Metro Vancouver report counters critics of energy-producing garbage incinerators

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      In a new report to the Metro Vancouver environment and energy committee, a senior regional staff member has stated that “the addition of new waste-to-energy capacity combined with district energy systems would produce the lowest net emissions compared to other options”.

      Roger Quan, division manager in Metro Vancouver’s policy and planning department, based his conclusion in part on the use of “very stringent control technologies”.

      In addition, he mentioned that producing electricity and heat from waste would replace some use of fossil fuels, such as natural gas and heating oil, in the community.

      Quan also stated that emissions from waste management under any scenario—including waste-to-energy incineration or through landfills—only add 0.1 percent to one percent of emissions in the airshed.

      “These emission contributions are so low that when the emissions from a system with new waste-to-energy are compared to a system with new landfill capacity using an accepted air quality model—there is no discernable difference in air quality with different waste disposal options,” Quan wrote.

      His report goes to the Metro Vancouver environment and energy committee on Tuesday (May 4).

      This month, Metro Vancouver will embark on a series of public consultations on its draft solid-waste management plan across the Lower Mainland and in Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Meeting dates and locations are available here.

      Last month, Ben West, the Wilderness Committee’s healthy communities campaigner, told the Straight that if Metro Vancouver proceeds with a plan to burn more of its garbage, it will produce one million tons of carbon dioxide per year.

      “We don’t want something that emits more carbon than a coal-fired power plant in our back yard,” West said at the time.

      On April 9, Metro Vancouver’s board adopted the draft solid waste management plan, which proposes to increase the solid-waste diversion rate from 55 percent to 70 percent by 2015.

      On its Web site, Metro Vancouver has posted answers to frequently asked questions, including one dealing with greenhouse-gas emissions.

      “With the remaining waste, Metro Vancouver proposes to replace the Cache Creek Landfill (scheduled for closure) with a new waste-to-energy facility, resulting in lower greenhouse gas emissions,” Metro Vancouver stated. “A waste-to-energy facility can achieve lower greenhouse gas emissions than a landfill because it recovers metals for recycling and generates energy to replace fossil fuels as a source of heat and electricity. In contrast, a landfill recovers much less energy and produces methane which is 21 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at warming the planet.”

      (Metro Vancouver staff did not mention that methane has an atmospheric life of about 12 years, whereas carbon dioxide can last for tens of thousands of years.)

      In March, UBC atmospheric scientist Ian McKendry completed a study on behalf of the Fraser Valley Regional District.

      It recommends against adding any new sources of air pollution, including waste-incinerators, because “there is a large body of credible published evidence to suggest that there is sufficient cause for concern around the potential health risks posed by modern waste incinerators, especially from dioxins and nano-particles”.

      Metro Vancouver staff prepared a response to McKendry’s study, which is included as an attachment to Quan’s report.

      It noted that there is “a large body of credible published evidence to suggest the opposite, i.e. that potential health risks from modern waste incinerators are not a concern”.

      Metro's frequently asked questions also cites an April 4 Toronto Star article, which stated that Greenpeace had dismantled its anti-incinerator campaign. However, Metro Vancouver didn't acknowledge that the following day, the Toronto Star published a letter to the editor from Greenpeace's policy advisor, Dave Martin, who took exception to the story.

      "You wrote that even Greenpeace has stopped protesting over municipal waste incineration projects," Martin wrote. "That is not true. Greenpeace opposes Durham Region's ill-considered garbage incineration project on a variety of grounds."

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      May 1, 2010 at 1:28pm

      It is poor planning at best and crimminal at worst, that in this day and age, with air quality concerns in the Fraser Valley, already not being dealt with, that Metro Vancouver (GVRD of late) would even consider adding more bad air to our already overburdened atmosphere.

      Whats the solution? First off, we need to recycle more than we do. Over 1/3 of all garbage is paper based, just by starting there we could solve almost half the problem.

