October 26, 2009

Metro Vancouver Solid Waste Management Plan

I attended a Metro Vancouver luncheon on solid waste management on behalf of the Burnaby Board of Trade Environmental Sustainability Committee.

Here's my distillation of the presentation materials and the ensuing discussion:

Top priority is to reduce, reuse, recycle.

Now diverting 55% of waste.

Goal is to divert 70% of waste by 2015 (Metro Toronto has set this goal for year 2010 and is nowhere near achieving it).

MetroVan population projected to grow from ~2 million to ~3 million, so increasing diversion from 55% to 70% has little effect on remaining solid waste.

Even with a 70% diversion rate there will still be over 1 million tonnes of solid waste to dispose of every year.

Three scenarios:
1) waste-to-energy (incinerate)
2) landfill mechanically/biologically treated waste
3) landfill

Key point: When it comes to overall emissions, solid waste management contributes 1% or less in the Fraser Valley, under any scenario.

MetroVan says studies show no discernible health impacts from WTE (waste-to-energy) plants. Many EU nations have WTE plants located in major cities. EU no longer allows landfills.

Key point: What about the "fourth R" in addition to reduce, reuse, recycle? REVENUE (or cost).

WTE, because of heat and electricity generation, has a 35-year NET REVENUE of $20 million in the MetroVan scenarios. The other two options COST between $1.5 billion to $1.8 billion over 35 years.

MetroVan is strongly promoting WTE as the solution.

What about 100% diversion? It becomes uneconomical at a certain point - diminishing returns.

MetroVan feels it's not winning the PR/media war on WTE. Needs to present clear, understandable message to the public. In greater Vancouver, 60% in favor of WTE, but in Fraser Valley only 37%.

I used to question WTE, but I've come around for several reasons. I don't see 100% diversion as being achievable, I think the emissions/health impact from running diesel trucks up the valley to a landfill would be far more detrimental than a new WTE facility, and finally WTE is the only alternative (at least according to MetroVan's consultants) that makes economic sense. In fact it makes $ from producing electricity and heat, whereas the other options cost billions of dollars.

My other observation is that few people even seem to be aware of the WTE facility that has been operating in my home town of Burnaby for years. I'd say 80% of the people that I talk to don't even know it's there.

Posted by Paul at October 26, 2009 05:55 PM