B.C. will be ground zero in North American fight against waste incineration

In the 1980s, a powerful North American incinerator industry was hog-tied by local citizens groups.

Elected politicians in dozens of local communities were nodding in a torpor—a state of altered consciousness induced by the empty promises of incinerator salesmen. They were about to sign contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars that would have shackled the communities with debt (to say nothing of the unmeasurable impacts to their health and safety).

But in one community after another, citizens managed to snap their mayors and councillors out of their trance just in time. Over 250 waste incinerator projects across North America were cancelled between 1985 and 1995.

The citizens were successful because of a crackling information network that connected local communities together and dispensed the magic weapons they needed—facts and figures that could dispel the misinformation from the incinerator salesmen and release their politicians from their daze.

That movement was led in large part by Paul Connett, who will be stopping through Vancouver next week. Connett is coming to B.C. to help the Interior community of Christina Lake. They need to talk some sense into the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary board, which will shortly be considering a proposal to burn petroleum waste from California in that bucolic corner of the province.

Connett says that the incinerator industry has risen from the ashes of its 1980s defeat, and in response he is pulling together a new citizens’ movement to defeat it again.

The focus of the new campaign will be a company called Covanta Energy, which he describes as “a giant octopus”. Like a lot of companies in the garbage industry, Covanta’s strategy is acquisition. They grow by taking over other companies and then spreading into new communities.

We will be ground zero for a Covanta campaign. The company is taking over Veolia, which currently runs Metro Vancouver’s Burnaby incinerator. And it is also pitching a proposal to politicians to rescue the community of Gold River from economic ruin by building a big garbage incinerator.

Helen Spiegelman is a Vancouver-based environmentalist and blog coordinator. Read more at Zero Waste.