Thursday, July 15, 2010

Waste Not - Talking Trash

We (Metro Vancouver) produce over 1.4 million tonnes of waste each and every year. What we do about this waste should be of great concern to all of us. I reached out to City of Langley Councillor Gayle Martin last week because I wanted to know more about the Solid Waste Plan that Metro has been working on. Gayle was gracious enough to reply to my e-mail with her vast amount of insight and wisdom on this topic. I'd like to thank Gayle for her hard work on the Metro Board and for encouraging Langley City Council to unanimously support Waste to Energy. Cllr. Martin's information helped me greatly and encouraged me to join Township Cllr. Grant Ward on a trip to Metro.

Last night I attended Metro Vancouver's final public session on our region's proposed Solid Waste Management Plan. This was the 33rd public meeting on the subject. Full details can be found on the Metro Vancouver website's waste planning section that I have linked. Metro should be commended for the extent of public input and work done on this file.

The Metro Boardroom was packed to capacity and despite extra chairs being brought in, there were still many people left standing. This is a HOT topic. Metro has been trying to plan and deal with our waste and replacing the Cashe Creek Landfill since 1985. After all is said and done, Metro has several options or a combination of options to deal with our solid waste:

1. Continue to use landfills like Cashe Creek and Burns Bog - Bury our garbage in the ground
2. Educate people and move towards zero waste
3. Increase composting of food and related "organic" waste
4. Increase all recycling efforts and turn our waste into new products
5. Incinerate the waste to create energy (electricity) that can be sold
6. Encourage re-use of things we buy so that new things are not purchased all the time

Everyone agrees that recycling efforts must be increased. I would think that most people would also support the composting of organic waste. Some oppose Waste to Energy Incineration because they are concerned that particulate matter and gasses will enter the sensitive Fraser Valley and Lower Fraser Valley Airsheds which Metro Vancouver also has an air quality plan to address.

After I had my ears full of proposals and debates last night, one message rang very loud and clear in my head. Burying our garbage is appalling, disgusting, not sustainable. Something needs to be done in a BIG way to stop it.

Apart from all the experts and special interest groups, the most powerful message for me was a simple one spoken by Ray Cameron of the Ashcroft Indian Band. He passed three large trucks destined for the Cashe Creek Landfill on his journey from Ashcroft to Burnaby for the meeting. He traveled all that way to tell us that this huge pile of garbage, as well as the leaks in this landfill, have his people concerned. Even if Cashe Creek was shut down today, it would take at least 15-25 years before the methane and other gas emissions from this landfill would cease. Ray Cameron said, "We don't want your garbage anymore." He talked about how this trucking of garbage to his community has been "imposed" on his people.

I don't know about the other people in the room, but Cameron's message just hit me in my heart. While I am very careful to recycle everything I can at my home and constantly seek to reduce my waste to the landfill, I never connected all those garbage bags in my neighbourhood to other people like those in Ashcroft. People who have our waste products IMPOSED on them.

In Langley we are allowed two 80 litre containers of garbage per week. If I put out one full container that is abnormal. Usually my garbage amounts to about 40 litres. In the Township you can pay $2.00 per bag for stickers that allow you to dispose of more garbage. I see the two 80 litre containers and the extras with stickers in my neigbourhood every week. To be fair to them, I also see my neighbours also putting out large quantities items for recycling. One thing is sure, our consumerism is not a "victimless crime".

Matthew Sasaki and Ben West from the Wilderness Committee (see website) were on hand to provide their input to Metro Vancouver. They encouraged more recycling and reuse, showing slides that they say prove that more energy will be expended during the WTE process and that the ash byproduct will be toxic. They oppose incineration and had the large sign (picture above) that read, "Burning Garbage Stinks". Another man that has lives very near to the current Burnaby incineration facility stated that he does not smell anything nor has witnessed evidence of emissions from this plant. It should be noted that several scientific studies refute claims that WTE plants emitting poor air and produce toxic ash.

