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Metro Van garbage plan: green or green wash?

Metro Vancouver is soliciting feedback from the public on the Integrated Solid Waste and Integrated Resource Management Plan until July 14th. 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. 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 talked of mass garbage burning in a proposed $400 million incinerator.

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. 

Environmentally 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%. The third section talks about “waste-to-energy”: burning, digesting or gasifying garbage, 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? 

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.

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