COASTAL LIVING: Public opinion prevented past incinerators

NANAIMO – Recycling should be first priority in solid waste plans.

It’s been 50 years since my friends and I used to ride our skateboards and banana seat bicycles through the streets of Toronto to expand our childhood horizons. On occasion, our adventures would take us past one of the old “Destructors,” relics from our grandparent’s era.

These Destructors were state-of-the-art, first-generation garbage burners, touted as a solution to the ever-increasing waste stream. Ushering in the throwaway society, the Don Valley Destructor (it’s real name) summed it up perfectly: resources sent up in smoke, garbage seemingly disappearing into thin air.

Nanaimo has had its own flirtatious dance with Destructor wizardry. In 1978, Ker, Priestman and Associates recommended the construction of an incinerator in Cedar. It was never built. It did, however, inspire a group of citizens to open the SPEC Recycling Depot that year, establishing curbside recycling pickup throughout Nanaimo.

The RDN’s 1985 Waste Management Plan Public Participation Final Report recommended that new waste management plan be focused on recycling. Instead the RDN selected an incineration-based refuse derived fuel project. Unable to secure financing, the garbage fuel project was never built.

Twenty-five years ago, at a public forum on waste management, Paul Connett, from St. Lawrence University in New York, urged those attending to reject incineration and expand recycling programs. Heeding his call, the Western Canada Wilderness Committee mid-Island branch established what would become the Nanaimo Recycling Exchange.

In 2001, Enviroco Energy Recovery proposed a $200-million Duke Point incinerator. It failed to materialized, despite support since then by regional staff members. Now Wheelabrator, Seaspan and Urbaser are proposing a$500-million incinerator at Duke Point to burn Metro Vancouver’s waste. Public opposition is huge, but the proposal is still active.

It’s said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. If we do not inspire Metro Vancouver to focus on resource recovery instead of resource destruction (incineration), it will only be a matter of time before many incinerators dot our coast.

Acknowledging Nanaimo’s leadership in waste diversion, Zero Waste International Alliance’s first Canadian conference will be in Nanaimo Oct. 2-4. For more information, please visit www.zerowastecanada.ca.

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