Garbage In, Garbage Out: the Waste Debate Continues

Garbage In, Garbage Out: the Waste Debate Continues

Garbage in, garbage out: the waste debate continues

July 22, 2010

In your cover story, students from the environmental-science program at UBC elegantly point to a number of ways to reduce the total amount of garbage in the Lower Mainland [“Incinerator opponents fired up for a fight”, July 8-15]. While we can all agree on the urgent need to reduce the amount of garbage, the question remains: how should we deal with the inevitable residual solid waste?

To simply portray incineration as the smoke-spewing foe, while landfill effects go unquestioned and unseen, is not a way forward.

No evidence supports the notion that incineration defeats recycling-and-reuse efforts. On the contrary, experience from Europe shows that the countries that use incineration most extensively are the ones with the smallest amount of garbage per capita.

Why? Because they have well-thought-out and integrated systems: they reduce, reuse, recycle, digest, and incinerate. Very small quantities are in the end put in landfills, which makes it easier to control the emissions.

Second, estimates suggesting that incineration causes more emissions than landfills do not take into account the life cycle of garbage degradation. To argue that slow and uncontrolled landfill degradation is a better solution than quick and controlled incineration echoes the erroneous slogan from the ’70s: “The solution to pollution is dilution.”

Third, the degradation processes in landfills are complex. It does not seem to be widely known that garbage in landfills burns. It is low-grade, uncontrolled degradation. This is a natural process driven by voracious microorganisms that digest the garbage as a source of energy and food.

The resulting emission of, for example, dioxins, greenhouse gases, heavy metals, and other toxic products to air, soil, and ground water is considerable. In comparison, modern, high-temperature waste incineration is conducted under strictly controlled conditions. The emissions per kilogram of garbage are considerably less compared with those of landfills.

Since dioxins are created by low-temperature incineration (e.g., in landfills), the emission of dioxins from controlled high-temperature incineration is very small compared to that from landfills.

Continuing to put thousands of tonnes of garbage in landfills is inexcusable. It leads to pollution of air, water, and soil; it contributes to greenhouse gases and climate change; and all the potential energy of the garbage goes to waste. Instead of “waste to energy”, we get “waste of energy”.

> Gunilla Oberg / Director of the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability, UBC

Metro Vancouver dumping garbage debate into public lap

Consultation on solid waste management plan set to start mid-April

By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun March 30, 2010

Metro Vancouver will continue to push waste incineration as a top priority to deal with the region's garbage as it takes its draft solid waste management plan to the public next month.

The region's solid waste management committee is proposing to go ahead with a waste incinerator -- possibly in the Lower Mainland -- despite Environment Minister Barry Penner's decision to expand the Cache Creek dump.

Metro has said it wants to move away from landfills in favour of burning waste, noting incinerators would bring in $10 million in revenue, provide hot water and heat to neighbouring buildings and stimulate the economy. By comparison, running the Cache Creek dump costs about $30 million a year.

The draft plan, which will go to the Metro board for approval on April 9, is expected to go to a public consultation process in mid-April. The final plan, which requires the province's approval, will likely go to Penner this summer.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, who is also the chairman of the solid waste committee, said while incinerators remain a priority, the region will present all the options, including the Cache Creek landfill, to the public "to get the discussion rolling."

This is the first time the entire solid waste management plan will be put to the public, although sections of it, including a zero-waste recycling initiative and food composting, have already been released.

"Our goal is to go out to the public with an open mind," Moore said.

Penner said Monday he is pleased Metro is considering all the options, including the expanded Cache Creek landfill, and is involving the Fraser Valley and first nations in the consultation process. Fraser Valley mayors have raised concerns about air quality in the valley if an incinerator is approved for Metro Vancouver.

"I've stressed to Metro Vancouver that there are a range of options available; in the past it's seemed as if this message wasn't getting through," he said. "Clearly Cache Creek is an option to Metro Vancouver should they choose to approve it."

Penner said he didn't want to "prejudge the planning process" but said Metro shouldn't underestimate the challenges of trying new things. He referred to a failed attempt by Aboriginal Cogeneration Corp. to install two gasification units at its leased site in Kamloops to process waste railway ties. The company is now leaving town because of public opposition.

Penner noted a proposal to start up a trash incinerator in Gold River by a company called Covanta has significant support.

While Metro prefers to build an incinerator closer to home, it could decide to send its garbage to the proposed Covanta incinerator in Gold River.

But Moore noted both Covanta and the Cache Creek dump, which is co-owned by Wastech Environmental Services, are private. Both options would mean the region would be turning to the private sector to deal with its trash problem, he said.

