Never mind burn/bury, let’s focus on reduction

The debate on whether to burn or bury (our waste, that is) has been raging in the Lower Mainland lately. On July 30, Metro Vancouver voted to take bids from companies offering alternative solutions for garbage, alongside bids from incineration companies (For those who aren’t familiar with the story, Frances Bula summed up the recent history of the debate in Monday’s Globe and Mail).

We’re hoping that with Metro’s decision, serious consideration will now be given to proposals that:

  1. Offer sustainable waste reduction strategies for the region
  2. Present economic growth and job opportunities through the development of a robust and sustainable (environmentally and economically), local recycling industry

July 14, 2010 was the last day Metro Vancouver took public input on the latest Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan. Recycling Alternative’s co-owner Louise Schwarz made a presentation at the public meeting — the following is from her speech:

I would like Metro to consider carefully, with this plan to increase the number of incinerators in the region, whether they can realistically ensure that the over two decades of hard work, money and resources pumped into waste reduction initiatives, recycling programs and education have not been a waste of time, money and energy.

I would like Metro to consider whether they can guarantee with this plan for increased incineration, that the region is not going to slip backwards in the progress we have made over the last 20 years in improving waste reduction efforts, and increasing recycling and diversion rates.

Because many of us are concerned that increasing the number of incinerators in the region goes hand-in-hand with single streaming our recycling materials, which in turn goes hand-in-hand with decreased recycling and diversion rates, which in turn goes hand-in-hand with decreased jobs in the long run, leading to a less engaged public and a less environmentally sustainable approach to our waste.

On the other side of the balance sheet, we have the opportunity to continue to build on front line waste reduction, recycling and engagement strategies already underway with the public.

This option will go hand in hand with improved Extended Producer Responsibility and Stewardship programs which in turn will go hand-in-hand with higher recycling and re-manufacturing opportunities, which in turn will go hand-in-hand with the possibility to develop new and innovative industries to deal with our waste and recycling products, all of which will go hand-in-hand with increased jobs in the long run, more informed, engaged and environmentally sustainable citizen and manufacturer behavior.

As we all agree, behavior change is key to tackling our garbage problem.

I ask Metro to consider very carefully the balance sheet on this matter, in determining whether it is necessary, indeed desirable from an environmental and economic perspective (in relation to the long-term potential opportunities in the emerging recycling, industrial and manufacturing sectors) to increase the number of incinerators in the region, as Metro Vancouver’s “back end” strategy to deal with our garbage, rather than continue to tackle the problem of our garbage from the “front end”, where the waste starts.