's really there. If it hadn't been mixed, most of it would be resources. The rest is toxic.

If you put the whole mess of unrecovered residue into a single glob and heat it to get energy, the only places for the burned stuff to go are into the ash or up the stack. No magic disappearances. Complex molecules that have been split apart will recombine in the stack during cooling - and who knows what to test for, besides dioxins? Every batch is a chemistry experiment.

Note that the high volume of burnable resources that recyclers and composters recover first - paper, yard trimmings, food - are also the least toxic. The residue develops an increasing concentration of toxicity. I heard that Vancouver's electronics recovery method lets people put TVs into garbage trucks. After mashing, the pieces are sorted out. Do the sorters get all the glass with lead? Does anybody want to melt that glass and let the lead go up the stack? Has anybody here ever thrown a smoke detector into the trash? There's radioactive material in detectors. Want to burn it?

Making resources into garbage is the first system error. Letting somebody put the garbage into the air - and making citizens subsidize it, perhaps for 20-25 years - who makes money on this, anyway? Not the citizens.
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Buddy

Ben, thank you for bringing this issue of creating giant Garbage Burning Factories in Metro Vancouver to our attention. It is obvious the usual Landfilling/Incineration stooges/plants are posting their archaic comments on this blogg. How desperate creatures some are to go on the attack, to make sure they get their cut, their piece of the wasting pie. It always amazes me how people like this have infected the entire system for dealing with our discards. Ben, you must know that wasting is big business. It's big money. So the lovers of wasting will liter these sites with those who take pot shots, won't use their real names and try to advance their cause with untruths and fear. It's a P.R. stunt that I've seen for decades. The lovers of wasting care only about themselves and getting as much money for themselves. They care nothing about selling out their neighbours, our planet so they stay employed. No thought is given to how Garbage Burning Factories will negatively affect the tourist industry here and those jobs lost? Reality Check and Angus will still have their public relations jobs spinning this argument the way the lovers of wasting do. Ben, there are people out there who know recovering and recycling the valuable natural resources embedded in many of our discards is the only option.

The lazy and the ignorant and those with a vested interest in wasting care only about themselves. You on the other hand have stood up to offer alternatives to this silly concept of burning garbage and landfilling. Reality Check is "just another one of these nonsensical fanatics" who are planted in these debates by the waste industries P.R. firms. The same P.R. firms who had buckets of money thrown at them to change "Burning Garbage" to "Incineration" then to "Waste To Energy" then Renewable Energy", all to make an immoral and unethical act palatable. Burning garbage to recovery some energy does not factor in all the energy expended to create the items that you propose to burn, which will require new energy and natural resources to replace what was just destroyed. You now have tens if not hundreds of thousands tons of toxic ash to dispose of, not to mention the dangerous discharge up the stack.

If those who see nothing wrong with "pooping in their own well" could contain their destructive habits just to themselves or their community that wanted to do so, then they should have that right maybe? But but what gives anyone the right to go from contaminating our ground water through landfilling to sending toxic hazardous clouds of God knows what over to your neighbours community for them to breath?? It's time to grow up and be responsible perhaps? End this silly debate put on by P.R. firms and the wasting industry that "there are just 2 options, landfilling or burning garbage" and have some respect for the next generation who will be forced to clean up your/our mess! History has shown that when challenged, an entire planet when forced to can clean up their act. All discards during World War 2 had value. No one threw anything away. Discards had VALUE! We are supposedly "smarter" now, so it is time to implement and support a 3rd option, Recovery, Reuse and Recycling.
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Cornelius
If garbage is not recycled, then it is polluting our environment.

No to incineration, no to burying, no to dumping our garbage.

Time for the masses to pickup their own mess and deal with it responsibly and not dump it in someone else's backyard.

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Brie Oishi
Reading this article about these incinerators and that Burnaby city councillors, particularly Sav Dhaliwal, are expected to push for an in-region plant.
Quoting Dhaliwal: “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.”

I would like to say to B.C. environment minister Barry Penner and anyone else who is faced with making the decision whether to, or not to build incinerators.

