All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

The Heather Street incinerator

with 3 comments

The incinerator in Vienna

The showy incinerator in Vienna

This week the short list for garbage incinerators (sorry, I mean waste-to-energy facilities) for Metro Vancouver came out.  One of these, a bid by Plenary Group, would be located at the foot of HeatherStreet (9000 block) in Vancouver.  Right away mayor Greg Robertson stated that the city does not support mass burning of garbage.

Given the politics surrounding waste management, and the tug-of-war between Metro Vancouver and its municipalities, this isn’t too surprising.  But it’s regrettable nonetheless.

I know I’m a minority in the environmental community for endorsing incinerators (see WC’s position here, for instance),  but please hear me out.  I’ve seen centrally-located incinerators in European cities.  They work well, and are equipped with very thorough air pollution control devices.  Ditto for the Burnaby incinerator, which has operated for over twenty years without a hitch, with very low air emissions.   If you’ve been to Paris, Berlin, Vienna, or London, you may have walked past a central incinerator without ever noticing.  These machines are considered so innocuous that Copenhagen is planning to build one that will be in the cenmtre of town and will double up as a tourist attraction, with an artificila ski hill on top.   

Why I prefer incinerators to other waste management systems is because of their effectiveness at recycling energy.  A well located incinerator can produce heat and hot water for a whole district, over and above the electricity that it produces.  It takes away the need to burn natural gas (our main residential heating fuel) and so produces a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  These CHP systems, as they’re called, produce district heating as well as electricity, and their central location means that there is less pollution from garbage trucks.  In contrast, landfills are far from the centres, are a menace to wildlife, and try hard to capture their emissions – but mostly fail in the attempt.

But the main argument against incinerators is that they need to be fed, and accoringly to that logic incinerators discourage recycling initiatives.  The mayor stated that “Vancouver is committed to zero waste solutions”.  All well and good; but we are a long way from reaching that goal, despite some very interesting initiatives; and the population is growing, and so is, unfortunately, the volume of garbage produced.  Right now, Vancouver’s garbage goes to the landfill, where little of its energy is recovered and where it remains liable to producing leachate and uncaptured methane, or worse yet, catch fire.  I suggest you visit the ladfill; even if recycling was so effective that only half of the trucks that currently feed the landfill were needed, that would still represent a small mountain of garbage, daily.

People are fond of pointing out that some incinerators in Sweden have to import waste from abroad, because the Swedes do such a good job of recycling.  Fair enough – but what isn’t usually mentioned is how much money they make by processing the garbage of their neighbours; not exactly a big downside.  It is true that, in an ideal world, there is universal producer responsibility and no waste is ever produced – or is recycled, or reused, or turned into compost, etc.  But Vancouver is betting on an utopia instead of dealing with its own waste responsibly.  It is generated in town, it should be treated in town; that’s just the right thing to do.

Much as I like our council and support most of their environmental initiatives, I can’t get on board with this decision.  A missed opportunity, really, and kinda sad.  Oh well, maybe Lehigh’s bid in Delta will get the nod, and that would mean burning garbage instead of burning coal to make cement.  An improvement.        


Written by enviropaul

November 22, 2013 at 9:49 pm

3 Responses

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  1. You may have missed it , but FU go talk to the children with cancer.
    Mabey try reading a little about the health effects of wast incinerators.

    Lyle Wood

    November 25, 2013 at 7:50 pm

  2. I applaud Vancouver for saying No! If one researches deeply one will find an overwhelming number of reasons why an incinerator is definitely not a good idea-health concerns is a major one. As for being a money maker check out what is going on in the United States with these vile facilities. Tourism? really? I have friends who live in England that were going to buy here in Nanaimo,-once they got wind of the proposed incinerator Vancouver would like to put here-not a chance.

    Cat Campbell

    November 25, 2013 at 8:22 pm

  3. […] The politics – and the PR campaign that Belkorp and co have mounted, are quite fascinating, in their own right (Frances Bula has covered the situation in detail here and here, articles well worth reading). By establishing a link between the bylaw and incinerators, they managed to fool the environmental community into doing its work, even though there was no link, as I described here, and even though, for that matter, WTFs deserve a fair hearing. […]

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