Ask Pat: The Sub

Eric asks—

Ahoy Capt. Re: Das Sub

Great the Quayside playground is up for a needed rebuild. Has “what do we do with the submarine” come up?

After all this item has quietly slipped into historic artefact/ community heritage resource status.

We all know it came from Expo ’86. What might not be as well known: it was from a West Edmonton Mall attraction (at the time the mall had more working subs than the Cdn. navy); at Expo it was part of the brilliant public art piece Highway ’86 by James Wise of SITE, a cutting edge design firm all us young architects were in awe of.

The sub was the largest of dozens of transportation, including a tricycle and an aeroplane, all painted matte grey and set on an undulating grey asphalt “road”.

How about we hand the sub over to the Public Art Cttee. to reprise/resurface it in a new location? Our local transpo crowd – including a certain councillor- might get right into it.

Yes, the topic of saving or moving the semi-Sub has come up. Staff have even spent a bit of time looking at potential options. However, at the risk of sounding like a boo-bird, I need to point out some of the significant technical challenges staff have related to me about trying to save and/or move the Sub.

The Sub can’t stay where it is. The storm drainage pipe under it needs to be excavated and replaced, that is not an optional thing, but something the City needs to get done before compete failure of the pipe and related flooding. Try trying to remove the sub in one piece presents several challenges (not to mention the unknown unknowns, to borrow a phrase). It will need to be separated from the foundation built to support it, and the entire concrete-over-steel structure would have to be lifted and moved, which if not done with great care (read: expense) may end the entire “in one piece” part of the discussion.

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The Submarine itself would need extensive restoration if it was to be made a permanent art installation, as the steel is not in great shape based on the concrete delamination and spalling – the piece was built for a 6-month installation 30 years ago. The modifications of it to install it in the park (removal of the wings, installation of the railing) probably didn’t help, nor did the various coats of paint that are now peeling off of, regardless is whether the concrete overcoast comes with it or not. We currently have no budget for, and have not even had evaluated, the form of this restoration, however safe to say it will be significant.

We have nowhere to put the submarine. If we remove it, we would need to find a place to store it where it can be protected from the elements, and where restoration work can happen. Unless a generous benefactor with spare warehouse space was to come along, I’m not sure where we can do this.

Finally, and this is, unfortunately, the biggest issue with all of the above – we have very little time to get the pipe replacement work done. As much of the drainage involves an excavation within the wetted area of the river, the work needs to be done within a “fisheries window” – a short period of time when Fisheries and Oceans Canada have given us permission to do the work in order to minimize the disruption of fisheries habitat and the injury of fish. Again, this is not something we have any control over, and that is creating a very, very tight timeline for the work, and it will be starting very soon. An extra week or two to design, coordinate and execute a potentially delicate removal plan for a piece we have no long-term plans for would be perilous. Never mind trying to find the (estimated – with significant contingency) tens of thousands of dollars to do the removal work.

As for the Heritage value, there already was a preliminary assessment of the Sub. The value is considered very limited and “sentimental”, but not representing a significant heritage artifact. Its provenance is not New Westminster, and it is separated from its context. Although there are legends about a connection to West Edmonton Mall, in reality the submarine was the only machine of the 200 that made up the Highway 86 installation that wasn’t a real, operating machine before it was installed. It is a semi-sub; half of a fake boat. The “U” in this U-boat stands for “Unecht”. You get the message.

That said, on kitsch value alone I’m not opposed to the idea, and wish we had more time to allow someone passionate about such a plan to cook up a solution to the above concerns. Problem is, this project has been discussed and on the books for many months (including a few public consultation rounds and public meetings), and the topic of saving the submarine has not been put forward as an important component of the engineering work or playground replacement. I also touched bases with a few people in the Publci Art realm, and they were… underwhelmed. Unfortunately, we are now well past the eleventh hour, and jeopardizing the timeline and budget of the planned work for the site at this point would be irresponsible.

So in sumary, I’m going to suggest this is an interesting idea, likely impractical, definitely costly, and probably undoable considering the pressures on the City to get the engineering work at the Quayside done. I would suggest the submarine is finally heasded off towards the sunny horizon it has pointed at for more than a generaiton: the metal recycling and junkyards south of the Fraser.

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Shoreline Cleanup 2013

note: below is a guest post (a first!) penned by Karla Olson, who has been carrying much of the New Westminster Environmental Partners load on her back this year. She has also spent the last three years applying her considerable project management skills towards making the local portion of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup as successful as possible. The 2013 event is coming up soon- and I hope you will take part!  
Site prep team on Queensborough’s South Dyke Road last week:
(LtoR) Karla Olson (author), Patrick Johnstone, Jaycee Clarkson,
Lisa Egan and Harry Buchholz.