“Will you please take a moment and consult your conscience once more, before casting your final vote on whether to have, or not to have incinerators built to burn all un-recyclable garbage. Ask yourselves; are these incinerators 100% safe?

Has it been proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that incinerating all that “non-recyclable plastic junk” is harmless to Humans and the Environment?

That it will not create ”˜any type’ of pollution? And that it will not present health hazards to the public!

Wherever these incinerators are to be housed; if they are not 100% safe; a ”˜yes’ vote would mean that you will be jeopardizing many peoples health and lives!

In the past there have been incidences where safety approvals have turned out to be not so safe after all, as in the baby-bottle issue!
Public safety should be the number one concern in this matter!

The growing concerns about the huge amounts of garbage to be disposed of could be history; if everyone would stop purchasing goods created of man-made materials. Manufacturers are flooding the market with a multitude of items produced of plastics. Many of which end up in the trash after a very short time, claiming their space as landfill! It definitely would be better for the planet if only natural materials were used by manufacturers. Especially in the production of clothing; and shoes in particular!
Natural materials do break down in landfills and actually enrich the quality of the soil. On the country estate in Germany, where I grew up, nothing was wasted; everything was put to good use and even the shoes. After the shoes had outgrown their usefulness; they were dug under. But then, shoes were made completely out of leather.

Such old, good proven methods and practices would work well for us in these modern days. We are running out of dumping-grounds and some people think that building incinerators to burn all that plastic junk would be the solution to rid us of a lot of garbage. But burning will bring its own problems!
There would be no need for these questionable incinerators if we “the consumers” would do some boycotting and demand from manufacturers to produce goods only made of natural materials. These products would be healthier and safer for everyone. They would be considered as GREEN; and we all are striving to go that route. Perhaps we could aim to be the first Province in Canada to be the greenest.

“BEAUTIFUL and GREEN British Columbia” all the way, and you are holding this decision in your hands!”
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Brie Oishi, Canada

Reading this article about these incinerators and that Burnaby city councillors, particularly Sav Dhaliwal, are expected to push for an in-region plant.
Quoting Dhaliwal: “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.”

I would like to say to B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner and anyone else who is faced with making the decision whether to, or not to build incinerators.
“Will you please take a moment and consult your conscience once more, before casting your final vote on whether to have, or not to have incinerators built to burn all un-recyclable garbage. Ask yourselves; are these incinerators 100% safe?

Has it been proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that incinerating all that “non-recyclable plastic junk” is harmless to Humans and the Environment?

That it will not create ”˜any type’ of pollution? And that it will not present health hazards to the public!

Wherever these incinerators are to be housed; if they are not 100% safe; a ”˜yes’ vote would mean that you will be jeopardizing many peoples health and lives!

In the past there have been incidences where safety approvals have turned out to be not so safe after all, as in the baby-bottle issue!
Public safety should be the number one concern in this matter!

The growing concerns about the huge amounts of garbage to be disposed of could be history; if everyone would stop purchasing goods created of man-made materials. Manufacturers are flooding the market with a multitude of items produced of plastics. Many of which end up in the trash after a very short time, claiming their space as landfill! It definitely would be better for the planet if only natural materials were used by manufacturers. Especially in the production of clothing; and shoes in particular!
Natural materials do break down in landfills and actually enrich the quality of the soil. On the country estate in Germany, where I grew up, nothing was wasted; everything was put to good use and even the shoes. After the shoes had outgrown their usefulness; they were dug under. But then, shoes were made completely out of leather.

Such old, good proven methods and practices would work well for us in these modern days. We are running out of dumping-grounds and some people think that building incinerators to burn all that plastic junk would be the solution to rid us of a lot of garbage. But burning will bring its own problems!

There would be no need for these questionable incinerators if we “the consumers” would do some boycotting and demand from manufacturers to produce goods only made of natural materials. These products would be healthier and safer for everyone. They would be considered as GREEN; and we all are striving to go that route. Perhaps we could aim to be the first Province in Canada to be the greenest.

“BEAUTIFUL and GREEN British Columbia” all the way, and you are holding this decision in your hands!”
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