Apprehensive about incineration

I first heard about the proposed "batch oxidation plant" for Haines Junction in the mayor's spring newsletter. It sounded like a great idea.

I first heard about the proposed “batch oxidation plant” for Haines Junction in the mayor’s spring newsletter. It sounded like a great idea.

Our dump is getting full, and this machine can burn garbage, produce electricity and maybe some heat to boot. They say the emissions exceed all the standards, and the territorial government will pay for the unit. This had to be the ultimate in clean, green technology.

I didn’t give it much more thought. Three more newsletters mentioning the plant came and went. Haines Junction started accepting garbage from neighbouring communities.

But there was a niggling doubt in my mind. It’s like getting an email from a guy in Nigeria promising to make you millions with a small investment.

I started asking questions. The more I asked, the more questions I came up with. I read everything I could find. My wife thought I was having an online affair.

A whole new picture began to emerge.

The fact is that this incinerator will produce nanoparticles of dioxins, furans, heavy metals … and we simply don’t know what the safe limit is.

This incinerator will produce one ton of ash for every four tonnes of garbage, and unless a customer is found that ash goes in the dump. Some of the ash is toxic, and the closest hazardous waste facility is in Alberta.

This plant will cost about $1 million, most of which will end up in the pockets of a company from Outside, not in our community. (Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I tend to see all government spending as being my hard-earned tax money, and I begrudge it being wasted no matter what level of government is wasting it.)

The fact is that our world is running low on energy, and burning garbage rather than recycling destroys between four and 26 times as much energy as is recovered from it (although in the Junction we won’t produce a single kilowatt of electricity BTU of heat).

Over 80 per cent of our garbage can be reused, recycled or composted, but we only divert, at most, about 20 per cent. The biggest obstacle in the way of increasing our recycling rate is our own attitudes.

But attitudes can be changed. The town of Salemo, Italy, changed its recycling rate from 18 per cent to 72 per cent in one year. Ursurbill, Spain, changed from 28 per cent to 86 per cent in 7 months. I could go on.

Again, I may be old fashioned, but I don’t believe that the Spaniards or Italians have anything on us Yukoners. I believe we are just as intelligent, hard working and community minded.

Now, I can understand the attraction of this incinerator to our municipal government. They get the dough from YG, burn the garbage, no more crisis. No need to push people to change, or peer into someone’s garbage bag. That sort of thing can get uncomfortable in a small town, but then, so can cancer.

Thing is, there is no free lunch. And once again, it’s our kids that get to pick up the tab for this buffet. Will the bill be unknown effects of dioxin nanoparticles, or simply more squandered resources in a world running low? I guess we just don’t know.

Dave Weir

Haines Junction