Garbage gases getting in the way of Gregor's "greenest" goal

Post by Mike Klassen in


"We have to be open and transparent on the issue of waste," says Lois Jackson to Vancouver

If you believe the press releases coming out of Gregor Robertson's office, we're on the cusp of a bold new direction to make Vancouver the greenest city this side of Neptune. Rarely does Robertson acknowledge the nearly two decades of work City staff invested in sustainability planning before he hung the chain of office around his neck.

Robertson likes to take credit for many things, but when it comes to the rather nasty business of the Delta Burns Bog landfill that Vancouver owns and operates, it seems like he doesn't want to discuss it. Tonight's report by GlobalTV BC's Brian Coxford was a case study on how not to treat local media – especially a reporter of Coxford's calibre – like a chump.

When Coxford requested interviews from City Manager Ballem and hizzoner Robertson about the Delta landfill, neither wanted to speak to him. They wouldn't even consent to have a TV camera visit this publicly-owned facility. That's because the Delta landfill is Vancouver's extremely dirty little secret. The City of Vancouver has been dumping its waste into the Delta landfill for years. Unlike other facilities such as the Roosevelt landfill in southern Washington state, where methane gas is collected to send megawatts of power to the Pacific Northwest grid, most GHGs go right into the Lower Mainland's airshed.

Mayor Lois Jackson, chair of the Metro Vancouver board, is familiar with the issues around regional waste and recycling (her board colleague Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore chairs the waste committee, and has pushed the envelope for Poco on garbage and recycling matters). She knows that Vancouver is cheaping out by not seeking more costly, but more environmentally friendly options to deal with their waste.

In an election year where high taxes inevitably becomes an issue, the City of Vancouver is unlikely to put scarce dollars into something as unsexy as reducing greenhouse gases in a landfill. While other Metro Vancouver cities and municipalities are also struggling with the issues around waste – whether to burn it, keep sending it up to Cache Creek by semi-trailers, or put it on rail cars to Washington state – Vancouver gets to keep dumping into Delta's backyard.

According to GlobalTV's report, since Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver took office, the amount of GHGs leaking out of the Delta landfill has increased substantially. Today, 59-percent of greenhouse gases leak out, compared to less than 40-percent in 2006.

It seems from the report that Robertson and City representatives are not only rebuffing media requests, but they've dragged their feet for over eighteen months trying to set up a meeting with Mayor Jackson. When Delta sat down to discuss the GHG problem, they sent a note as a courtesy to City Manager Penny Ballem to notify her. Coxford reports that Ballem responded with a single line tapped out on her Blackberry:

"i am not in any way impressed with this way of doing business. pb"

Seems that even the normal decorum public officials use with each other has also gone into the dump.

It will be interesting to see what the ultimate solution is, and whether Vancouver will face up to the reality of more costly, but cleaner, waste solutions. And while they're at it, perhaps they could look seriously at contracting those services out too as a cost-saving measure (not to mention preventing a potential services stand still during a strike).

For now, garbage gases might be getting in the way of Gregor's greenest city goal. We can only hope that this will be fixed in time to meet his urgent 2020 deadline.

- post by Mike


Partisan polemics aside, this is a really important issue, and part of a larger conversation we all need to have on what we mean by sustainability and what would really make Vancouver a greener city (if you agree this is an important thing to do). I would like to see Vancouver process all of its waste inside its own boundaries! The larger question is what metrics matter in green thinking. If we don't choose the right metrics we won't have a decent compass and will make bad decisions. What does CityCaucus see as the most important metrics for measuring sustainability?

@Steven, I can tell you one thing that is *not* a metric, and that's press releases that insist that Vancouver will become the greenest anything. It most certainly will not become greener on its current political path.

To be "green" has been reduced to meaninglessness by politicians and marketers. For example, our Mayor presents himself as being green because he worked for an organic juice start-up company. How does the carbon footprint of importing mangoes to BC not factor into how 'green' these products are?

