Zero waste and consumerism

The writer takes issue with several points reported in a study on waste incinerators, published in the Apr. 4 Journal.

Dear Editor

Some thoughts on last week’s lead article in the Ashcroft Journal (Marc Lee’s “Closing the Loop,” April 4)

Marc Lee’s report, as is clear, ostensibly supports zero waste.

The methods it advocates for achieving zero waste, however, are, as it admits, very hard to put in practice because they would involve no less than a fundamental change in the way we think and behave. For example, we would need to learn to do without new things and get used to accepting used or recycled products; manufacturers would have to stop using any form of plastic packaging, and, more importantly, to stop luring us into buying things. Etc. These methods, if universally applied , would indeed lead us toward zero waste. In fairness, some steps are already being taken to reduce the amount of packaging, to recycle more and to accept recycled materials. These steps, positive as they are, are so tiny, however, that literally generations would go by before we got so good at applying them that zero waste would begin to seem possible. In other words, the concept of zero waste as envisaged by this report is a UTOPIAN concept given to us because the writer knows we’re suckers for sweet things.

The real motive beneath the sugar coating, however, is something altogether different and uglier.

We all know that Metro Van is fast giving up on landfilling as a preferred method of municipal solid waste disposal and is in the process of exploring state-of-the-art waste-to-energy solutions.

So what this report is out to do is to try to get Metro Van to reverse course and go back to dumping its waste in landfills-preferably, of course, hundreds of kilometres away in Cache Creek.

What are the tell-tale signs of the devious intent of this report? Let me point out a few.

First there is the acknowledgment in the report that Jeff Morris is a major contributor to its development; and unless I’m terribly mistaken, this is the same Dr. Morris who collaborated with Belkorp/Wastech several years ago in the production of the Morris Report which vented against incinerators and came out glowing in favour of the Cache Creek Extension.

Second, the Report (Closing the Loop) harshly criticizes MV’s proposal to go waste-to-energy in good measure because, in its view, incinerators produce a lot of ash which would itself be in need of landfilling. This is certainly a fair criticism of incinerators and of incinerator ash. The report, however, fails to point out that MV is in the process of exploring alternate forms of waste-to-energy solutions that do not involve traditional forms of incineration-like the Plasma Gasification Melting process, for example, which leaves behind a solid slag that entraps heavy metals, and not the sort of incinerator ash laced with the kind of leachable toxics that have been such a headache for Cache Creek in recent months.

Third, the Report is blatantly one-sided: it fails to recognize the positive aspects of alternate forms of disposal. This excerpt from a recent NYT article (April 2010) is an example: While new, state-of-the-art landfills do collect the methane that emanates from rotting garbage to make electricity, they churn out roughly twice as much climate-warming gas as waste-to-energy plants do for the units of power they produce, the 2009 E.P.A. study found…The study also concluded that waste-to-energy plants produced lower levels of pollutants than the best landfills did, but nine times the energy.

Marc Lee, Jeff Morris, et al. would do well, I think, to remember that the most convincing arguments are based on balanced reporting. For their one-sidedness they get a failing mark – from me at least.

Ermes Culos