This is a guest post by Coquitlam City Councillor Fin Donnelly, a member of the Metro Vancouver Waste Management Committee, Executive Director of the Rivershed Society of British Columbia and a candidate for NDP Member of Parliament in New Westminster-Coquitlam-Port Moody.
“If we know TODAY that it’s possible to divert up to 82% of Metro Vancouver’s solid waste then shouldn’t we be aiming for that NOW, and then to 90% and eventually 100% diversion?”
That was the question I put forward at a recent Metro Vancouver Waste Forum where the debate significantly focused on whether to burn or bury our garbage.
With nearly 3.5 million metric tonnes of garbage being produced in Metro Vancouver every year, waste management is one of the largest environmental concerns facing the Lower Mainland and a political hot potato that many politicians would rather transfer to a neighbouring municipality (or nation) than face head on.
Currently, Metro Vancouver recycles just over half of the waste created in the region each year. This means about 1.8 million tonnes is recycled and about 1.6 million tonnes is sent to landfills in Vancouver and Cache Creek or burnt in the Burnaby incinerator.
In 2006, as a (then) Greater Vancouver Regional District (now Metro Vancouver) Director, I put forward a ‘Zero Waste’ motion, which passed unanimously and developed into the Zero Waste Challenge; which now aims to divert 70% of the regions waste by 2015 (currently we recycle 52% of our waste).
Metro Vancouver staff has identified 18% of material, currently in the waste stream (e.g. paper, paperboard, cardboard, food & other organic waste, and wood), that could be fairly easily diverted (recycling this material would get us to 70%). Metro staff has identified a further 12% of recyclable material in the waste stream that could be diverted, although they claim a significant investment in tax dollars would be needed to change the system and people’s habitat to divert this amount of material. However, if we were able to remove this material from the waste stream, we’d move to 82% and be among the world leaders in waste diversion and recycling.
Though garbage is far from glamorous – it’s one of the most important issues we can be talking about right now. We have a choice to make with our waste: Invest in increased recycling and green jobs, or continue with the more traditional methods of burn and bury.
I say, instead of introducing 3-6 waste-to-energy incinerators in the Lower Mainland, let’s create 3-6 recycling centers or Eco-Parks. This would create many local, green jobs, reduce impacts to our climate and air quality, and put us on the path of becoming world leaders in waste diversion – which is pretty exciting – at least as far as garbage goes!
As a final thought, I leave you with my initial question: if we know TODAY that it’s possible to divert up to 82% of Metro Vancouver’s solid waste – shouldn’t we be aiming for that NOW and then to 90% and eventually 100% diversion?
Visit www.metrovancouver.ca and let Metro Vancouver know where you stand on this issue.