He said there are benefits for whoever runs a waste incineration plant, which produces heat and electricity, which would offset the cost of garbage collection.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Metro Vancouver trash incinerator debate heats up

By Kelly Sinoski 21 Jul 2010, The Vancouver Sun

There's no stopping Covanta Energy in its bid to get a trash incinerator in Gold River.

Covanta and Gold River Energy will hold an open house Wednesday to update the public on its plans to build thermal electric power plant on the site of the former Gold River Pulp and Paper Mill. The plant, according to an ad in the Gold River Record, is capable of diverting "750,000 tonnes of post-recycled solid municipal waste per year to clean energy." That's a bit more than the 500,000 tonnes that will have to go somewhere if the Cache Creek dump closes as planned, but is closer to the 800,000 tonnes Metro expects will have to find a home once the region reaches its target to recycle at least 70 per cent of the region's waste.

Covanta has been intensely lobbying Metro Vancouver to locate the incinerator in their Vancouver Island community, saying it would provide much needed jobs. In an advertisement promoting the open house, Covanta and Green Energy the meeting is being held to provide an update on the proposal as well as information on permit applications under the Environment Management Act.

Metro Vancouver chairwoman Lois Jackson said she believes the open house is Covanta's way of keeping their name at the forefront of the incinerator debate, which will wrap up at the end of the month when Metro Vancouver makes a decision on the solid waste management plan. But even if Metro does decide to go ahead with the incinerator, she noted, it will have to get approval from Environment Minister Barry Penner and then send out a request for proposals.

She added Covanta's decision to push ahead for an environmental permit is no different than one made by the proponents of the Cache Creek landfill. The province has since granted an extension to the Cache Creek dump if Metro decides to continue operating it.

"We've got so many people coming out of the mousetrap with different options," Jackson said. "Everyone wants to make money off the garbage and you can really see it coming out now. But some of the complications for the region is what is this going to cost? "It was the same in Cache Creek. But it's still our garbage; we have to make sure what we're doing goes to a competitive bid and it's the best we can get for taxpayers and the best for the environment."

The draft solid waste management plan has been mired in controversy, with residents in the Fraser Valley arguing an incinerator will pollute the valley, while first nations members in Cache Creek and Ashcroft say the dump is contaminating their water supply.

Metro Vancouver produces about 1.4 million tonnes of garbage every year. The draft solid-waste management plan aims to raise recycling rates from 55 per cent of garbage today to 70 per cent by 2015, with the remaining 30 per cent — about one million tonnes — burned or buried. Metro has said it wants to move away from landfills in favour of burning waste, noting incinerators would bring in $10 million in revenue, provide hot water and heat to neighbouring buildings and stimulate the economy. By comparison, running the Cache Creek dump costs about $30 million a year.

At least four municipalities, including Vancouver, have said they won’t support the proposal for a $470-million regional incinerator until Metro has reduced its waste, boosted recycling rates and explored other options to deal with excess garbage. The consensus will likely come out at the Metro meeting Wednesday morning.


Date: Monday May. 5, 2008 8:47 PM PT

As the clock ticks down toward the closing date for a key British Columbia landfill site, Metro Vancouver residents are under pressure to decide what to do with some of the 1.5 million tonnes of garbage that they throw out every year.

Roughly half of that material is dumped in a landfill site in Delta, B.C. About one fifth is burned in a Burnaby, incerator. The rest is shipped to a landfill site in Cache Creek, in central B.C.

However, the fact that so much Vancouver garbage goes to Cache Creek is about to become a problem for the region as the landfill is expected to be full by 2010.

A plan to ship that garbage to Ashcroft, B.C. was recently killed by the provincial government. Now Metro Vancouver is considering sending it to Washington State, an idea that is meeting resistance from politicians like North Vancouver District Councillor Alan Nixon..

On Monday night, North Vancouver district councillors were set to vote on the question of whether Metro Vancouver should be required to keep its garbage in B.C.

Ahead of the vote, Nixon said he wants it to stay in B.C. Sending garbage south to the U.S., he says, will put it out of sight of Vancouver residents, making them much less motivated to reduce the amount of garbage they produce.

"It takes us off the hook. It takes every citizen in metro Vancouver potentially off the hook about being devoted to or buying into the need to reduce the waste that's going into the stream right now," he said.

Cache Creek mayor John Ranta wants to expand the existing landfill, because 120 jobs will be lost if the site is shut down.

B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner, is also backing a B.C. solution, claiming that sending the garbage to the U.S. is not the only available option.

"I've asked my ministry staff to talk to Metro Vancouver and to obtain whatever documents or reports they're relying on that leads them to conclude that there are no other viable options in British Columbia because my first choice is not to export garbage from out province," he said.