Being green means reducing our energy use – full stop. To do that we need to build more walkable and densely built cities where travel distances are reduced for getting life's staples, for work and leisure. The principles of good city-making are out there should we choose to observe rather than ignore them.

Not one single carbon atom has been halted from entering the atmosphere by Vision Vancouver's initiatives. Their vaunted list of accomplishments are a hodgepodge of political optics, or ideas put forth before their term. If they could actually make Vancouver more sustainable, instead of "appearing" to be more green, that's something I'd be prepared to salute.

Right, we get it Mike.

So what positive things can we do? What are the metrics?

Why the comment about contracting out? Workers do not make decisions, they follow orders given to them by a supervisor. Give an example of why contract work out.

From an article that appeared in the Wallrus, March 2010;

..Its Vancouver 2020 report, which Robertson unveiled at an environmental conference last fall, was notable for its eschewing of vague bromides in favour of hard targets: a 33 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2007 levels; the creation of 20,000 green jobs; a 20 percent improvement in the efficiency of all buildings. And the city’s brand (yes, cities these days are branded) is “Green Capital,” after the hoped-for flood of investment in sustainable businesses. There is even talk that City Hall may be a way station en route to the premier’s office in Victoria — an office now occupied, for a third term, by the Liberal Gordon Campbell, himself a former Vancouver mayor.

Sustainability has become the defining narrative of Robertson’s mayoralty and may well be his legacy; if he does set his sights on provincial pastures, he’ll have serious green cred. By the most dependable benchmark we’ve devised — GHGs, or annual greenhouse gas emissions per capita — Vancouver (at 4.9 tonnes) is already the most eco-friendly city in North America, well ahead of New York (10.5 tonnes), Los Angeles (13 tonnes), Seattle (11.5 tonnes), and Toronto (11.6 tonnes). And in just about every reckoning of the world’s eco-friendly cities, Vancouver ranks up there with Reykjavik, Copenhagen, and Malmö. We have the most advanced electric vehicle infrastructure and municipal bylaws in North America, and Nissan will introduce the world’s first all-electric, zero-emission vehicle, the Nissan LEAF, here in 2011, ahead of the global rollout in 2012. The Athletes Village at Southeast False Creek will likely be the largest LEED gold–certified development in the country. Vancouver diverts more than half its recyclable waste — the average among Canadian municipalities is 22 percent — and aims for 70 percent by 2015. Methane from the landfill south of town warms forty hectares of greenhouses for local vegetable growers. It’s no surprise that the billionaire Aquilini family has turned its attention to greener waste management, believing that public education — and a few years — is all that stands between the city’s practice of trucking 500,000 tonnes of garbage annually to Cache Creek, in the BC interior, and the sort of waste-to-energy incineration that has reduced emissions in cities like Vienna, Osaka, and the Aquilinis’ ancestral hometown, Brescia, in northern Italy.'

Hi Mike, I think the example I would give as to why contracting out should be discussed is the 2007 labour disruption. Vancouverites should never again have their waste services disrupted by a strike. I've said here on on a few occasions now that this does not exclude CUPE from bidding on this work. But the bottom line is this:

- the work must be a competitive bid in terms of costs

- no disruption of waste removal services ever, including strikes or work to rule

You guys do a great service for us. Of course you do not relish striking, and if you do it's on principle. However, the services you provide are too important to be at risk of ending, in the same way other life/safety work is.

There are other jurisdictions who have sought competitive bids and remained with their public/unionized operators (for example, a city in Arizona whose name escapes me now). I'd like to see that provided citizens can get the guarantees listed above.

As yoy know there is no profit to be made, private companies lock in contracts for sevice and their is no guarntee that service improves or will remain consistent. Just look at other municpalities, in 2007 the relationship had broken down and Sammy got bad advice.His article to the Van Sun editorial was very good advice for future mayors. Management had created such a toxic atmosphere that the results were the strike of 07.Unions are no different than associations.Public services and assets are key to sustaining humanity for all and not just a select few who fill their pockets with taxdollars that benefit themselves.

