British Columbia

Scientists back Metro Vancouver incinerator plan

Environmental researchers and scientists say waste-to-energy technology is the best way to deal with the Metro Vancouver region's excess garbage.
Some climate change experts say waste-to-energy incineration is the best way to deal with Metro Vancouver's garbage, the CBC's Theresa Lalonde reports 1:56

Environmental researchers and scientists say waste-to-energy technology is the best way to deal with the Metro Vancouver region's excess garbage.

On Monday, the provincial government approved a Metro Vancouver plan to burn some of the region's trash  in incinerators, using the heat to generate electricity.

But residents of B.C.'s Fraser Valley, where pollution is funnelled in from the Lower Mainland, argue incinerators will impact air quality in the region.

Abbotsford Coun. Patricia Ross said residents will fight to protect their communities.

"I've got 90-year-old grandmothers who have promised me they are going to lie down in front of the machinery," Ross said.

A public opinion survey on waste-to-energy technology in the Fraser Valley indicates about 59 per cent of residents who know about the incineration plans oppose  burning garbage.

But Andrew Weaver, a climate change scientist at the University of Victoria who has been internationally recognized for his work, said the science doesn't support the fears.

"It's a fear of the unknown that simply is not borne out by the scientific data," Weaver said. "There is no evidence to support the fact that burning waste in the Metro Vancouver region will have any impact on the air quality in the Fraser Valley if it's done to today's standards."

Incinerators not main source of pollution, emissions

Toxic air emissions, Weaver said, are for the most part taken out at the plant as opposed to what now hovers in the air as a result of landfills.

"It's really a misplaced fear because technologies today are able to capture particulate matter at source."

Weaver said burning waste actually works to keep greenhouse gases down, alongside strong recycling and composting programs.

Mark Jaccard, a professor of sustainable energy at Simon Fraser University, said waste-to-energy facilities should be a part of any environmental strategy for garbage.

"We should stop doing landfills, we should be aggressively putting in laws for producer responsibility and/or aggressive recycling campaigns," he said.

"But even so, I think you're still going to have a legitimate reason to do waste-to-energy because our real problems with our energy systems involve greenhouse gases and this is a low to minimal way of producing greenhouse gases."

Jaccard said Fraser Valley residents should be concerned about emissions, but not because of waste-to-energy facilities.

"If we're trying to get emissions down, there's a lot they could be doing in the Valley that I don't see them doing — not allowing sprawl, taxing property development more to put in their own transportation systems and so on," he said.

Ryan Allan, an assistant professor in health sciences at Simon Fraser University, agreed incinerators shouldn't be the region's primary concern.

"Personally ... rather than one or two large sources that typically are very well controlled and have lots of air pollution controls in place, I am actually more concerned about the little sources that are out there."

Farming and commuter traffic, analysts say, account for far more pollutants than burning garbage under today's regulations ever will.