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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for the ‘waste disposal’ Category

Metro Vancouver Sustainability Report

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Metro will discuss this report today – it part of the Board agenda package which is a large pdf file. The story is also in the Sun, but  their web page does not provide links to story sources.

What caught my eye was this quote in the Sun “at least 112 species of animals and plants that are at risk of vanishing.” And that is due in part to the Gateway program which threatens several endangered and threatened species  and for which no mitigation whatever is planned. But of course each component got its Environmental Assessment Certificate anyway. As long as the province of British Columbia is leading the assault on our environment, regional districts’ attempts to document and report with no powers to do anything effective are an exercise in futility.

Per-capita consumption of drinking water is said by the Sun to be declining too. I suspect that the wording is because of copying from the report. In fact we only have one type of water piped to us – so all the water we use is of drinking water quality. Special measures are needed when recycling rain water for other uses as this image illustrates

Richmond Oval uses recycled rain water to flush this urinal

Richmond Oval uses recycled rain water to flush this urinal

So the decline in per capita use is not because we drink less of it, but because we waste less in activities like watering lawns on hot summer days – which is not permitted but is not enforced very much either. The greatest waste of water is from old leaky mains that should have been replaced. In fact Greater Vancouver has no shortage of available water and we could do very much better in reuse of  grey water.

Johnny Carline, chief administrative officer for Metro Vancouver, acknowledged the financial challenge of keeping the region sustainable in the wake of the global economic crisis.

Upgrades to the two sewage plants are needed but “to finance this without senior government help is going to be incredibly burdensome. … It’s an ongoing charge to your residents and businesses,” Carline said in an interview.

Well yes we have to pay for it but then it is our mess. And I think we ought to clean up after ourselves. Upgrading primary sewage treatment would have a number of benefits. One of which would be that people who ignore the notices at Garry Point would not get sick and need treatment. Not that I am saying that would pay for itself. But allowing large volumes of human effluent to be discharged virtually untreated into salmon streams – and then eating the salmon also seems to me to be asking for trouble. And might also have helped slow the rate of loss of the Georgia Strait’s resident orcas.  And I suggest that residents might be more willing to pay for that than Mr Carline believes. I also think that businesses should show some leadership and acknowledge that it is worth paying for clean rivers as well as clean drinking water and not threaten to leave the area just because someone suggests that the taxes might need to be raised.

It annoys me that once again sustainability and the economy are presented as antithetical. This is just using accounting as a narrow measurement tool when there are much better ones available – and part of the process of becoming sustainable must be using those methods. Given that Johnny Carline has been pushing his Sustainble Region Initiative for some years now I think he ought to have revised the way that he thinks and speaks about these issues. At present our regional government does not value the quality of our environment highly enough – and is one of the worst culprits in polluting our region.

I spent the first forty years of my life in London and the last twenty in Canada. In the first part of my life I watched the River Thames being cleaned up to the point where the salmon returned – after a very long absence. At one time being rescued from the river meant you had to have your stomach pumped as a precaution against poisoning. Now the Thames is clean – becuase the regional government was determined to get it that way and paid for that with taxes. The GLC was not always popular but it was proud to display fish tanks in the lobby of County Hall with examples of fish taken from the river running past it. That is what has influenced my thinking on this topic. I am sorry if that is not being Canadian. I do not recall much finger pointing over the issue of sewage treatment. Although there was of course a famous bust up between Mrs Thatcher and the then leader of the GLC Ken Livingstone: that was petty, personal politics. Now I live next tothe Fraser and I see it slowly dying – and mostly by conscious decision making  the bottom line of corporations – both public and private – the only consideration.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 30, 2009 at 11:10 am

E-Stewards commit to no more dumping in developing countries

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There is enough concern about what happens to old computers that even the top cop talks about it.

This is a press release from Free Geek – Activists and Free Geek Vancouver join forces to create certification program for responsible electronics recycling

If you have a computer, someday some or all of it is going to get replaced. Do you take care how you dispose of it? Of course you do – but Free Geek can actually do something to ensure that it is reused before it gets recycled. And there are some places that will actually charge you a fee, for example to take a working crt screen. Though in my own defence I pointed out to one such place that since they were almost certain to resell it – when I came through the door the crt was still in the back of my car and they tried to sell me one – at which point they graciously agreed to take it off my hands for nothing.