Also forgot to mention and you can call them to clarify. There was staff who were able to collect garbage from the citizens. Staff chose to collect street garbage, staff drove the large garbage trucks, staff operated landfill equipment and large tractor trailers. These staff were supervisors and you must know the truth,it was suggested that they could do that work and they chose not too.The suggestion came from myself since i worked alongside a great number of them. Accountability for all, regardless of what side of the fence your on.

Delta should impose a Greenhouse Gas from Garbage "fee" on all the trucks using Delta's roads that bring garbage to the City of Vancouver owned an operated landfill.

Weigh every truck going in and out to get the load tonnage - they could name the weigh station the "Penny Ballem is Stuck on Stupid" building - and then impose huge fees to cover the amount of methane that is being released.

Delta should call them "Gregor's Hypocrisy Fees"

Gregor and Penny . . . out of their moral depth in a parking lot puddle.

@ Mike Jackson:

I live in an apartment in Vancouver.

We are serviced by a private contractor and I can honestly tell you we have never had an issue with that service - they operate like clock work.

It was a welcome relief during the strike.

Repeat after me:
Ballem Garbage Gases, Getting Gregor...
Lady GaGa Getting Gregor...

I also receive private garbage collection where I live. The service is timley nad professional. Looking at the problem with municpal services, you see that pensions costs for the city went up 70% from 2002 ($30.5 mil) to 2009 ($49.1 mil). This to fund a very generous defined benefit plan with subsidized exteneded health, vision care and dental care. The pensions plan that is about 60% funded by tax payers and by the last actuarial valuation is unedrfunded by about 1 billion dollars. Now add to that deferred payroll costs of accumlated sick leve, OT and vacation which curently sits at $83 mil ( up from $25.9 mil in 2002) and you can see why private garbage collection is even more desireable. Notice that COV has engaged a high priced head hunter to hire a new HU general manager. No doubt a flunkie to follow marching order from ex union boss Geogg Meggs. No doubt, our taxes will rise again to fund the ever increasing costs of the public service

This post is giving me gas.

Sorry for thr typo..the COV engaged a head hunter to hire a new HR General Manager...not HU General Manager

couldn't agree more. It's not the wages, it's the perpetual benefits and the abuse of the systems by the rotten apples.

The public pensions now only give benefits to around 15% of workers, yet they never seem to understand that those benefits are the equivalent of about a 20% higher salary than private sector counterparts.

Gregor is full of garbage. The problem with his plan is that it didn't include an actual plan. Haven't we seen this before from Mr. Unicorns and Rainbows?

Negative negative negative.

Where are the solutions from you guys?
You all sound like classic politicians, especially Mike's 'response'.

'What will you do to address problem x'
'Well I can tell for sure voting for the other guy won't address it'

Yeah, great.

The last man nearly ruined this place
he didn't know what to do with it
If you think this city's bad off now
just wait 'til I get through with it

Sustainability according to whom?

By all accounts Gregor and his Hollyhock sheep are exempt from real scrutny of their so called sustainable causes.

If the Hollyhock crowd is bugging you its not your imagination, your not seeing things. The Bugs are real, just Google "Bedbugs Hollyhock"

How dare you question the honourable Gregor T. Hollyhock

I will not stand for anything crooked or unfair
I'm strictly on the up and up, so everyone beware
If anyone's caught taking graft, and I don't get my share
We stand him up against the wall and POP! goes the weasel

Hail Hail Greendonia!

This thread is the typical "throw the spaghetti against the wall" election year post. Always a popular topic meant to stir up the interest. The facts are that the City has an efficient collection workforce. Mechanized and lean. Competitive with the private sector. It should be noted to taxpayers that that the privateers want the revenue our Landfill generates. The real objective is to acquire and manage the source facilities and the collection is their cost of doing business. The taxpayers should never give up this revenue stream. It was mentioned the popular option is to burn our garbage? Our neighbours in Surrey want to build an incinerator in Whalley, next to the new City Hall. Now that sounds real sustainable.

