A massive waste-to-energy garbage incinerator is being proposed for Nanaimo, population 88,000, to burn Metro Vancouver's garbage. There are two million Vancouverites. Their bulging landfill will be full by 2018 and the city's only waste-to-energy garbage incinerator will not be able to keep up with the mounds of waste the city generates every day.
Last year, ash from Vancouver's incinerator was found to be leaching cadmium, an extremely toxic metal, into its landfill. Vancouver is trying to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. The largest city in British Columbia produced 1.5 tons of waste per capita in 2008, well above the national average.
The logistics are daunting; garbage would have to be centralized from Metro Vancouver's 22 municipalities and barged 88 kilometres across the Georgia Strait to Nanaimo.
Proponents claim incinerators are a source of renewable energy, but the reality is they burn toxic recyclables such as plastic, paper and glass which are made from finite resources. They claim their high tech filters and scrubbers capture toxic fumes. But even the newest, most technologically advanced incinerators spew toxic fly ash and fine particulates. It's estimated that fine particulates kill two million people a year worldwide.
The incinerator is being proposed for a site roughly 50 kilometres south of downtown Nanaimo but prevailing winds would rain the toxic material all over a town that breathes air rated by the World Health Organization as among the cleanest on earth.
At ground level, incinerators create toxic slag that must then be landfilled somewhere. This slag contains heavy metals, dioxins, and other pollutants, which can leach from landfills.
The proponents claim the facility will create jobs and generate money for Nanaimo, but incinerators are the most expensive waste handling option and they only sustain one job for every 10 at a recycling facility.
Recycling saves three to five times the energy that waste incinerator power plants generate. Incinerators are also net energy losers when the potential energy of the burned materials is taken into account. They contribute to global warming by undermining waste prevention and recycling programs, and encouraging increased resource extraction.
Incredibly, waste to energy incinerators generate more greenhouse gases to produce electricity than coal-burning plants. According to the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance, waste-to-energy incinerators actually waste energy. By burning materials that could be reused, recycled, or composted, incinerators destroy the energy-saving potential of putting those materials to better use.
This scenario is being played out in Denmark, which has a reputation for being one of the greenest countries in the world. Every city has its own incinerator and they are mostly publicly owned which puts the citizens in a moral and financial bind; do they reduce, reuse and recycle, or chuck everything in the bin to feed the expensive beast that heats their homes? The citizens of Nanaimo would undoubtedly love to have that option.