Incinerating Metro Vancouver's garbage

To incinerate or not to incinerate Metro Vancouver's garbage? That's a question for Environment Minister Barry Penner. Vancouver City Councillor Kerry Jang wishes he'd say no.

Incineration facility in Amsterdam. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

The lower mainland is no stranger to incinerators. The Waste-to-Energy Facility has been operational (PDF) in South Burnaby since 1988 and has turned approximately 280,000 tonnes of garbage into 900,000 tonnes of steam.

But an approved plan to seriously consider a mass incinerator in Metro Vancouver has churned up opposition. "[The] Vancouver directors voted against incineration, but we were out-voted,”  Councillor Kerry Jang told the Vancouver Observer.

The approval was a "sad" turn, Jang said. "The idea was to reject a new landfill."

Now the incineration proposal will go to Environment Minister Barry Penner. At that point, the matter is all but decided as, according to Jang, Penner is "pro-incinerator."

Jang responded to an email I wrote him asking for his thoughts on the situation with the following statement:

I am disappointed the region voted for incineration. I don't believe that incineration is the best option.

You can burn and scrub the smoke, but you will still get something passed into the air. The scrubbers don't nullify toxic chemicals, they just take them out of the smoke and the question is---do they get them all out?

It may get out the larger particles but then the smaller stuff actually gets released and to me, that is the danger. The smaller particles will have an easier time getting into our bodies by inhalation, etc.

Also, with burning, you are burning several items which release toxic particles (e.g., at the molecular level) that can bind together as well. It seems to me it's a case of "sticking your head in the sand". Vancouver voted against this and we prefer landfill options and zero waste.

I wonder if zero waste was really so hard to achieve? I remember growing up poor and we saved everything and used it until it fell apart. It could be string, boxes, bags, packaging, etc. Nothing was wasted and the amount of garbage we produced was pretty small. 

Minister Penner comes from a district with a number of waste-incinerators. His district is located in the Fraser Valley, where wind tends to blow smog and other pollutants down the valley. Penner's district could take the brunt of the incinerator's negative effects.

 "The Ministry of Environment will be looking very closely at any waste-to-energy proposal to ensure that it will not significantly impact air quality in the Lower Mainland," the Ministry told the Vancouver Sun. "Any new solid waste facility, including proposed waste-to-energy, would need to undergo a thorough environmental assessment and be subject to regulatory approval before it could be built."

According to UBC Geography and Atmospheric professor, Ian McKendry, an incinerator in or near Vancouver would contribute to declining air quality, which we will already have problems with due to rising urban pollution and climate change. Many pollutants, including "ozone and particulate matter" are increasing already. Our air quality cannot be "guaranteed for our future," he said. He said he questions the wisdom then of adding a new source of toxins to our atmosphere.

"The addition of new combustion sources in the Lower Fraser Valley is not advisable," primarily because of the release of dioxins and nano-particles, according to a report called Air Quality in the LFV and Waste to Energy Incineration-an Overview (PDF). These particles could have negative effects on the LFV's agriculture, and cause health problems for a long time to come.

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