Very popular name for the Farm. I suspect you are wearing your cosmonaut costume, Gregor. Right?

@ city holler:

Perhaps the city does have an efficient collection workforce, but the one thing private companies have over public - they do not go on strike and leave the taxpyers hanging....for months and at the taxpayers expense and on their dime.

And, the private sector does not make threats or destroy the property of those that step into help out the public during a strike.

I am referencing back to the fireworks that took place during 'strike time'.

There was a local landscaping company that had its employees go out the morning after the fireworks to help clear/clean the beach so those that came during the day could enjoy it.

Many of them were students working for the summer.

They were threatened by striking CUPE members as well, tires on the company trucks were slashed.

Of course, when calleneged in the media the union sat bold faced and said their memembers would never do that....(yeah, right)

That type of thuggery leaves a bad taste in ones mouth and is never forgotten and is just one of many reasons why people have a general dislike of unions and why they are losing support.

The idea that a job is done better by union memembers over those that are not unionized is a bunch of union propaganda BS.

The only one releasing hot gases is the mayor. His green plan has just been exposed as nothing more than one big fraud.


You are sadly mistaken as many see through your "private sector do not go on strike" statement. Any private contract can and likely will be staffed with unionized skilled drivers. Ever heard of the Teamsters? The city management knows that existing skilled staff are efficient, reliable, and as mentioned by others in the past, cheaper to keep as in house staff. Outside contractors will only take on the work if they get the landfill facility work included. The profits from that are the gravy that the city will not let go. You and others forecast doom and gloom but the reality is that if cost of living standards are met, work stoppages are avoided. As for organizations cleaning up in place of city staff, scabs learn quick to respect picket lines.


Another thing you're mistaken on. (We could go on and on as your garbage keeps coming)

You wrote that the strike was "at taxpayers expense and on their dime", (redundant), but they're your words. Actually.... the taxpayers saved money!!
Hah!!! Remember the rebate, or the "one time savings" as they called it?? No??
Didn't think so.


Spoken like a true unionist.

Last I heard, the beaches etc. are owned by the people, not the unions or their members.

To refer to concerned and helpful citizens and in the case I noted, teens, as 'scabs' is laughable and typical of the knuckle dragging behaviour we have all grown to know and love.

If you and your union brothers and sisters are proud enough to threaten people, then man up and take the consequences of your actions. Instead you can hide behind the apron skirts of the 'union'.

what we need is the Seattle model where they divide the city up in precincts and put it out to tender. City can bid. I believe no contractor can hold all 6 contracts.

Right now, we have 6-7 haulers serving the same downtown alley. How is that environmentally responsible. Right now, most commercial garbage is not split for recycling - why? Because the Commercial haulers of the world make too much money off half empty dumpsters and would rather pay the fine (and up their fees) than change their system.

We need precinct collection, we need to go dumpster free in our commercial areas and we need to open up the contracts for tender.

Not on topic but of interest:

Former Chief License Inspector sues City of Vancouver
Mike Bothwell

Carlene Robbins, 55, claims she was fired after a house fire that killed three men.

In documents filed in BC Supreme Court Robbins says her employer created a work environment of "hostility, embarrassment, and humiliation" in the weeks following the fire.

Robbins says in her notice of civil claim she was in charge of a program to enforce city bylaws for 12 years.

But three weeks after three men died in a problem property on Pandora Street in December, she was removed from any involvement in the program.

She says that dismissal effectively ended her job and her $105,000 annual salary.

The city has previously claimed Robbins was not dismissed and changes in her job were not related to the fire.

Max so true...


As for organizations cleaning up in place of city staff, scabs learn quick to respect picket line...

not true...there were deals made... I was part of the process...wink wink

@ Sharon:

This is a good idea.

Anytime an organization purchases goods or services from an external source they are, in a sense, "contracting out" and must deal with the value proposition of quality and cost. Many of these goods and services are many times more complex than picking up garbage so it is only the diehard unionist that will dismiss this option for the city out of hand. City Council should be looking at getting the best service for the taxpayers at the least cost which may or may not include contracting out garbage services.

