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

As Europe shies away from burning trash, Metro Vancouver gears up for $480m waste-to-energy incinerator

Fifth in a three-month series.

(Page 3 of 3)

“Incinerators are really the devil,” says Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group in a New York Times article. “Investing in garbage as a green resource is simply perverse when governments should be mandating recycling. Once you build a waste-to-energy plant, you then have to feed it. Our priority is pushing for zero waste.”

US waste-to-energy incinerators. Source: EPA

WTE incinerators in the US rely on a steady stream of garbage that is transported by rail cars or trucks from local and neighbouring jurisdictions. For many municipalities without the infrastructure, the finances and political will to implement a “zero-waste” strategy, it is the most efficient and economical method to dispose of their garbage.

But some incinerators have come up against heavy community opposition. In Utah, activist Erin Brokovitch joined residents last fall as they rallied to shut down a medical waste incinerator, while the Detroit incinerator has been a target of multiple environmental protests.


Across the Pacific, rapid industrialization and the move from rural to urban lifestyles have resulted in a massive problem with garbage in cities around the region. According to The World Bank, “in Asia there is limited experience with waste incineration outside the industrialized countries of Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. A few plants in other places have experienced managerial, financial or operational problems...”

China had 66 waste-to-energy incinerators as of 2006 but that number was expected to rise to more than 100 by 2012.  Recently, the Chinese Academy of Science studied the emissions from 19 waste incinerators in that country. Only six had toxic emission levels below European and US standards, some being 24 times the western standard.

Middle East

Like Asia, the six Middle Eastern countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are dealing with rapid industrialization, population growth and a lot more garbage. Waste-to-energy incineration is one of the options the GCC is considering to deal with the growing waste stream.

The Caribbean conundrum

Amid the Caribbean Sea’s crystal sand, clear waters and bucolic environment, there are few better examples of a garbage planning gone wrong than the ecological and visual disaster that is the garbage dump on Cayman Islands.

Greeting thousands of cruise ship tourists every day is what appears to be a large hill in the centre of George Town. The 'hill' is actually a towering heap of decade’s worth of garbage. Locals have dubbed the eyesore ‘Mount Trashmore’. And it continues to grow with more than 300 tonnes of new rubbish every day.  Successive governments have spent years grappling with what to do with the rotting trash heap.  Now, in the latest development, a waste-to-energy incinerator is being considered to simply burn the mountain down.

Like the debate over the proposed Metro Vancouver incineration plan, no final decision has been made on the Mount Trashmore incinerator.

In metro Vancouver, that decision has been reserved for 2015.

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