VANCOUVER—The Basel Action Network and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition
joined with 32 electronics recyclers including Free Geek Vancouver today to
announce the development of the e-Stewards Initiative — a new certification
program for North America’s most responsible e-waste recyclers.

The e-Steward Initiative will become the first independently audited and
accredited electronic waste recycler certification program forbidding the
dumping of toxic e-waste in developing countries, local landfills and
incinerators; the use of prison labor; and the unauthorized release of
private data.

“Unfortunately today, most of those companies calling themselves electronics
recyclers are scammers,” said Sarah Westervelt, e-Stewards project
coordinator at the Basel Action Network (BAN) in Seattle. “They simply load
up containers of old computers and ship them off to China or Africa. By
choosing an e-Steward recycler, consumers and large businesses are assured
that their old computers and TVs will be safely managed, and not simply
tossed into a local landfill, processed unsafely by prison laborers, or
exported to developing countries.”

The e-Stewards announcement follows Sunday’s exposé on CBS’ 60 Minutes;
the CBC’s recently aired Electronic Dumping Ground; and a recent episode
of the French Canadian Program Panorama, Electronic Waste: The Hidden Face
of Recycling
. These programs reveal that computers given to many
recyclers in the United States and Canada are likely to be dumped in China
or Africa, where e-waste is causing immeasurable environmental and health

“Truly responsible recyclers in the US and Canada face unfair competition
from thousands of unethical, so-called ‘waste recyclers’ in North America
that would more accurately be called ‘waste shippers,'” said Ifny Lachance,
cofounder of e-Steward Free Geek Vancouver. “We strongly support a
certified, audited program to separate legitimate recyclers from low-road
operators. Recyclers should be considered guilty until they can prove
themselves innocent.””

The e-Stewards already include 32 companies in 92 locations that have been
qualified by BAN. Today, BAN announced that by early 2010 the program will
feature an ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) certification system
with third-party auditing. The funding to create this robust certification
program was provided by 14 recycling companies designated as e-Steward

E-Steward Free Geek Vancouver was founded in November 2006 as a community
technology centre and ethical recycler. Its volunteers help test, refurbish
and dismantle unwanted computer equipment donated by the public.

“The e-Stewards project is a response to the failure of government and
industry to act as responsible global citizens in the age of information
technology,” said Jim Puckett, BAN executive director. “It is also a
wonderful example of how industry leaders and activists can move mountains
when they work together — in this case, move mountains of e-waste to truly
responsible recyclers only.”

Written by Stephen Rees

November 14, 2008 at 7:09 am

How canals are being recycled to transport London waste

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Contract Journal

It has been a while since I indulged myself with a story about Britain’s canals, but this one looked too good to ignore. A new system uses canal barges to shift construction waste, which, of course, means fewer tipper truck trips. (They call them “lorries”)

We do use our waterway for construction materials – cement and gravel are big business on the river. And so is hauling away crushed cars for scrap. I have long hoped for a shot of a Honda car carrier passing a scrap barge. And I am sad to say that lots of construction waste gets dumped as “fill” in Richmond, becuase it is usually on land which could have been upgraded for agriculture but is now beyond hope. As I heard Dave Barret say on the tv last night, when only 2% of your lands is arable, why wouldn’t you try to save it?

Written by Stephen Rees

April 10, 2008 at 8:50 am

Sustainable Urbanism: Searching for Sustainability at the Suburban/Rural Edge

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Douglas Farr Public Lecture

Tuesday, March 11, 7:30 pm SFU Harbour Centre

Streaming video

Doug Farr is a pivotal figure in sustainability today, leading and practicing at the crossroads of urbanism and green building. His firm, Farr Associates, holds the global distinction of being the first and only firm to design three LEED Platinum buildings.

At the same time, he has served as Chair of the LEED Neighborhood Development Core Committee, leading the development of sustainable performance metrics for urban development.

His new book, Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature, is a leading text on enhancing the sustainability of urbanism and his lectures are essential to understanding the pending sustainability convergence.

Doug Farr talked about integrating sustainable urbanism and agriculture on the urban edge. Having evaluated the sustainability of East Fraserlands, a project along Vancouver’s river edge planned by DPZ, Farr has been commissioned by Century Group (this evening’s sponsor) to consider opportunities for sustainable solutions at the suburban/rural edge in the Southlands of Tsawwassen.

