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The “waste circus” has arrived in Canada

A three-part series of articles on solid waste incineration projects in Canada was recently published in the Watershed Sentinel magazine. These articles provide an excellent overview of the mass burn incineration and “incineration in disguise” proposals popping up across Canada, with most in Ontario and British Columbia. As with most things political, the author reminds us to “follow the money”.
One of the three articles describes how the federal government has generously made billions of our tax dollars available to incinerator proponents through funds often labeled “sustainable” or “green”. Municipalities such as Durham Region (east of Toronto) intend to use all of their federal gas tax allocation to help pay for their proposed mass burn incinerator. The electricity produced as a by-product of burning garbage receives a preferential rate through provincial power purchase agreements – another taxpayer subsidy. And, waste industry players are generous donors to political campaigns.

A related article by the same author for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives describes how closely the industry is watching the proposed incinerator in Durham Region (East of Toronto) and York Region (north of Toronto), which, if approved, could pave the way for other such projects in Ontario. The article states that: “As one speaker put it at the November industry conference: “The inability to manage public perception issues is what stops [WTE incineration] projects, not the government approvals process.”

Literature searches conducted by consultants for Halton Region which was considering incinerator in 2007 and for the Durham-York Region project, could find no evidence that “modern” incinerators are safe, though it appears some improvements have been achieved. Ontario’s Minister of the Environment is expected to make his decision on the Durham-York Environmental Assessment (EA) by early July 2010.

Plasco Energy in Ottawa had long touted their plasma arc gasification process as having no emissions, claiming gasification is not “incineration”. A recent news article describes the poor operating performance of Plasco, which has received both federal and provincial dollars. Gasification, pyrolysis (starved air) and plasma arc technologies – so-called “incinerators in disguise” – heat or convert waste materials at high temperatures to create gas (syngas), liquids and solid residues of ash (char) or slag. However, the waste gases are then burned, releasing hazardous pollutants.

The Good News File

On the good news front, this past spring, the citizens of Christina Lake and Kamloops, in British Columbia, helped beat back two proposals. Citizens informed themselves about the health and other risks and engaged their communities and political representatives. They linked up with other groups and individuals opposing incineration and mobilized to convince their decision-makers to reject burning. Proponents in both cases withdrew their proposals and while they may move on to other communities, we now have the information and the approach to defeat these ill-advised garbage burners.

Another positive development has residents in New Brunswick and Quebec awaiting the sale of the Bennett Environmental hazardous waste incinerator site in Belledune. The persistence and vigilance of citizen groups Environnement Vie and the Belledune Citizens Committee have been essential in helping to stop this controversial and risky project.

Elsewhere the Battle Continues

Metro Vancouver residents are in a heated waste battle as Metro staff and some politicians promote incineration as their preferred option. Seasoned activists have joined forces and formed Zero Waste B.C. to help inform and mobilize residents across Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. See the details of Metro Vancouver’s public consultation schedule on their proposed waste plan, which goes until June 17th. Listen to the song penned by several talented B.C. incineration campaigners and sung by Canadian Idol contender Shane Wiebe and his wife Angela – known as “The Wiebes”

Burning garbage is once again being discussed in the City of Hamilton, Ontario, as well as a possible city-owned sewage sludge incineration plant. Liberty Energy received EA approval for their sewage incineration plant in 2008. Construction has not yet begun.

In Brant County, Ontario, residents are struggling to get clear information from their municipal officials about possible incineration projects for their community and the Six Nations Reserve.

The “waste circus” has indeed come to Canada. The industry likes to limit the debate to a simplistic “burn or bury” option. Citizens can prepare themselves to productively counter the “clowns” who promote burning garbage and generally fail to acknowledge and/or fairly assess the range of health risks associated with burning waste, which includes exposures to carcinogens in air emissions and ash residues. Environment Ministries and air pollution monitoring are not doing a good job of telling us what industry is already spewing into our air sheds.

The Role of Government

Governments often talk a good story about sustainable waste management policy: however they have been slow to implement legislation requiring producers to be responsible for their products over the entire life cycle, cradle to cradle. Governments across Canada continue their flirtation with the incinerator industry, which relies on large waste volumes, and is thus inconsistent with waste reduction and recycling programs. Will the federal government provide leadership through their Canada-wide action plan and require the provinces and territories to enact and implement Extended Producer Responsibility legislation sooner rather than later?

Ontarians anticipate a major announcement soon from the Minister of the Environment as to how the province will proceed with the Waste Diversion Act review. Will Minister Gerretsen, who asked Ontarians to work Towards a Zero Waste Future enact sustainable waste policies? Or will the Minister who, in a recent speech to Waste Diversion Ontario, sounds as if he may have drunk the “kool aid” and bought the sales pitch that “modern” incinerators are safe, go ahead and approve the Durham incinerator?

Prevent Cancer Now’s Incineration Tool Kit continues to be updated as we add information on the risks of burning waste. There are safer and more sustainable alternatives to incineration. We urge you to mobilize your community and lobby your political representatives at all levels to move your community towards safer and sustainable options.

– By Linda Gasser, PCN Incineration Campaign Coordinator

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