The Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) plans to re-examine the possibility of hosting a regional garbage incinerator after the province endorsed Metro Vancouver’s regional waste plan this week.
The region adopted its Integrated Solid Waste and Resource Management Plan (ISWRMP) a year ago, which includes the incineration of garbage, and Minister of Environment Terry Lake gave it his approval on Monday (July 25).
In the past, the TFN had been approached by several companies, including Aquilini Renewable Energy, a firm owned by Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini, to build a waste-to-energy plant on its land.
“We are still interested. We hadn’t really actively been advancing any plans without knowing the future of the plan,” said Chief Kim Baird. “Now that it’s in place we’re trying to finalize discussions with the Aquilinis in relation to a potential project on our land.”
Still, she said the TFN will wait to see what kind of RFP (request for proposals) process comes out of Metro Vancouver before moving forward.
Baird said a waste-to-energy garbage incinerator would fit in with the community’s desire to have renewable, green-based utilities. Although the “knee-jerk reaction” to burning garbage is negative, Baird said research has shown incineration to be safe and effective.
“Everything I’ve seen has shown that the emissions are negligible,” Baird said. “Dealing with our garbage in region and getting energy out of it is better than putting it in a landfill.”
She said an incinerator would also fit in with the TFN’s future development plans, which includes close to 1,900 homes and a 1.8-million-square-foot shopping mall.
“From it (the incinerator), we could produce district heat as well as produce electricity that would help our desire to be sustainable from an energy perspective,” Baird said. “I think it would be good for the region and I think the economic opportunity would be good for my community, including employment opportunities.”
Aside from incineration, the ISWRMP also calls for an aggressive push for increased recycling and composting of household organics.
Metro Vancouver board chair and Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said Monday the provincial approval was great news.
“This solid waste management plan will help us preserve non-renewable resources, save energy, generate revenue, protect the environment and reduce greenhouse gases,” Jackson said.
The ISWRMP was the result of an exhaustive public consultation and involves several methods of waste disposal as the region attempts to cut down the amount of garbage headed for the landfill.
The targets are an 80 per cent diversion in the amount of waste heading for landfills, which are quickly hitting their maximum allowable intake.
“But even with high diversion rates, we still need to deal with the more than one million tonnes of waste we cannot recycle, and the new plan does that by focusing on the recovery of materials and energy from the garbage that remains,” Jackson said.
Jackson said the plan looks at garbage as a resource and an opportunity to find better ways to protect our planet.
Because of strong public reaction to decrease the amount of garbage going to landfills, Metro staff are recommending an 80 per cent diversion by 2020. Previously, the goal had been a 70 per cent diversion by 2015.
Politicians in the Fraser Valley have expressed vehement opposition to building an incinerator close to home, fearing increased air pollution. And at least one green group is upset with the fact that Environment Minister Terry Lake approved the plan.
“Decisions like this one today would seem to suggest that Minister Lake sees his job as helping big companies get around dealing with environmental concerns, rather than actually protecting our environment,” said Ben West, Healthy Communities Campaigner with the Wilderness Committee.
“The real fight will begin when they pick a location and try to build one of these pollution-spewing garbage-burning monsters,” said West. “Wherever they try to do this we will be there to make sure people know the truth about what is being proposed in their backyard.”
—With files from Kevin Diakiw