Doug Farr is a Chicago architect. The mission of his practice is to design sustainable human environments. He has been closely involved in the leadership in to create LEED ND. Some of their developments include Lake Pulaski Transit Oriented Development (TOD) 1998 on the west side of Chicago. In 1999 they produced the first LEED platinum building, the Chicago Centre for Green Technology. “Urbanism did not come up at all in the first LEED standards” and there was no mention of building around transit. It was basically a systems integration approach – heating, lighting ,waste water and so on. Most clients really did not see the need: for instance at Orland Park TOD they were told to “remove the green stuff”.

Minneapolis at 46th & Hiawatha, a development relayed to a new LRT system there was a fight over density. Initially buildings had to be 1½ storeys, but after discussion it was agreed that four storeys could be accepted and an extra storey could be added if it was a green building. In Normal, Illinois he produced an Uptown development around a traffic circle: the area within the circle was used for stormwater detention, all the buildings were LEED certified.

LEED ND means “LEED for Neighborhood Development”. It is based on the observation of how much Americans drive and how far, for example, fresh produce has to travel to market: 1,500 miles on average. Children of middle class white families in up scale California developments spend 89% of their time indoors, or in vehicles.

He was sharply critical of Al Gore’s recommendations for action at the end of “An Inconvenient Truth”. He thought that Gore had“punted” the issue of transportation. What he wrote was not a mandate: that means “if the bus hits you, get on it”. By not directly tackling land use and transportation he had missed the single biggest greenhouse gas issue. We have seen in recent years the “tragic irony of efficiency” – per capita vehicle miles travelled had increased 5% which more than offset any gains due to Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards imposed on the automobile industry by the US government. At the same time average dwelling size grew 60% (from 1970-2005) but household size in the same period was declining. The Environmental Building News pointed out that even at present practices, transport to and from an office building uses 30% more energy than the building itself: and if that bldg meets LEED standards that rises to 130%.

The pillars of sustainability were set down in April 1996 when the 10 principles of Smart Growth were agreed. These can be grouped under four headings:

settle in the right location, create compact places, offer more choice and a fair transparent process.

In Atlanta, GA the average distance people drive is 35miles per day. But that is very heavily weighted by the suburbs. In the city centre residents driving distances average less than 10 miles.

The Charter of New Urbanism (also 1996) co-evolved with transit. The US Green Building Council was also formed in that year. All these institutions have become “Silos of Sustainability” promoting half measures, and each devalues the work of others. Conservation or LID development concentrates on issues like storm water and native plantings. He showed an image of an Arby’s at a suburban intersection. This could be a LEED Platinum Eligible building: “a unwalkable fatty food shack”. He also had an advert for a green building that proved hard to let that now offers free parking. He also took a swipe at Seaside – the first New Urbanist development. There the air conditioning condensers rust out every 5 years due to the sea air and the buildings also have to be painted every five years. The a/c units are located in between the buildings. This means that as soon as anyone turns one on, the house next door has to shut its windows to keep out the noise, and turn on its on a/c … and so on.

“We need to evolve to sustainable urbanism”. This has to be based on neighbourhoods that are walkable and have transit service. We need to establish relevant “weights and measures”. This what LEED ND does: its determines what where and how. A smart location is a pre-requisite: it is usually infill or adjacent to existing transit. On exception in the urban edge is where there is to be a projected transit extension. Land stewardship is central to the concept expressed as the neighbourhood pattern and design. No gated communities are permitted and the minimum density is 7 units per net acre (the US average now is 2). It is also includes erosion control and similar protection for water courses.

It is expected that there will be zoning code version, but so far 371 projects have expressed interest in certification in 42 states and 8 countries. The area covered in total is “bigger than Boston” and 80% of the projects are on brownfield sites or or infill. Many of the standards adopted have a carbon base and measurable public health benefit demonstrated by research. Even so the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) asserts that there is an “unproven connection between health and walkability”. They also accuse the proponents of a sociological agenda, as though building low density car orient4ed sprawl had no sociological effects.

He was critical of LEED ND. He pointed out that the prerequisites are a poor tool to balance competing trade offs, and they have had limited influence at the sprawling edge of the suburbs. So far they have had no discernible effect on sprawl. He gave the example of the East Fraserlands in Vancouver (on the Fraser North Arm at boundary. This was a former saw mill but included some woodland. The requirement of LEED ND is that 75% had to be previously developed and there also had to be a 100 ft set back of all development on riparian lands. So this site failed to qualify.

