British Columbia

B.C. approves Metro Vancouver garbage overhaul

The provincial government has approved a Metro Vancouver plan to build garbage incinerators to help get rid of some of its trash.
Metro Vancouver's plan to burn some garbage and generate electricity got a tentative green light from B.C., the CBC's Susana da Silva reports 2:51

The provincial government has approved a Metro Vancouver plan to build garbage incinerators to help get rid of some of its trash.

The incinerators are part of an overall waste management plan for Metro Vancouver approved today by Environment Minister Terry Lake, who said the aim is to divert 70 per cent of the region's solid waste through recycling, composting and other measures by 2015. The rest of the garbage could be dumped in landfills or burned in the incinerators, using the heat to generate electricity.

Lake said the 70 per cent target — with a further 80 per cent reduction goal by 2020 — may appear ambitious by today's standards, but it is attainable. He noted Port Moody already diverts 70 per cent of its waste through recycling and San Francisco is at 74 per cent.

"The plan is aggressive by today's standards, but I think the future's moving very quickly and looking forward to 2015 and [by] 2020, I don't think these diversion rates will be unusual at all," he said.

Metro Vancouver's chief administrative officer Johnny Carline said Lake has issued directives around where the waste plan goes from here.

"There are concerns people have about waste-to-energy technologies," Carline said.

"Whether it's air emissions or greenhouse gases or their impact, we recognize it, but it's important to be really clear about what the minister says and he says, If you're going to pursue in-region waste-to-energy, here's what you've got to do,' and he lays out a process of consultation to establish the standards around that."

The next step involves hammering out the details, including where incinerators would be built and establishing a timeline for completion. Rules set out by the provincial government include mandatory consultation with the Fraser Valley Regional District for any plans to build incinerators in the Lower Mainland.

 "We're all breathing the same air," said Lake. "We recognize that there is a concern in the Fraser Valley about the quality of the air shed."

Consultation with the Fraser Valley Regional District is expected to begin in September.

But Abbotsford South Liberal John van Dongen said he is not pleased with any incinerator plan because it will eventually bring more air pollution to the Fraser Valley.

He said he told Lake he was not happy and believes local Fraser Valley politicians will oppose any incinerator proposals.

"I'm not comfortable with a conditional approval of the plan as a local MLA," said van Dongen. "I have indicated that to the minister. I can't be sure that it won't negatively impact our valley. I'm concerned."

Attorney General Barry Penner, who represents the Chilliwack-Hope riding, said he hasn't studied the details of the announcement, but agreed that Fraser Valley political representatives must be consulted about any future Metro Vancouver plans when it comes to waste incineration.

Community support an uphill battle

Meanwhile, environmental groups are already mobilizing to fight the plan.

Ben West, a community health campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, said it won't be hard to convince  communities to oppose garbage incineration.

"Nobody wants garbage burning in their backyard," he said. "The easy part is sort of approving the idea of a plan — the much more difficult thing is actually going to be ... getting support from a community to build one of these things."

West said politicians are often easily swayed by companies offering technologies to incinerate garbage.

He said it's attractive because there's a promise to reduce waste and provide income, but incinerators produce bad air and toxic waste that ends up in landfills.

The announcement comes as a disappointment to the Interior community of Cache Creek, where much of Vancouver's garbage has been trucked for decades.

Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta says Vancouver garbage creates about 120 jobs in his community.

Studies examining the pollution and potential health problems created by incinerating garbage have produced conflicting results with some finding minute, harmless amounts of pollution while others suggesting health risks from the tiny particulates in the air.

With files from The Canadian Press