Trash or burn?

Vancouver aims to be the world’s greenest city by 2020

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What will Canada’s greenest city do with its trash? Bury it in a far-off hole? Burn it in a new $470-million waste-to-energy incinerator? Last week, local politicians inched closer to a decision following a heated, five-hour debate at a Metro Vancouver board meeting. The regional body oversees Vancouver’s 21 municipalities, including Surrey, tony West Vancouver and granola-crunching Bowen Island, and they don’t always agree. The hullabaloo over the region’s 1.4 million tonnes of garbage boiled down to whether or not to build a new incinerator. The hiccup: would it be green enough?

Those in favour, including Metro Vancouver board chair Lois Jackson, say the incinerator would help reduce the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of garbage currently being trucked to landfills, including sites in suburban Delta and Cache Creek in B.C.’s Interior. It’s the most economical solution, adds Jackson, who is also the mayor of Delta, and would love to shut its smelly landfill. Burnaby councillor Sav Dhaliwal also supports a new incinerator, noting that one has been operating in Burnaby for 20 years, and nobody even knows it’s there.

Vancouver, which aims to be the world’s greenest city by 2020, spearheaded the opposition. “We can do better,” Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson wrote in the Vancouver Province. “By separating materials and using smaller, more targeted technologies like converting fast-food wrappers into fuel or organic waste into biofuels, we can use our waste to create energy in a more financially and environmentally responsible way.” Committing to “one massive incinerator,” he wrote, “takes away any incentive to reduce or recycle for decades to come.”

Following last Friday’s vote, all options remain on the table. Ultimately, the province will make the call. And that has many environmentalists worried. Environment Minister Barry Penner will base his decision, says the Wilderness Committee’s Ben West, on a Metro Vancouver staff report that is “heavily skewed” in favour of incineration. Metro “couldn’t come to a decision,” says West, so they decided to “pass the buck.”

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