The “Southlands” in Tsawwassen are built up on all sides but have had no development on them, so they would also fail the LEED ND test. It is hoped that the current process will actually protect a lot of the green area from construction, unlike the original proposals which would have been a low density subdivision.

“LEED ND will not design a project” but he showed a simple, and familiar, diagram of a triangular site, based on earlier standards. This is now being used with a 10 minute walk circle to show how a dense neighbourhood can work, and reduce the meed for motorised trips.

He talked about “emerging thresholds” and something called the “80% rule”: apparently you need 2000 houses to build a TOD. (I may have this wrong as my typing could not keep up with the speed at which he was flipping through his slides). He introduced the idea of “biophilia” – people respond to nature and “nature shouldn’t be something you have to drive to”. So his developments have dual use stormwater retention and high performance infrastructure. The trip reduction potential stems from clustering buildings, but it also enhances neighbourhood health and security. The neighbourhoods are then linked into a “sustainable corridor” based on a transit line.

Most of our current planning codes should replace minimums with maximums – e.g. street width. “The current regulations are backwards.” He sees the need for a national campaign. It is a curious fact that Richard Nixon created all the US environmental agencies – and that very little progress has been made since.

“It’s the placemaking, stupid!”

LEED should apply to land use as well as buildings. The 2030 Architectural Challenge is to gradually move towards carbon neutral buildings by adopting progressively tighter restrictions each year – “like a slow burn fuse”. His practice has shown that the targets is completely possible and they will have built a 120% efficient house next year, that is one that feeds power back on to the grid.

He is now proposing a similar 2030 Community Challenge. This will be based on reducing the average driving distance – less than the 8,150 miles per person per annum which Americans now drive which is equivalent to the North Pole to somewhere in Brazil. For a family this is now 21,500 miles a year, which is very nearly like driving around the whole world. “When you experience a city at 50 mph you don’t care what it looks like.” He aims for a 2% reduction pa in VMT which would produce a 50% reduction by 2030. You can do this by “planning to drive less” – for instance simply eliminating that trip you wish you had not made last year to your in laws. But by designing “resilient communities” we can make the US less reliant on fossil fuels and hence more able to withstand the uncertainties of the future. Essentially the Challenge is a call to invest in land use and transportation integration.

In one development called Atlantic Station the average drive distance is now 8 mpd, a 75% reduction over the Atlanta average. The big gains will be achieved in the suburbs, where the driving distances are greatest will be where the highest percentage of projects need to be LEED ND platinum.

Changing the type of light bulbs we use took 5 years: changing our neighbourhoods will take 20 to 50, corridors take 20 -100 years. “We started at the wrong end.”

He endorses the view of Bill Clinton that this change represents a large economic opportunity.


  • Isn’t there a correlation between poverty and VMT? What is the role of legislation?
    A – Zoning is the way to make change. Vancouver is ahead of the curve. But in existing neighbourhoods there are “always bits being replaced” and it is here that the main opportunities will be found

  • The standard of 7 units pda is about of what is needed to make transit viable.
    A – It’s a compromise but you can exceed the standard and it probably ought to be 10 to 12.

  • The Spetifore Lands is the correct name for the site in Tsawwassen. There has been little public process. Is there a way that we can have a development that encourages individuals to experiment? Will your development end agriculture on this land? After all, it was this site that spurred the creation of the ALR
    A – The first plan was sprawl. We now expect to have a charrette. There is no plan yet but we expect to set aside
    of land either as green space, agriculture, or conservation. the basic question we are now asking is “Can we complete the town and make it a better place?”

  • An advocate for affordable housing asked if LEED ND requires mixed income, and given current building costs of around $1,000 per sf, how can that be achieved
    A – It is essential to end segregation by economic strata. In 1990 we reformed on “CNU ideals”(?) “LEED ND is the duct tape that solves every urban problem.” Usually they insist on 10 % each for sale and rent at affordable levels. The response is convincing the powers that be that it is doable. The private sector is currently not building to the market, and often all they have to do is right size it.

  • Are car co-ops just a gadget?
    A – NO. See the VTPI 2005 shared car study. Reducing car ownership actually increases wealth [note: I think he should have said “disposable income”] LEED houses cost more but the savings from redcuing car ownershop will pay for better houses.