Unfortunately, this discussion is probably academic since I doubt that the NPA, which every day is looking more and more like Vision-Lite, would tackle the unions by putting the option of contracting out on the bargaining table.

Business Improvement Associations have be championing the dumpster free model for almost 5 years. The stonewalling by the City, and Hauling community has been unbelievable. They even suggest it would require a charter change. One of the hesitations(get this)- we would be removing a source of revenue for a segment of society that uses dumpster diving as a source of income.

Shoot me.

lets not forget that the dumpsters are now a wonderful canvas for the graffiti artists... especially now that the budget has been cut for graffiti clean up..
as we all know, the dumpsters aren't repainted regularly...looks like a ghetto...but taggers are happy..

businesses,neighbors, not so much...

LOL, rumour has it that inspections should be done and permits yanked if graffiti is not removed. Tough to do if there is no inspections and then there is 3 warning and then a debate on what is new graffiti and what is old graffiti and it goes round and round and I could scream.

@ Sharon:

Vision has had zero problem changing the 'Charter' to meet their needs in the past, so why worry now?

As for the dumpster divers, yup, remember all to clearly reading that little tid-bit along the way.

It seems we will do anything to help support the drug trade in this city.

"Unlike other facilities such as the Roosevelt landfill in southern Washington state, where methane gas is collected to send megawatts of power...."


In 1991 the City of Vancouver started flaring the methane which converts it to CO2 and reduces ghg emissions by 95%.

In 2003 the City started a cogeneration plant that converts the methane to both electricity (which goes to the BC Hydro grid) and heat (which goes to nearby greenhouses). The project produces enough electricity for approximately 6,000 households each year.

@Mike Klassen
"Not one single carbon atom has been halted from entering the atmosphere by Vision Vancouver's initiatives...."

That is a pretty bold statement.

Are you sure it is correct?

Let's just look at just one example. In the fall of 2010 the City of Vancouver initiated a program to encourage the installation of Solar Hot Water systems on residential buildings.

As of December 21st 15 such systems had been installed under the program.

Each system reduces ghg emissions by about 150 kg of CO2e each year.

That seems like a lot of carbon atoms to me........

Hey Rob, what about the carbon emissions from the backed up for blocks traffic on the Dunsmuir Viaduct and Hornby? Don't they count?

But, may I suggest, this is another secretive, behind closed doors strategy of this Vision Council to deliberately create congestion to supposedly brute force people into Vision's preferred methods of transportation.

The other closed door strategy is to deliberately create bottlenecks of density, and therefore, congestion at what they are calling "gateways". For example: Marine Gateway at already congested Marine and Cambie, Granville Gateway at also already congested 70th and Granville, Burrard Gateway at the Pattison, Concert Properties and Commercial Electronics spot rezoning PROPOSALS.

These are not gateways. A gateway by definition allows one to pass through. These are in fact BOTTLENECKS. A bottleneck by definition constricts access. Do you think that by doubling and tripling the density at these locations Vancouverites will have a higher quality of life? Do you believe that by doubling and tripling the density at these locations Vancouverites will reduce our carbon foot print? Do these developers really think that such congestions will be in the long term best interests of their developments?

They have already created a major bottleneck on Hornby, Pacific and the Burrard Bridge because of the ill-conceived Hornby Bike lane. I bet you can't wait to see what it'll be like when the above gems are built.

Jimmie Pattison has a wonderful legacy at VGH. Does he also want to be remembered as the car dealer that restricted his customers use of the vehicles he's selling them? Is this a good business model?

As it turns out this is also not a good planning model, not surprisingly. There are better, more constructive and healthy, from a community building perspective, ways to achieve these same objectives. This Vision Council's 'let's make a deal', roulette wheel casino method of planning is counter-productive [funny about the coincidence isn't it?], and in the long term destructive to the well being of the citizens of Vancouver.

Why cannot this Vision Council not come out and tell the citizens of Vancouver not just, late in the day and in spite of approved neighbourhood plans and zoning bylaws, what they are doing, but the real reasons WHY they're doing them?