A decision on the garbage issue is expected to be made by October.

With a report by CTV British Columbia's Dag Sharman

Garbage Argument: Burn, Bury, or Recycle?

Metro Vancouver is trying to make up its mind. So I dove into a pile of facts and debates.

By Munisha Tumato, 1 Jul 2010, The Vancouver Observer

A garbage bag

Canadians' garbage output up 50 per cent in 30 years.

Bottom of Form

[Editor's note: The Tyee is pleased to weekly showcase the best of the Vancouver Observer, the independent, online source of news, culture and blogs whose motto is, "All local -- all the time."]

To bury or to burn. Is that really the question?

If you've attended one of Metro Vancouver's public consultations on garbage management for our region, you may believe it is.

I went to the May 19 consultation in Vancouver hoping to walk away with a better idea of the options for dealing with our ever-growing pile of collective refuse. For two hours, Metro Vancouver bureaucrats and politicians, industry reps and lobbyists mass burning garbage in a proposed $400 million incinerator talked.

It wasn't until Susan Maxwell spoke that spontaneous applause broke out. Maxwell tore a strip out of the solid waste management plan and Metro Vancouver for "not looking at best practices" for reducing and recycling garbage and for quashing any dissent towards the proposed incinerator.

Maxwell, who wrote her thesis on the concept of zero-waste, said Metro Vancouver's plan has been skewed in favour of incineration and ignores the view that energy can be saved and more jobs created through properly implemented recycling programs

Envronmentally speaking, it all looks good on paper. And yet, the Integrated Solid Waste and Integrated Resource Management Plan has environmentalists and zero-waste proponents fuming.

The reason for this became apparent at the public consultation. Although reduction and recycling initiatives comprise half of the plan, Metro Vancouver's presentation at the consultations was focused almost exclusively on the benefits of incineration. And despite Metro Vancouver waste committee chair Greg Moore's assertion that incineration has the spotlight because it is so controversial, the consultations -- which are supposed to be the public's one and only chance to ask questions and comment on the plan -- have the tone of a sales pitch.

Vancouver advocates reduction

The first half of the plan discusses strategies for reducing the amount of garbage we produce, and improving our recycling rate to 70 per cent. The third section talks about "waste-to-energy": burning, digesting or gasifying garbage and producing energy through the process. The fourth part of the plan allows for landfill space to hold whatever remains after reduction, recycling and energy recovery has occurred.

So what are the Greenies griping about? Shouldn't they be happy that more than half the plan is dedicated to reducing, recycling and recovering energy -- even if recovery would occur through incineration?


Metro Vancouver is soliciting feedback from the public on the Integrated Solid Waste and Integrated Resource Management Plan until July 14. Send in your thoughts on the plan and let Metro know how you want the region to handle our garbage in the decades to come.

The problem, says Vancouver councillor and Metro board member Andrea Reimer, is if the plan's reduction and recycling initiatives were properly carried out, there would likely be no need for another incinerator. Building the incinerator before implementing the triple R programs outlined in the plan is a lot like putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Except that this cart costs $400 million dollars (and may or may not be harmful to our health and the health of our airshed.)

Vancouver is behind a series of 11th hour recommended amendments to the solid waste management plan. The amendments propose drastically reducing the amount of waste we produce as a region, banning all compostable organics and wood from the landfill by 2015, and taking the incinerator option out of the plan entirely.

Metro Vancouver's argument for building a new incinerator is based on the assumption the amount of waste we produce regionally will continue to go up as the population increases. It also assumes the amount of garbage each of us produces will inevitably go up -- despite the first goal of the draft plan focusing on reducing the amount of waste we produce.

Maybe the question we should be asking then is what kind of waste management plan claims waste reduction as its first goal, and then assumes that there will actually be an increase in the amount of waste generated?

Ever more wasteful Canadians

In Canada, we produce more garbage per person than any other country in the world. On average, one Canadian produces 1.1 tonnes of waste each year. That's 50 per cent more waste than we produced 30 years ago.

In Metro Vancouver, residents produce 1.5 tonnes of landfill-bound garbage each year: well above the Canadian average. To restate this cringe-worthy perspective, Metro Vancouverites are producing more garbage than the average Canadian, and the average Canadian produces more garbage than just about anyone else in the world.

In short, the problem is that we create ridiculously unsustainable amounts of garbage. Incinerators are economically more viable than landfills. But the fact that they produce energy does not account for the need to create enough garbage to economically sustain running an incinerator once it's there. The biggest problem with an expensive incinerator is it may actually prove to be a disincentive to implementing aggressive recycling and reduction programs.