Jeff Nagel, Surrey Leader, July 15, 2010
Fans and foes of a possible new regional garbage incinerator got one last chance Wednesday to sway Metro Vancouver directors ahead of a decision expected later this month.
The final public input session at Metro headquarters in Burnaby saw aboriginal leaders, environmental groups and recycling advocates weigh in on the best way to handle the region's surplus garbage.
Among those present were trade unionists with the Coalition of B.C. Building Trade Unions wearing green T-shirts that read "from waste to watts."
The alliance of 15 construction unions supports a waste incinerator proposed for Gold River, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in hopes their members will land the expected 1,000 construction jobs there.
Spokesman Mark Olsen said the unions have an agreement with proponent Covanta Energy assuring work for their members – not a project using unaffiliated workers or imported foreign labourers.
An incinerator built in Metro Vancouver could also bring a job bonanza, but Olsen thinks it's certain to be defeated by fear over air pollution risks.
"The public just won't agree to it," he said. "So if you don't back the energy-from-waste project in Gold River, inevitably it's going to mean expanded landfilling in Cache Creek or Burns Bog."
Metro's draft solid waste management plan stresses diversion efforts and a new goal of boosting recycling from 55 to 70 per cent by 2015.
But it also predicts there will still be at least a million tonnes of waste per year needing disposal.
The preferred strategy is to build a $470-million in-region waste-to-energy plant to take 500,000 tonnes per year.
An out-of-region waste-to-energy plant, like the one at Gold River, would be the second choice if a local plant is blocked.
Third priority would be increased landfilling, expected to favour continued use of the Cache Creek regional landfill.
Other green-clad opponents of incineration unfurled a banner that read "Burning garbage stinks."
Elaine Golds of the Burke Mountain Naturalists urged Metro's board to adopt propose amendments from the City of Vancouver and eliminate in-region incineration from the available options in light of the consistent public opposition.
She said Metro must also ban landfilling or incineration of organic waste that should be composted instead.
Golds predicted no incinerator will be needed or appropriate once organics are out of the waste stream, leaving garbage laden with metals, PVC and plastics she said shouldn't be burned.
She also said claims that a tonne of waste equates to the energy of a barrel of oil neglects the roughly eight barrels of oil that go into making materials that should instead be recycled.
"Incineration is a waste of energy, it is not waste to energy," she said.
Directors heard calls for a more ambitious recycling target, a crackdown on businesses and residents who don't comply and further lobbying of the provincial government to mandate more industry-led recycling takeback programs.
"We don't want to burn it, we don't want to bury it, we don't want to send it to someone else's backyard," said Helen Spiegelman of Zero Waste Vancouver.
Several speakers said incineration anywhere would undermine recycling efforts.
"You're either putting garbage into the ground or into a landfill in the sky," said the Wilderness Committee's Ben West. "The smarter thing to do is to reuse or recycle."
He said a second incinerator for the region would mean more toxic ash that will have to be landfilled at the Vancouver Landfill in Burns Bog.
"Do we want to be putting toxins into the lungs of the Lower Mainland?" West asked.
Ray Cameron, a member of the Ashcroft Indian Band, said he's "sickly opposed" to expanded use of the Cache Creek dump, which had been supposed to close soon until the province approved its use for at least another two decades.
"I keep hearing about landfills being a fallback position," he said. "That's extremely offensive to the people who live up there."
Several firms pitching technology for waste-to-energy, biofuel plants or compost projects also made presentations.
North Vancouver engineer John Hunter said waste incineration is proven, safe technology, adding Metro can set emissions requirements as high as it wishes.
He rejected claims an incinerator would become a monster needing to be fed, noting European countries with the highest recycling rates also make extensive use of waste-to-energy plants.
Metro's waste management committee debates possible amendments to the plan July 21 ahead of an expected vote of the full board July 30.
The region does not have the final say on the plan.
Environment minister Barry Penner can approve it, send it back or rewrite parts of it himself.