A burning election issue
By: Suzanne Elston
With OntarioŐs municipal elections only a week away, garbage has once again become a burning issue – literally. According to survey conducted by Decima Research, 91 percent of Greater Toronto Area (GTA) residents favour garbage incineration. York, Durham and Niagara regions have already begun the process of getting the necessary approvals to build one. In response, political candidates are lining up to support what many consider a practical solution to an otherwise irresolvable problem. The only notable exception is TorontoŐs current mayor, David Miller, who opposes any plans to torch TorontoŐs trash.
Regardless of what side of the debate you stand on, incineration is arguably one of the most emotionally charged environmental issues ever put on the discussion table. It is also one of the least understood. On the list of things that should be considered too good to be true, incineration tops the list. HereŐs a list of facts and fallacies:
Myth #1: Incinerators eliminate the need for garbage dumps.
Wrong. Incinerators donŐt eliminate waste; they simply reduce the volume, historically to 20 percent of the original volume and 10 percent of the original mass.
Myth #2: At least incinerator ash is safe and doesnŐt stink like regular garbage.
It may not stink, but place an incineration in your community and be prepared to host a toxic ash dump as well. ThatŐs because when you burn garbage, it produces toxic ash. This ash ends up in one of two places: the atmosphere or in a toxic waste facility.
Myth #3: New technology prevents incinerators from releasing toxic waste into the atmosphere.
Wrong again. Thanks to improved scrubbers and filters, most of the toxins are caught by scrubbers and filters and end up being dumped. However, what they canŐt eliminate are dioxins from flying up the stack. Dioxins are so toxic that have no known threshold. In other words, there is no level – ever - at which dioxins are no longer considered toxic. According to Environment Canada, incinerators are the single greatest source of dioxins in this country. It is precisely because of dioxins that David Miller has taken his stand against incineration.
Myth # 4: Incinerators will only burn trash that canŐt otherwise be recycled.
Perhaps in a perfect universe. But if we were living in a perfect universe, we wouldnŐt be up to our eyeballs in garbage. In reality, incinerators are counter-productive to waste recycling and reduction initiatives, because they compete for the same materials, most notably paper and plastics. These produce the highest levels of heat (or BTUs), which are needed to keep the trash burning as cleanly as possible, and therefore help control the amount of stack emissions (see Myth #3).
Myth #5 – Having a waste incinerator means we donŐt have to worry about trucking our garbage around (and hence increase air pollution and smog).
Host communities will likely end up importing garbage from other communities to keep temperatures burning high enough to ensure proper combustion. Without a critical mass of garbage, fires need to be supplemented with an alternative fuel, usually natural gas, which further increases the cost.
Myth #6 – Incinerators are a cheap way to get rid of garbage.
"Energy from waste is not a cheap way to produce power, it is an expensive way to get rid of garbage," said Nigel Guildford, a board member of the Ontario Waste Management Association. The cost of burning garbage is roughly $ 50 a tonne more than landfilling, and thatŐs without taking into consideration all the associated environmental costs.
Energy from waste facilities will at least provide much needed electricity.
Wrong again. By burning materials that could otherwise be recovered or recycled, we have to factor in the amount of energy required to replace those materials with new products. For example, the amount of energy that it takes to produce a single aluminum can could power a laptop computer for two hours, or the family television for three hours. Energy saving? No.
Make no mistake – this will be a burning issue for the next four years in Ontario. On November 13th we need to elect educated politicians who fully understand the true environmental, economic and social costs of incineration, and are willing to take a courageous and likely unpopular stand against them.
As voter, we also have a responsibility to find out where local candidates stand on this and other important issues and then votes to minimize the impact on your Earth.
Fore more on the hazards of incineration, visit www.greenpeace.org.
For a copy of the 2006 Municipal Elections Guide visit Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.