Help Nature Return to Its Natural Beauty

Next Sunday, starting from 9:30AM, is the South Dyke Road Riverfront Cleanup in Queensborough. A family-friendly event, it is open to everyone who welcomes taking care of our shoreline. Volunteer to take part in a variety of activities, from active to easy.
At last year’s Shoreline Cleanup, 79 participants removed about 165 kg of litter and invasive species. People came from Surrey, Delta, and Vancouver, and included Councillor Jonathan Cote, as well as Fin Donnelly, MP.  Some of the littered items collected included an oven, a refrigerator door, a microwave, 6 tires, a barrel that was estimated to be forty years old, and bags and bags of waste produced from daily human activities.
Along with all of the garbage and invasives removed, what is equally impressive is how experienced people are getting at doing these cleanups.
Last year, one couple from Surrey removed 4 of the 6 tires, the barrel, and huge blocks of Styrofoam from the river. This year, when I took part in the Queensweep Cleanup with NWEP member Jaycee Clarkson, I was so impressed by the ingenuity of Lisa Egan and her family. They used garbage pickers to get at the litter stuck in the ditches, and the kids’ wagon was a perfect addition to help carry it all.
Besides litter, another concern for this shoreline area is the dumping of yard waste that is occurring. Most likely people think because it is organic that it doesn’t do any harm. But what they don’t realize is that they are introducing non-native species into the habitat and adding nutrients that create an imbalance to this ecosystem.
Jaycee Clarkson, NWEP member, spraying blackberry in prep for the Invasive Plant Pull Shoreline Cleanup 2013 
What Makes a Plant Invasive?
Plants are considered invasive for two reasons. One reason is because people or animals have brought them from their original natural habitat to a different one; they are non-native plants. Which non-native plants become invasive depends on their adaptability—how quickly they grow and multiply in the new habitat.
When non-native plants grow quickly, they take over and force native plants from their home. They rob them of their space, sunlight, water, and nutrients. Over time, these invasive plants change and damage the conditions of the natural habitat. For these reasons, invasive plants are carefully removed to not spread their seeds or other plant parts that can regrow from special habitats like—our Fraser River shoreline.
Patrick Johnstone tagging invasive plants for the 2013 Shoreline Cleanup
For those of us who love the taste of blackberries, it can be hard to learn that the Himalayan blackberry is considered an invasive plant (Invasive Species Council of British Columbia). But one of the best ways to stop it from spreading is to eat the berries before their seeds grow new ones! Now that berry season is over, it’s important to minimize the hazard of the plant’s long shoots, which can be hazardous to humans and animals alike.
Invasive Plant Tagging
Two site visits were done in preparation for the cleanup to target those invasives that are best to remove—morning glory, Lamium, bamboo, English ivy and Himalayan Blackberry—by tagging them with orange or white paint. The first visit with Claude Ledoux, Parks Horticulture Manager, helped to verify the success of our volunteer efforts.
Claude Ledoux, City’s Parks and Horticulture Manager, identifying morning glory.
Some invasive plants can take years to completely remove once they have been introduced. But even so, the minimal re- growth of these plants in the areas that were pulled last year was quite apparent. Our efforts are really having a positive impact.
Data Collection
In addition to the invasive pull and picking up garbage, an important activity is collecting data on the numbers and types of garbage found. By keeping track of what’s collected by members of your team, participants help shine a light on the types of litter people throw out and which types make up the most garbage. This information leads to understanding the behaviours that trigger littering and to finding ways to stop it from happening. If you would like to help out with this activity, please bring a clipboard, if you have one, and a pen.
To show how much litter was collected, a graph will be displayed at RiverFest on Saturday, Sept 28 to show just how much litter was collected.
Patrick Johnstone, NWEP member, standing on an oil drum recently washed up onto the Shoreline
And if participants find any “unexpected” litter that can be kept safely, it will be on display at RiverFest too. Hint: Expect to see a lot of cigarette butts that will be bagged to go to TerraCycle, a company that specializes in recycling previously non-recyclable items, such as pens, inkjet cartridges, and Tassimo coffee, tea, espresso, milk and hot chocolate T Discs.
Show Your Love for the Fraser River: Join the South Dyke Road Riverfront Cleanup
For us in New Westminster, this Shoreline Cleanup launches the start of RiverFest, an art and environmental festival inspired by the Fraser River that celebrates BC Rivers Day at the Fraser River Discovery Centre. It is also part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup™, an annual event that helps keep our oceans, rivers, and lakes healthy. People from all across Canada join in to remove the human-made litter and garbage that was either dumped or accidently deposited into our water systems.
This year on Sunday, Sept 22, at 9:30am, meet at the Spagnol Street Walkout on South Dyke Road to join in. To register and get more info on the Shoreline Cleanup, click on the link—Registration isn’t necessary, but does help with planning.
Attention: YOUTH, participants under 19, if you are taking part without your parents or guardians you need to bring 2 signed waivers with you and you can find them on the New Westminster Environmental Partners’ website, nwep.ca and go to the Shoreline Cleanup menu tab.
The South Dyke Road Riverfront Cleanup is organized by New Westminster Environmental Partners (NWEP) in partnership with the City of New Westminster and the Fraser River Discover Centre.
Patrick Johnstone Standing on Oil Drum Submerged in our NW Shoreline