If I were a planner with a conscience, working for the City of Vancouver, at this point in time I could no longer remain silent. My professionalism would require that I stand and say to my ultimate client, the citizens of Vancouver, that the misguided policies and objectives, and underhanded, deceptive and manipulative public consultation methods of this Vision Council cannot be supported from a professional planning perspective.

I would be happy to look at any evidence that any policy has increased ghg emissions. But I need evidence - not wild speculations.

Is there any example of a city that added separated cycling infrastructure and saw emissions increase?

@Bill McCreery
"If I were a planner with a conscience, ...."

Urban Planners look at evidence and best practices from around the world.

- There is evidence that adding urban cycling infrastructure is one of the most cost effective was to reduce ghg emissions (

- There is evidence that adding cycling separated cycling lanes does increase cycling modal share (

- There are examples of cities that have reduced ghg emissions and added separated cycling infrastructure.

- There are cities that have added much more separated cycling infrastructure than we have here in Vancouver and there have not been major economic consequences of doing so.

- Cities around North America (Washington DC, New York, Montreal, San Francisco) are adding this type of infrastructure. In fact, Vancouver is falling behind in this regards.

- Even the NPA politicians who have spent time working with city planners understand that this type of cycling infrastructure is the way to go. That is why Peter Ladner, Gordon Price and Suzanne Anton all support separated bike lanes in the down-town core.

rob, you've missed the intent of my comment. Any competent designer working in the planning and building design sphere does their homework. Part of that in the case of bike lanes would include: "looking at evidence and best practices from around the world". Your links would be helpful in that regard. But, as any designer knows, that is only part of the process. In fact, it's only one small preliminary step in the design and decision-making process.

The difference between good and not so good planning and building design is what the designer does with the homework. This also includes assessments of the on the ground circumstances among others. Designers who make good decisions usually produce good designs. Designers who do not, do not.

IMO the Burrard Bridge, Hornby and Dunsmuire bike lanes were bad decisions which produced bad solutions. There is more to good "Urban Design" than information on what's happened elsewhere. This is Vancouver. What we do here must make sense for Vancouver.

The design decision-making process is not a one dimensional, simplistic process. It's a complex, multi-dimensional one. Aside from what the new lanes are doing to businesses and traffic congestion, the actual bike lanes themselves leave a whole lot to be desired. For instance: the accident waiting to happen at the north side of the Burrard Bridge, the convoluted Burrard/Drake Streets, the right turn conflicts, the to tight turning geometrics, the unfortunate, aesthetically compromised planters, etc.

As a TEAM politician I spent a lot of time working with city planners and among other things we implemented the 1st separated bike lane in Vancouver in 1974 on the Stanley Park Seawall. As an NPA politician today, as I've frequently said, I support a safe, separated bike lane system downtown, just as have Peter Ladner, Gordon Price and Suzanne Anton. IMO there are better alternatives than the present one.

I also remind you rob, that it was the NPA who has been responsible for implementing 95% of the existing cycling network in Vancouver.

Agree. Glaring example of poor planning is the stranded, now inoperative bus stop behind the separeated bike lane along Burrard Street just south of Burnaby Street. The bus stop has been sitting empty and unused since the late installation of the separated bike lane.

Bill, I did misunderstand the intent of your comments. I thought your primary point was that traffic infrastructure changes had increased ghg emissions - which I have yet to see an evidence to support.

I do agree that specific intersections along the Hornby bike lane (especially the two you point out) are less than perfect. But I thought that city staff was reviewing these two intersections and attempting to find improvements. Has that changed?

And I think there are many intersections in Vancouver that are less than perfect.

It is good to know that we all agree that the general concept of more separated bike lanes in the downtown core was the way to go.

As you pointed out the NPA have been leaders in this regards. It was the NPA that altered Vancouver's traffic management plan to give cyclists priority over motor vehicles. It is good to see this plan finally being implemented.

Check out!

Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement