Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

GVRD gets options for garbage, but focus remains burning it

VANCOUVER - Metro Vancouver board members were presented today with a hefty analysis of options for future disposal of solid waste.

In keeping with the board’s adopted policy, most options involved some form of waste-to-energy incineration, something one critic of the policy says will just “create a market for waste,” and therefore discourage waste reduction.

“You build an incinerator that needs to be fed, and suddenly you can rationalize spending money to burn your garbage, because you get a little bit of money back,” said Helen Spiegelman, co-ordinator of Zero Waste Vancouver.

In January 2008, the Metro Vancouver board voted to focus on waste-to-energy facilities, as well as composting and waste reduction, for solid waste management.

The study of options responds to public concerns about incinerators as well as provincial requirements to consider the environmental costs and benefits of all options.

Eight options were presented to the Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District Board, covering various scenarios of incinerating or land-filling waste inside or outside the region, with or without initial processing.

The scenarios are “eight very realistic options that have been suggested by our citizenry,” said Surrey city councillor Marvin Hunt, chair of the region’s waste management committee.

The analysis of waste-to-energy in the report is based on “mass burn,” the established method of garbage incineration, which uses some fossil fuel to maintain combustion and produces steam for district heating and electricity generation.

However, Hunt said that does not prevent the region from adopting newer, less polluting technologies that are currently in development.

“At this point in time we’re not specifically choosing the technology,” he said, arguing that mass burn is a “known commodity” whose impacts can be judged as the “worst-case scenario” for incineration.

But for Spiegelman, newer technology will not change the fundamental problem she sees in the plan.

“For a hundred years we’ve been asking engineers to solve our waste problem, but waste is not an engineering problem, it’s a social problem,” she said. “It’s the wrong solution for a society that produces too much stuff that is designed to be thrown away.”

Spiegelman wants to see an extended producer responsibility program for all packaging and waste, modelled after the province’s existing programs for electronics and toxic waste, something she calls a “really transformational policy.”

“Instead of having a producer sell you something and then you have to dig in your taxpayer pocket and get this public engineering system to collect it and make it disappear, we’re moving into a regime where if a producer makes something and sells it, they have to give you the system for taking it back and recycling it.”

Until that happens, Spiegelman argues that there is more than enough capacity in the region’s existing landfills and the incinerator in Burnaby, particularly if the region follows through on its commitment to composting.

That is one of the options assessed in the consultant’s report -- in Hunt’s words, “basically do nothing and just focus on zero waste and that alone.”

The complete 295-page consultant’s report, prepared by AECOM Canada Ltd., will be used by GVRD staff over the summer to prepare a draft waste management plan. The option or options selected in that plan will then be subject to public consultation in October and November.

Hunt expects the Board will make a decision on the final strategy late this year or early in 2010.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus