An incinerator fouls not only our airshed, with thousands of unknown toxins and a ton of greenhouse gases for every ton burned. It fouls our rivers, lakes, and groundwater. Toxic ash landfills foul the soil (25 per cent of our waste - by weight, 10 per cent by volume - remains as toxic ash). Incineration fouls our health. Only the unknowable toxic synergies are "unpredictable"; the other impacts are a sure thing.
The Fraser Valley Regional District is only one of many local governments opposing the incinerator: one-third of Metro Vancouver directors voted against it. Native Nations, community organizations and hundreds of individuals in both regions opposed it.
An incinerator would burn our kids' resources, waste their fossil fuels, for 50 years. Long before 2070, the Earth's 10 billion people will be desperate for resources. Products that are difficult to recycle will be a folly of the past. Like the costly destruction systems Metro Vancouver is now building, which will be shut down - wasted. Will our grandchildren have to mine landfills, fish the Pacific gyre?
Metro's own waste plan (financial implications, page 32) points out that diverting resources from the waste stream has economic benefits.
"There is considerable economic activity that takes place in the process of recycling the collected materials into new goods as an alternative to virgin feed stocks. Although difficult to estimate, the economy associated with the remanufacturing of recycled materials into new products exceeds the costs for collection, transportation and processing. Net expenditures associated with disposal more closely reflect the entire disposal economy since there is little economic activity that occurs following disposal."
So why choose incineration? Metro Vancouver's plan states that we can't recycle more than 80 per cent unless distant markets remain stable; that they are looking for contingencies. Asian markets fail when the price of oil gets too high, as happened in 2008 when we had to pay to burn or bury our recycled materials.
What contingency could there be besides local remanufacture? According to Metro Vancouver's director of policy and planning for waste management in 2011, "The contingency is waste-to-energy". (Global incinerator corporations have deep pockets, plenty lobbyists.) This raises the question: what happens to the 80 per cent we'll be recycling when markets fail?
It pays Asian corporations to buy, ship and remanufacture our recovered resources and ship new products back. These are cheaper not only because of low wages and poor to no environmental protection. These industries avoid the cost of extracting and refining virgin resources.
Instead of wasting billions of our tax dollars on massive systems for burning, on garbage transport and ash landfills, we need to use public money to develop diversion and remanufacturing capacity today: to build industries, business, jobs: local economic renewal, for public and private profit.
Metro Vancouver taxpayers can own a paper recycling plant and other remanufacturing industries, the way we own the incinerator. We can partner with private industry and municipalities as we do with the Cache Creek landfill. We can work with private recycling industries and publicly owned facilities too, to meet everyone's needs for resources, as we already do with the various waste management companies.
Each municipality can build a bottle washing plant; facilities to convert textiles to rags and paper, construction waste to lumber, firewood and wood chips, demolition waste to product recovery and building deconstruction. Reuse and repair community centres for appliances, furniture, bikes, can include a free store to make items available to people who can't afford even thrift stores, taking the social justice dimension of waste into account.
Diversion options are virtually unlimited. Most such developments are profitable industries and businesses. Some cost the region (as does incineration) but are profitable in the long run because they conserve resources and share our wealth-ethical imperatives. All are better outcomes for our taxes than toxic ash and destruction of our life support ecosystems.
This necessary reconfiguration of our industrial consumer society is happening all over the world. It can happen here. We can profit today by protecting our children's future.
Hildegard Bechler, New Westminster