      Incinerators are the easy solution that went out with the last millenium. Recycling is the only solution left in this age of climate change.

      Reality Check

      May 1, 2010 at 6:02pm

      Reducing and Recycling will never eliminate all of our garbage. Incinerators are light years better than landfills. We need to start paying attention to land and water pollution, not just air pollution.

      petey j

      May 1, 2010 at 11:31pm

      after watching the flare station out @ Burns Bog huff n puff & so many O/t hrs for the COv electrical branch i think we can say that the higher ups in the COv organisation want a cut of that O/T
      cough cough


      May 2, 2010 at 4:40am

      The Lower Mainland should check out an Ottawa based firm called Plasco Energy. They have a small demo facility in a joint venture with the City of Ottawa that converts muncipal waste to synthethic fuel using a non-incinerating arc plasma technology (i.e. almost no emissions). They've got interest from Red Deer, the State of California and as far away as China.

      Jim DAWSON

      May 2, 2010 at 8:37pm

      Do your research and you will get the answers. Plasma -arc is modern technology that works all over the world and has been working for years. none so blind as those who will not see. Jim Dawson, Victoria Australia.

      John McCrossan

      May 3, 2010 at 2:06am

      The issue is air quality. Already in Metro-Vancouver we have a brown pollution cloud that heads up the valley every day. An Incinerator will add more fine ash (with dioxins, lead, and PAHs) as small as bacteria. This will get into our lungs and into our blood. No Incinerator can contain this fine ash. 6.4% of Canadians have asthma, a scary and serious disease; up 50% since 1980 and rising; a million asthma attacks occur every year and people die. That is the health and science.
      Say NO to Incineritis, if we want to breath in ASH, we'll go and live in ICELAND.

      John McCrossan

      May 3, 2010 at 2:19am

      We live in a GREEN Province, right? With the proper emphasis on recycling, composting, and source garbage elimination (that would be company packaging) the existing Landfills have more than enough capacity for the residuals. In the past month I personally have slashed my Landfill Black Bags from 3 to less than one half, that is an 83% reduction. Who needs an Incinerator? Dont be fooled by the spin-doctors, it is Waste-to-Ash, not Waste-to-Energy nor Energy-from-Waste.
      Burning is so risky: nasty compounds end up in black garbage bags (like wires, plastics, synthetics etc) and they will decompose down to dioxins, lead, PAHs and other nasty compounds. We will breath them in and get sick, its that simple.


      May 3, 2010 at 8:21am

      @ Jim DAWSON - Sorry mate, but there is no technology that burns garbage that is cleaner on the environment than recycling. Recycling and composting will reduce all organic material to zero emissions, plastics don't produce emissions if buried and/or recycled.

      Our GVRD politicians are just too lazy to bother with their homework and have been sold a bill of goods by manufacturers of garbage incinerators.


      May 3, 2010 at 9:11am

      Normally one plans capacity to handle, if not a totally worst case scenario, at least a kind of medium bad scenario.

      But in this context, as in some other Lower Mainland infrastructure debates, those rules are turned upside down. Hypothetical increases in the proportions of garbage recycled or composted are invoked to say we don't need anything more, anywhere. This, of course, is music to the ears of all the BC Howard Jarvis types whose sole motivation in life is to keep residential property taxes as low as possible

      I would like to know what the economics of a waste to energy plant are, what can the electricity and/or steam be sold for, and what that can do to keep costs to the taxpayer down.

      I wonder if Ben West's calculation of a million tonnes of GHGs takes into account GHGs save by NOT trucking to Cache Creek?
      Rod Smelser


      May 5, 2010 at 2:15pm

      What a shame that our air is allowed to be polluted over and over again.
      CSA/EPA Certified wood stoves, burning garbage, burning hay why don't people stand up for clean air and take the time and effort to put healthy, clean policies and bylaws in place
      to protect the only source of air that we have to breathe.

      What about harnessing the natural sources of energies such as wind, sun and geo thermal. Why is recycling not encouraged more?