  • Why don’t the politicians get it?
    a – In places that have a planning culture – like Tsawassen and Portland – they do. And the public’s involvement in the process is crucial. Mostly it is the local plans that do not help. You must remember that sprawl is legal – it is mandated and approved by certified Planners. Chicago is not a plan town but a deal town. The question there is, can we make neighborhoods and corridors?

  • Municipalities in Canada do not have the freedom of US cities, and they are bound to be concerned about the impact on property tax
    A – LEED ND is good government and fiscally responsible. the cost of infrastructure is much lower in dense, contiguous neighborhoods.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 12, 2008 at 1:34 pm

Zero Waste Challenge

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The following missive has been circulated to the Livable Region Coalition’s list serve, and I thought I would pass it along, with a couple of links added.

There certainly seems to be a pattern here, and the linkage between the Gateway and the garbage has also been raised this weekend by the folks who currently recycle computers, that will now been sent to the Trail smelter rather than be refurbished for resale or export.

I invite you to consider the connection between the landfill and the Gateway project. Landfills, which are provided as a local government service, are the destination for all the stuff that will be flowing in through the Gateway from Chinese sweatshops. Thus, Gateway depends, in a very real sense, on the availability of plenty of landfill capacity in our region.

The senior management at the GVRD have launched a “Chicken Little” campaign trying to convince the public that there is a new landfill crisis. A July 5 media release warned that “the issue of short-term disposal capacity is becoming critical.”  The Vancouver Sun editorial board responded by calling for “quick-and-dirty” solutions to meet this crisis (“Garbage solution has to be quick and it will likely be dirty,” June 29, 2007).

Is this a manufactured crisis? We think so.

A group of citizens is forming “Zero Waste Vancouver” in an effort to support new programs already in place that will make “quick and dirty” solutions obsolete. Nevertheless, pressure is being applied to build new landfills and incinerators. This is a moment of opportunity for the citizens in our region to express their support for going the next step in waste reduction rather than falling back into old wasteful ways.

Would you like to be kept informed about our work? Reply to this message and we’ll contact you.

A year ago, the GVRD Board took a bold step. Faced with delays in the siting of a new landfill, the politicians issued a “Zero Waste Challenge.” They looked at the numbers and recognized that the GVRD could postpone or even eliminate the need for a new landfill if we got serious about waste reduction.

The politicians then directed staff to put the programs in place that would drive waste reduction. Here’s what they asked for:

Disposal bans:
Starting next January it will no longer be allowed to put recyclable or hazardous materials in the garbage. This includes yard and garden waste as well as recyclable paper, plastics, bottles and cans. There are recycling programs for all these materials, and yet, because the public either does not know about them or does not bother to use them, over 200,000 tonnes of recyclable materials and 70,000 tonnes of yard waste go needlessly to landfill each year. Worse, an additional 30,000 tonnes of hazardous products make their way into our landfills and waste incinerator, posing a risk to public health and safety. By simply banning these materials from disposal and enforcing the bans, the GVRD politicians will cut our region’s waste by nearly 300,000 tonnes.

In addition, the politicians directed staff to look at the huge quantity of food waste and other compostable materials that currently go to waste in our region. Other communities (Nanaimo, Duncan, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto and Halifax, for example) have well-developed programs to compost these materials. A program here to treat food waste and biodegradable organics could remove over 400,000 tonnes of waste from our landfills each year — the exact amount we would be sending to the new landfill. Why not build a composting plant rather than a new landfill?

Producer responsibility:
Our province is a world leader in “Extended Producer Responsibility” laws. Modelled on our successful deposit system for beverage containers, these laws require producers to set up programs to take back and recycle their products. This diverts these products from municipal waste programs. These programs now apply not only to beverage containers, but also to a wide range of hazardous products (paint, oil, pesticides, etc.). The provincial government just announced that it will be adding new products to this program. Environment Minister Penner has said that eventually all products will be covered by these laws, leaving local governments responsible only for organic materials — a 75% reduction in municipal waste.

Our politicians in the GVRD have gone out on a limb for us. They have proposed visionary but practical solutions to our regional waste problem, setting a course of aggressive action on composting and recycling rather than further investment in “quick and dirty” solutions. They need our support to keep the Zero Waste vision on track. Zero Waste Vancouver will help educate the public about these new approaches. To help with our program, reply to this message.

Helen Spiegelman
Zero Waste Vancouver Coordinator

Written by Stephen Rees

July 15, 2007 at 7:27 pm