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Europe trash tours sent Metro Van decision makers jet-setting away from nearby solutions

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan (top left), Surrey Councillor Marvin Hunt (top right), Surrey Councillor Linda Hepner (bottom right) and Vancouver Councillor Heather Deal (bottom left) have gone on a trip to visit incineration facilities in Europe.

Five days in Sweden

It was a beautiful day in Vancouver when Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan caught a flight last September that took him over the Canadian Arctic to Sweden. The deputy chair of Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Committee was on a working trip to learn more about incineration in a country that wrote the book on turning garbage into energy.  It was also a trip that cost taxpayers more than $7,500 in flights, registration fees and food.

According to reports in local media, Corrigan admitted there were differences in the European and Canadian approach to incinerators.

"We want limited incineration, not dependence on it -- it's a real distinction in the way we approach it," he said. 

That distinction, however, hadn't deterred other Metro Vancouver politicians from boarding planes for Europe.

In 2008, then Waste Management Committee chair Marvin Hunt, a Surrey councillor and current MLA, was invited to view two incinerators in Paris. According to a January 11, 2008 memo from Johnny Carline, Metro Vancouver's Chief Administrative Officer at the time, the trip was organized by “leading waste-management company, Suez Environnement”. Suez, a multi-billion dollar French water and waste management giant, along with its partner Burnaby engineering consulting firm AECOM, is also a bidder for Metro Vancouver's proposed new incinerator.

The following year, Metro Vancouver received a comprehensive report from Suez partner AECOM on what should be done about an avalanche of garbage that had to be dealt with by the year 2035. Two of the preferred options pointed toward incineration.  So when Metro Vancouver staff proposed a trip to Sweden to view incineration technology, the board jumped at the chance to go.

Four Metro Vancouver directors from the Zero Waste Committee spent more than $30,000 taxpayer dollars to visit Sweden to view that country’s waste-to-energy incineration plants in action. Sweden was a leading proponent of waste-to-energy, burning enough garbage to power 250,000 homes.

Waste to energy conversion

Former Metro Vancouver waste management committee chair Marvin Hunt was so impressed by the tour of incinerators in Europe that he wrote a testimonial for Philipp Schmidt-Pathmann, a Seattle-based waste management consultant and founder of the Zero Landfill Initiative.

"Over the past few years, Philipp has demonstrated the wealth of his knowledge of waste conversion technologies throughout the Pacific Northwest ... he has also arranged meeting for me with experts when I have travelled to various European cities," Hunt wrote. "When I want answers, I look to Philipp.”

Hunt spoke about Metro Vancouver's plans to emphasize incineration as part of its overall waste management plan at a waste-to-energy conference in Yorkville, Ontario in 2009. Along with Surrey councillor Linda Hepner, he later pointed to North Surrey as an ideal place to build a new incinerator.

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