Survey demonstrates district faces a wall of public opposition in its plan to burn garbage
By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver SunSeptember 15, 2009
As Metro Vancouver launches a public relations campaign to get support for its pitch to burn the region's garbage, a new survey suggests it will face a wall of public opposition.
An Angus Reid poll released Monday on behalf of Belkorp Environmental Services found 65 per cent of 435 people surveyed in the Lower Mainland believe trash incineration would have a negative effect on air quality.
The survey was released just a day before Metro launches a series of public meetings to sell residents on the notion of burning garbage, instead of burying it, as part of its solid waste management plan.
To do so, it has brought in two European experts -- both incinerator proponents from the UK and Sweden -- to help convince the public of the merits of the move, which would cost about $430 million.
"You've got two choices -- you can bury it or you can burn it," Metro's chief administrative officer Johnny Carline said Monday. "From an environmental and a cost point of view, waste incineration is the route to go."
Metro Vancouver is proposing to build up to six trash incinerators in the region to deal with its garbage after the Cache Creek landfill closes, either later next year or in 2012.
Carline insists incinerators would provide more benefit to the region, as they would bring in $10 million in revenue, provide hot water and heat to neighbouring buildings and stimulate the economy. By comparison, the cost of running the Cache Creek dump is about $30 million a year.
"It can provide potential energy," Carline said. "Why would you, given this opportunity, say you don't want to do this and take it far away from it all and bury it in the ground?"
These are just some of the arguments Metro will put forward as it aims to get public approval for the incinerators and its solid waste management plan, which it hopes to complete by the end of the year.
But it will have to convince residents, particularly in the Fraser Valley, that the incinerators won't destroy air quality and cause health risks to the public.
While 81 per cent of those surveyed said a plan to manage the region's garbage was important, 88 per cent were worried about air quality and other "human health" effects associated with Metro's proposals.
By comparison, about 76 per cent were concerned with environmental impacts such as climate change, and a further 70 per cent worried about the financial impacts of a new waste management plan, such as costs for building infrastructure.
"We do find there is some opposition to incineration in general ... but that's mostly centred around air pollution and air quality," said Hamish Marshall, research director of Angus Reid Strategies. "That's what's driving that."
Jim Bridges, a UK toxicologist and chair of the European Economic Union Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, who was brought in by Metro, insisted modern incinerators do not pose a public health risk.
He noted the emissions are controlled, unlike landfills, which are prone to gas emissions, leachate and the occasional fire.
His comments are in contrast to U.S. waste management expert Paul Connett, who spoke out against incinerators at public forums last year.
Carline said the region is running out of options as it pushes toward its zero waste campaign. The plan calls for the region to reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill to about 70 per cent by 2015. It currently diverts about 52 per cent of waste.
But about 93 per cent of people surveyed said Metro should increase the amount of waste being recycled, with a greater percentage of respondents saying they would be willing to pay higher property taxes for a waste management plan that emphasizes reducing, reusing and recycling.
A majority of respondents, meanwhile, would not be willing to accept an increase in property taxes to fund a plan that emphasizes incineration.
The online survey, conducted from Sept. 1-4 in the Lower Mainland, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 per cent, 19 times out of 20.