This Article is part of the Up in Smoke special report See the full report

Andrea Reimer says Metro Van's incinerator plan from another era

Vancouver out-gunned in fight against waste-to-energy incinerator but refusing to give up. Fourth in a three-month series.

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Under the Integrated Solid Waste and Resource Management Plan, Metro Van is pushing forward with aggressive waste-diversion targets. The goal is to divert as much as 80 per cent of the region’s waste by 2020, but the unusable residue left over at the end will be destined for an incinerator. And according to Metro Van, burning that residue to make energy is “the best solution for handling garbage remaining after all efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle.” 

Reimer isn't buying it. But she and her Vancouver colleagues are outvoted on a board that she says seems to be stuck on old ideas and is difficult to budge.

“I really think you are watching the same battle as the car versus alternative forms of transportation,” says Reimer. “It’s the same battle. We haven’t yet gained enough votes to stop it from happening. I've definitely seen some movement. People are worried about the finances and cost ... which I suspect will be significantly higher since it was put in the plan five years ago.”

Reimer’s philosophical differences spring from her background with the Green Party and almost 20 years with BC’s Wilderness Committee, nine of which she served as executive director. Her green credentials fit with the Vancouver Vision Party’s vision of creating the greenest city on the planet by 2020. That civic view has been under attack lately as the city faces the possibility of more oil tankers in the harbour from a proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, more coal shipments and now an incinerator proposed for the region’s garbage.

Last October, Metro Van passed By-law 280. The regulation, which is yet to be approved by Victoria, ensures control over the waste-flow in the region, and helps to support recycling and reuse programs. Currently some of the region’s garbage is being trucked to Abbotsford where dumping fees are lower. Critics charge that By-law 280 is designed to guarantee a steady stream of trash to feed a waste-to-energy facility, and that the by-law threatens to thwart private industry plans to exploit a public resource. Reimer says that may be true, but the by-law also does much more.

“It also controls feedstock for the guy I'm hoping sets up the bio-gas plant, or the this (plant), or the that. It doesn't just advantage large technology. It is also quite critical for small technologies. You are enabling a feedstock for a local company that might have a good technology to do recovery with. So, what we decided was that we would support flow control but only if there was a provision for material recovery.”

Material Recovery Facility (MRF)

The Vancouver councillors take credit for forcing Metro Van to allow material recovery facilities (MRF). The MRF is a combination of modern robotic technology and common sense: machines and human workers pick through soiled paper, plastics and metals from Metro Vancouver’s garbage waste-stream and recover valuable materials that normally would be buried in a landfill or burned in an incinerator.

“Critically important is that in material recovery (facilities), even if it only gets five or 10% per cent recovery, and every indication is that it will get significantly more than that, it would put another nail in the coffin of a mass burn incineration,” says Reimer.  “So why wouldn't we want to enable that.”

Out-voted on the board, Reimer says the Vancouver councillors are still working hard to make changes. Coquitlam has embraced a new MRF and is asking tough questions about a new incinerator. Veteran Richmond councillor Harold Steves is also concerned about an incinerator. Reimer says the battle is not over yet.

“It feels like we’ve been literally scaling a greased wall through this whole process. Just every possible ‘odd’ is against us but somehow we’ve made progress.”

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