Recycling is the vision, not garbage incineration

Canadian Energy-from-Waste Coalition is Marketing Pollution

Zero waste professionals, recycling practitioners, civic leaders and citizen activists rallied for a peaceful protest outside the Canadian Energy from Waste Coalition conference at the Airport Sheraton Hotel in Richmond today – to challenge their spurious claims about “Energy from Waste” incineration.

“These incinerator companies are selling our elected officials pollution, claiming they have new and improved burn technologies that are both safe, and compatible with recycling,” said Helen Spiegelman of Zero Waste Vancouver, “and we are not buying it!”

The Canadian Energy From Waste Coalition (CEFW), representing multi-billion dollar incinerator companies such as Covanta Energy and Waste Management Inc. hosted this meeting to promote waste incineration plans and technologies to local governments and waste management professionals.

The CEFW claims that burning waste with their “state of the art” technologies reduces greenhouse gas emissions and helps increase recycling rates. In reality, waste-to-energy incinerators are the most greenhouse gas – intensive form of electricity production in North America, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency[i].

“Burning waste for energy produces over 50% more carbon dioxide per unit of electricity generated than coal power plants, and most of what they burn today is readily recyclable and compostable,” stated Sue Maxwell of Zero Waste BC. “Even the European Union has acknowledged that waste incinerators have created market barriers to zero waste industries such as recycling,” she added.

Not only are waste incinerators the most carbon-intensive energy, they also pose massive risk to public health - with dangerous pollutants such as dioxins and mercury. A 2012 study of these dirty energy facilities in Spain found that communities near waste incinerators had much higher cancer mortality rates[ii].

Recent studies in the New York[iii] and Maryland[iv] have found that waste incinerators produce up to 15 times more mercury than coal plants. Incinerator companies claim they are reducing mercury emissions by recycling the waste metals they previously burned.

However, many recycling and reuse businesses are outraged that incinerator companies would use such actions to claim compatibility with Zero Waste. According to Jamie Kaminski, General Manager at HSR Recycling Services, "Waste incinerators do not help reduction efforts, or reuse and recycling industries.

Instead, they compete directly with our industries for both materials and public investment, with zero regard for public health or the environment. The more than $400 million dollars it takes to construct one of these toxic beasts, would be better spent making BC a true leader in sustainable economic development – by investing in a real, closed-loop, Zero Waste economy."

Waste incinerators also happen to be the most expensive form of energy generation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy - costing twice as much to build as a coal power plant, and over ten times as much to operate.[v]

While Metro Vancouver has approved construction costs of $470 Million dollars for a new waste incinerator, a new report[vi] from the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives illustrates how Zero Waste alternatives could generate over 5000 new jobs by recycling and composting all of the BC’s discards instead.

The groups organizing today’s protest - Zero Waste Vancouver, Zero Waste BC and Zero Waste Canada, remain confident that, with increasing public awareness and citizen action, Provincial and Metro Vancouver leaders will eventually side with science, business acumen and community health, and reject waste incinerator plans in order to invest in zero waste and real clean energy solutions.   

[i] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: eGRID 2012 database, Accessed December 2012.
[ii] García-Pérez J et al. Cancer mortality in towns in the vicinity of incinerators and installations for the recovery or disposal of hazardous waste. Environment International 51 (2013) 31–44, October 2012. Available at:
[iii] NY Department of Conservation, Comments to New York State Public Service Commission in the Matter of the application of Covanta Energy Corporation.19 August 2011
[iv] Environmental Integrity Project Report: Waste-to-Energy Incinerators Pollute More Per of Hour of Energy than Coal-Fired Power Plants and Are Not Renewable, October 2011. Available at:
[v] U.S. Energy Information Administration (Department of Energy), Updated Capital Cost Estimates for Electricity Generation Plants, November 2010. Available at:
[vi] Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, Closing the Loop: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Zero Waste in BC, March 2013


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