Waste to Energy: Who wants to burn Metro-Vancouver’s garbage?

At the Monday, November 4, 2013 Council Meeting, Nanaimo Council had three options regarding the proposed garbage incinerator at Duke Point,  to either:

a) write a letter to Metro-Vancouver informing that Nanaimo didn’t want a garbage incinerator;
b) amend the zoning at Duke Point to exclude incinerators as a possible use;
c) allow the selection process to run its course and wait to see if Nanaimo made the short-list.

Council voted for option “c” and receive the report. Councillor McKay spoke of the benefits of having the incinerator. Councillor Anderson was absent and Councillors Grieves and Bestwick were silent on the issue. Councillors Pattje, Johnstone, Kipp and Brennan seemed concerned with public opinion. Mayor Ruttan appeared to be in favour of the proposal.

Let’s look at some of the factors involved with operating a garbage incinerator:

The proposed garbage incinerator is estimated to cost taxpayers $500 million and if approved would be operational by 2015.

Background information:
The land being proposed for the garbage incinerator was purchased by Seaspan Ferries in 2011 after they took over  Van Isle Barge Services, one of the last remaining independent barge companies on the BC Coast. Seaspan is owned by American Dennis Washington as part of the Washington Group of Companies.

The following is a quote from RDN Director Houle:

“The City of Nanaimo has right-of-way issues regarding the Wellcox property they bought earlier this year and Seaspan could help them on that one. Seaspan is  also one of the players in the land at Duke Point that is being proposed for an incinerator. Seaspan Ferries vice-president Steve Roth has been quoted as saying the two projects are not “tied at the hip,” but who knows what will happen?”

The trend towards WTE “Waste to Energy”:
All around the world, garbage incinerators are being touted as the ‘best thing’. In 2001 there were only two garbage incinerators in Canada, now there is one being proposed in almost every province .

What’s so great about it?
New Jersey-based Covanta Energy Corp., is set to burn waste at the Clarington plant in Ontario currently under construction with the latest burn technology. Once fully operational, it will produce 20MW (megawatts), which the operators claim is “enough to power nearly 12,000 households.” Let’s look at the numbers.

WTE – enough to power a light blub
Consider the Canadian average household consumption is 30 kW (kilowatts) per day. If you use a 100-watt incandescent bulb for 10 hours, then you have consumed 1 kWh of electricity. So in reality, 12,000 homes could have 1 light bulb powered by the WTE incinerator for about 16 hours. Therefore, 20MW would maybe enough to power 667 homes – not 12,000.

Once the waste is collected, it has to be taken to a transfer station, dumped, transported, reloaded on to barges, involving up to 200 trucks a day.  Then the garbage would be barged across the Strait of Georgia, docked at Duke Point, unloaded and transferred to the incinerator site.  This expensive multi-step transportation process could be eliminated by dealing with the trash in Vancouver.

The stack at the Clarington facility in Ontario reaches more than 87 metres high. This is for a plant that will only incinerate up to 140,000 tonnes of garbage. The proposed incinerator at Duke Point would burn 700,000 tonnes of Metro Vancouver’s garbage per year so Nanaimo will have its very own mini CN Tower!

Once the garbage has burned, the residual ash would be sent to the Regional District of Nanaimo landfill in Cedar. Current estimates put the lifespan of the landfill without the incinerator ash ending in 2034. With the ash, the lifespan of the RDN landfill is shortened to 2017.

Toxic Jobs:
Studies of workers at municipal solid-waste incinerators show that workers are at much higher risk for adverse health effects than individual residents in the surrounding area. In the past, incinerator workers have been exposed to high concentrations of dioxins and toxic metals, particularly lead, cadmium, and mercury.

No plan to burn Nanaimo’s garbage:
Mr. Fuller asked council and staff if there would be plans to burn Nanaimo’s garbage at Duke Point as well as Metro Vancouver’s. The City Manager Mr. Swabey replied that there were no plans to include Nanaimo’s garbage.

Metro-Vancouver residents the worst recyclers in Canada:
The average Metro-Vancouver resident generates 0.9 tons of solid waste per year in comparison to the Canadian average of 0.5 tons per year. Metro-Vancouver residents are on record as the worst city in Canada for producing waste.

Jessica MacDonald, one of seven UBC students who studied Metro Vancouver’s waste management plan, discusses alternatives to incineration:

Where to put the beast?
In 2010, Lois Jackson, then chair of the Waste Management Committee for Metro-Vancouver changed the composition of the committee a couple months before the committee decided to send the waste incineration plan out for consultation. The current chair, Malcolm Brodie, is also a strong advocate of waste incineration. Recently, bylaws were approved that would restrict recycling of materials. Some say that this is to guarantee a steady garbage stream for an incinerator.

Since nobody wants an incinerator in Metro-Vancouver, the committee is looking outside the region.

Take action:
Don’t sit around, time for action is now, sign a petition or email your comment to mayor&council@nanaimo.ca in Nanaimo or send an email to Metro-Vancouver’s waste to energy committee NWTE@metrovancouver.org.

There are considerations to be made before making a commitment to building an incinerator, and Paul-Andre LaRose, Ph.D. presents those considerations briefly in this video.