Time running out for Johnny Carline's incinerator plan for Metro Vancouver

Carlito Pablo suggests in the Georgia Straight that it's going to take a "long, hard campaign" to defeat Johnny Carline's incinerator plan for Metro Vancouver.

I think the truth is that time is running out for Carline and Councillor Hunt.

They had their chance to develop a good waste management plan that would be supported by the public and the region's municipalities—but they have bungled it every step of the way. It's time to retire these two and get a fresh start on the process.

The first task is to dispel the trumped-up panic that we are "running out of landfill space."

Why has no one challenged Carline's Chicken Little claims that we are about to be buried under a wall of waste? The fact is that we have plenty of capacity at the Vancouver landfill and the Burnaby incinerator to manage the waste we will produce when the Cache Creek landfill eventually closes (the date has already been pushed back from 2008 and now looms some time in the indefinite future).

If you look closely, you see that Metro has been quietly waffling on the quantities of waste that we produce, revising the estimates downward and downward.

In the spring of 2008, it was 1.5 million tonnes (Strategy for Updating the Solid Waste Management Plan). In the spring of 2009, it was 1.26 million tonnes (AECOM report). Marvin Hunt was telling the audiences at the waste forums last week it was "one million tonnes." And then—amazingly—engineer Konrad Fichtner pegged the figure at "800,000–850,000 tonnes" in his public presentation in New Westminster on September 16.

To put those numbers in perspective: the Vancouver landfill is permitted to take 750,000 tonnes of garbage each year and the Burnaby incinerator another 290,000 tonnes. That's 1,040,000 million tonnes per year. The recently permitted expansion of the Cache Creek landfill gives us a bit of extra breathing room while we gradually reduce our waste as the public is demanding.

We are blessed to be in a comfortable position to stop talking about incinerators and get busy with the waste reduction measures that the public wants. And while we're at it, Metro's AECOM report provides good advice for immediate improvements to our landfills to reduce their environmental impacts until the day we can finally close them down.

Who will step up to the plate and show leadership here?

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