Climate change, according to environmentalist Helen Spiegelman, is the most urgent issue facing the world today.
That’s the reason Spiegelman feels somewhat encouraged that a system that produces fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than incinerators and landfills is among the options now being considered by Metro Vancouver to handle garbage.
“It [incineration] creates an ongoing demand for throwaway products and packaging to become fuel,” Spiegelman, coordinator of the Zero Waste blog, told the Georgia Straight. “It’s a way of ensuring that we never become a zero-waste society.”
Until recently, the regional body was planning to build three to six incinerators that can together burn 1.5 million tonnes of trash annually. Incinerators produce carbon dioxide, the most common of climate-altering greenhouse gasses. Landfills, like those in Delta and Cache Creek, give off methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
On Friday (June 26), politicians on the board of the Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District will vote on a recommendation to direct staff to prepare a new waste-management plan during the summer. The new strategy will be based on a consultant’s report that presented three approaches: incineration, landfilling, and mechanical-biological treatment.
Other municipal politicians attending Metro Vancouver’s Council of Councils meeting on Saturday (June 27) will get briefed on these methods as applied in eight scenarios drawn up by consulting firm AECOM Canada Ltd.
“These eight options that are presented demonstrate that we have moved away from the single option that Metro Vancouver has put on the table a year, 18 months ago, which is to build big incinerators,” Spiegelman said.
Metro Vancouver has set an ambitious goal of increasing the level of waste recycling from the current rate of 55 percent to 70 percent by 2015. But even if this target is reached that year, the region still has to dispose of the remaining 30 percent, or 1.1 million tonnes. This volume is projected to steadily increase to 1.2 million tonnes by 2020.
Scenario number six in the AECOM report involves setting up a mechanical-biological treatment plant in the region to handle all disposable wastes after recycling. MBT has two components. The mechanical part is a sorting process that further extracts recyclable materials from the waste. The biological part converts the remaining trash into an inert, compostlike product that can be landfilled.
In comparing the volume of greenhouse-gas emissions in the eight scenarios, the report did not only consider the carbon dioxide generated by incinerators and methane released by landfills. It also took into account fuel consumed during the transport as well as in the handling of waste.
“Scenario six has the lowest base case GHG emissions due to the fact that the waste is stabilized and produces less methane when landfilled,” AECOM reported.
First developed in Germany, MBT meets the requirements of the European Union, which the consultant noted were designed to reduce the environmental impacts of landfills.
Scenario number one involves putting up a huge incinerator with a capacity of 750,000 tonnes. Under this option, the rest of the waste will be diverted to two existing facilities. One is Metro Vancouver’s incinerator in Burnaby that has a capacity of 280,000 tonnes. The other is the City of Vancouver’s landfill in Delta, which has an operating life expected to last until 2037.
Under the current waste-management plan, garbage that isn’t processed in Burnaby and Delta is hauled to a landfill adjacent to the Village of Cache Creek, about 350 kilometres north of Vancouver.
In terms of operating costs over a period of 35 years, AECOM reported that scenario number six is the most expensive at $71 per tonne. Scenario number one, or the big-incinerator option, is the cheapest at just under $30 a tonne.
However, Spiegelman argued that although an MBT plant may cost more, it’s “actually good economics because it will provide an incentive for us to avoid having leftovers. It will provide an incentive for us to work harder to recycle and compost.”
The Cache Creek Landfill is expected to reach full capacity by the end of 2010. As a temporary measure, Metro Vancouver is proposing to haul by truck and train up to 600,000 tonnes of garbage to either Washington or Oregon for a period of five years.
“But the provincial government has to say yes or no to that,” Surrey councillor Marvin Hunt told the Straight. “They’ve not said anything yet. If they allow us to do that, then that would be our interim plan.”
Hunt, who chairs Metro Vancouver’s waste-management committee, said that the board of the regional body wants staff to report back with a proposed plan by the fall to allow public consultations before it is implemented.
“I’ve always looked at it as a seven-year process because, obviously, we’re going to have to consult the communities that are going to be involved in this,” Hunt said. “It’s going to be a very slow process.”