For the record, I (personally) support Waste to Energy (WTE), but with some caveats:

1. The WTE facilities must scrub their emissions to the maximum extent possible.
2. The WTE facility must ensure the ash end-product is not toxic.
3. This ash will not be dumped in the Burns Bog Landfill. It should be used in road paving, etc.
4. We must educate and move towards zero waste despite all WTE efforts.
5. We must have several WTE facilities (or many).
6. We must make industrial/commercials sites more accountable for recycling their waste.
7. We must deal with recycling or handling construction waste.
8. That we ban the use of food and other containers that aren't able to be recycled.

I know there are some strong opinions out there on these issues, but we need to do something new. Airsheds are impacted today with all those trucks hauling our garbage around our communities and out to Cashe Creek. WTE facilities can scrub emissions and reduce greatly their impact on the environment. With P3 partners not taking the cheap way out and governments insisting they do things the right way, we can be well-served.

I also like the mass composting idea using Gore Covering. This is a Gortex material that seals out emissions from the composting site and allows for the mass composting of large amounts of supermarket, food processing and institutional organic waste products. You can learn more about the Gore Cover here.

Ontario is moving towards WTE and this is one company looking to do it the right way. Some of our municipal councillors from BC have visited this site. Business people from Covanta Energy and union people looking to work there, were out in force for last night's meeting. They want to build a WTE facility in Gold River. You can learn more about Gold River and Covanta here. But again, trucking our waste to Gold River is just as bad as trucking to Cashe Creek. Gold River should serve local area needs and we should have local WTE facilities to reduce trucking.

I like what some of the speakers proposed. One suggested that we pile all our garbage in Queen Elizabeth Park and then have parents take their kids there. When the kids ask what this all is, we could tell them this is that Christmas gift from 2005, etc. Another man suggested that we all duct tape our garbage cans closed for a few weeks and be forced to sort things out and find ways to recycle and reuse our waste.

New technology has come on the market that will allow the average household to use technology to effortlessly compost organic waste right there in your kitchen and all odour free! This product and others are affordable and will allow you to replace that nasty garburator in your sink. It is on my wish list and I hope to have one of these or similar around my home one day. Metro also has this neat website to help you do a Trash Audit and tips to reduce your waste.

I'll close with an impression that even today I cannot clear from my mind....

"We don't want your garbage anymore. Don't continue to impose this on my people"

-- Ray Cameron, Ashcroft Indian Band


Anonymous said...

The city of Vancouver has semi-automated garbage collection. You must rent one of their special bins for trash and yard trimmings. The fee is based on the size of the bin.

We started with the recommended size for a family of 4, a 180 litre bin. For 2010 a household with such a bin pays $128 for garbage collection.

Last year I decided that we didn't need a 180 litre bin and had the city replace it with a 120 litre bin. The savings are minimal (just $23 for 2010), but it was the right thing to do because we don't need such a big bin. I also wanted to send a message to our neighbours, some of whom fill 240 litre bins every week. Granted some of those homes are split into multiple illegal suites, but the quantity of garbage is still astonishing.

Vancouver uses the same system to collect yard trimmings for bulk composting. This past Earth Day the city started allowing residents to dump uncooked fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and filters, teabags, and eggshells in their yard trimmings bin. My wife and I purchased a stainless steel bucket for our kitchen counter to collect acceptable food waste.

We're careful to separate recyclables and put them in our blue box and we stockpile returnable containers in the basement until we have enough to make it worth driving to Encorp.

Corey said...

Until we change the system, these problems will not cease. Sure, we may hide the effects from direct public view for a while, but the system of endless economic growth and consumerism we have now will ensure that the trash production continues, much in the same way it ensures that the automobile culture and hundreds of other wasteful and destructive systems in our society continue.

Change the fundamentals, and you start to fix the problem.

WTE won't solve anything, and neither will expanded landfills.

Joe Zaccaria said...


I'm of the belief that we should do everything that we can to avoid landfilling. WTE is not a silver bullet,nothing in and of itself is. But it is one tool we can use to reduce what is going to landfill.