‘Mr. Burns’ to dog Metro Vancouver politicians over incineration

Regional district's waste-to-energy strategy under fire from critics on civic election campaign trail

Opponents of Metro Vancouver's waste-to-energy strategy say the anti-incineration mascot 'Mr. Burns' will be a feature of civic election campaigns in the region.

Opponents of garbage incineration launched a fresh attack on Metro Vancouver’s waste-to-energy expansion plan Tuesday by unveiling a satirical “Mr. Burns” mascot.

Kevin Grandia, a consultant fronting what he calls the Burn Free BC Coalition along with one other activist, said the aim is to pressure local politicians seeking election this fall to resist the Metro plan to build a costly new incinerator.

The concept mirrors the use of a “Mr. Floatie” mascot in Victoria to shame area politicians into supporting a new treatment plant to end the pumping of raw sewage into the ocean.

“This election, we, with Mr. Burns in tow, are going to make sure every voter knows about every municipal candidate who supports this plan,” said Grandia, who unveiled the smokestack-styled mascot outside Metro’s annual Zero Waste Conference in Vancouver.

And while much discussion inside the conference room focused on innovative solutions to recycle or reduce waste before it reaches the consumer, the question of incineration was broached in a panel discussion.

U.S. plastics recycling entrepreneur Michael Biddle said burning plastics ends its potential use as a resource, although he added waste-to-energy has a role because not everything can be recycled. Another speaker cautioned against over-building incinerators.

Metro officials insist they support recycling, reuse and reduction of waste at the design stage before recovering energy from unrecyclable waste instead of landfilling it.

But Abbotsford Coun. Patricia Ross accused them of avoiding the topic of incineration at the conference and in municipal elections this fall.

Metro last spring postponed plans to start public consultations on some prospective sites for a new waste-to-energy plant after Nanaimo council rejected one site at Duke Point.

Metro has yet to identify other potential sites it has optioned that could be matched with waste-to-energy firms proposing to use various technologies.

“It’s the huge elephant in the room,” Ross said. “They’ve gone quiet until after the election because they don’t want it to be an election issue. After that’s over things will happen very, very quickly and it will be too late for people to do anything about it.”

Opponents of a new waste-to-energy plant for Metro cite varying concerns, including worse air pollution in the Fraser Valley, high costs and the undermining of greener recycling alternatives.

Metro insists its strategy is to increase recycling from an average of 58 per cent to 80 per cent by 2020, but it will still need more disposal capacity because of its decision to halt use of the Cache Creek landfill.

“We’re working hard to get as much recycled material out of the waste stream as possible,” Metro board chair Greg Moore said.

Moore said he believes campaigns opposing Metro’s plan, as well as its Bylaw 280 to keep waste from flowing out of the region, are “completely funded” by two companies that operate the Cache Creek landfill and haul Metro garbage to distant landfills.

“In my opinion, Belkorp and BFI are absolutely the ones funding all of the anti-Metro Vancouver messaging going on.”

He denied Metro has delayed consultations for political reasons, adding negotiations for prospective plant sites have proven complex.

Moore said most Metro board directors continue to support the regional district’s waste strategy, adopted in mid-2010, despite criticism from a few councillors in some municipalities.

Belkorp Environmental Services vice-president Russ Black denied the firm is funding anti-Metro campaigns.

Poll finds support for garbage-sorting alternative

Black released a poll conducted by Abacus Data showing 74 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents would support a two-year freeze by the regional district on work to build a new incinerator while alternatives are explored.

Belkorp subsidiary NextUse Recycling has proposed to build a mixed-waste material recovery plant in Coquitlam that Black argues could sort and extract recyclables from garbage to reduce how much must be burned or landfilled.

“The public is more than willing to give these a try, especially when they don’t come at any risk to public money,” Black said.

Success in sorting commodities from garbage could save the region spending $500 million on a new incinerator, he argued.

“The only ones that don’t think it’s a good idea at this point in time are proponents of incinerators.”

The poll found few people were aware of the material recovery idea but 91 per cent supported it after it was described to them by the Belkorp-commissioned polling firm.

It found 32 per cent of respondents thought incinerators were a good way of dealing with waste that can’t be recycled, while 17 per cent listed landfills.

Metro Vancouver’s existing Waste-To-Energy Facility in south Burnaby.