On the trash fires of our future.

The expansion of Waste-to-Energy plants is creeping back into the news again, and people in New Westminster had better pay attention. I almost forgot all about it, but yesterday I got a letter in the mail from MetroVancouver telling me about the ongoing selection process for new garbage burners:

This is probably because I was involved actively in the long drawn-out public engagement process for Metro Vancouver’s Integrated Solid Waste Resource Management Plan, where the public across the region were vocally opposed to increased trash incineration. MetroVancouver nonetheless barged ahead, and got the plan through the Minister of Environment with waste-to-energy a major component in the plan.

Notably, it took a change in Provincial Ministers of Environment to get it through. The folks in the Fraser Valley are strongly opposed to those of us upwind burning our trash and dumping the air pollution into their air quality index, and the ever-awesome Barry Penner couldn’t sign off on the plan for fear of pitchforks at his Chilliwack office. So when Terry Lake (who, as best I can tell, is a smart, well considered guy – one of the few very bright lights in the current BC Liberal caucus) took over the Environment file, he was far enough removed from the Valley to sign it off.

During the earlier consultations, and pretty much ever since whenever anyone is unwise enough to ask me, I have made my position on Trash Incinerators very clear: they are an unsustainable way to manage solid waste, and an unsustainable way to generate electricity. Importing hydrocarbons from China to burn for electricity is no different if those hydrocarbons are in the form of coal or in the form of plastic bits that happened to have travelled through a WalMart before we burn them. The atmosphere can’t see the difference: fossil carbon is fossil carbon. This shouldn’t be a NIMBY issue- I don’t want a trash incinerator in New Westminster, and I don’t want one in Surrey, or Langley or Gold River.

However, not all WTE plants are trash incinerators. There is one operation currently ramping up just across the river in Richmond that is a better example of how we can more sustainably manage a large portion of our waste stream. The system is just starting to come on-stream, but represents what is (in my opinion) a much more sustainable path for WTE.

Harvest Power takes the organic wastes that people across the Lower Mainland put into our curb-side “green bins”, plus a fair amount of commercial food waste, and turns it into electrical power. This is a multi-step process:

  • Organic wastes are ground up to reduce size of the stinky bits; 
  • The resultant muck is placed in percolator cells, where warm water is dripped through in a low-oxygen setting, drawing a hydrocarbon-rich “tea” out the bottom;
  • After about 10 days, the volume of solids in the percolator cells are significantly reduced and the decomposition slows right down, so these solids can be mixed with woody waste and sand to make a rich organic compost for farms, gardens, municipal lands;.
  • The “tea” is directed to digester vessels, where specialized bacteria is used to further decompose the tea of longer-chain hydrocarbons down to methane;
  • The methane can then be burned to spin a turbine and create electricity;
  • The resultant by-products are the biosolids in the compost, CO2 from the burnt methane, and water vapour.

There are several ways this differs from the Burnaby Trash Incinerator. The most significant difference is that the carbon going into the system is biospheric carbon- that is carbon that has been very recently removed from the atmosphere and trapped in organic compounds by plants, and not fossil carbon. So no plastics or fossil carbon are going through this process. The CO2 emissions are 100% non-fossil fuel.

A second bonus of this process is that it relies on the separation of plastics from organics. This should be the first goal of any modern Solid Waste plan, because plastics are generally recyclable unless they are too contaminated with organics. Even for the plastics we cannot recycle, landfilling is much more sustainable and safe if the putrescible wastes and liquids are removed before burying the wastes. Dry, clean plastic going into a landfill will remain stable for centuries- it won’t leach metals, it won’t generate methane or nasty volatiles, it actually represents the only proven, demonstrable, and practical form of long-term carbon sequestration that engineering has yet provided to us.

However, to make landfills effective carbon sinks, we need to get the greasy, wet, “stinky” organics out of the landfill. They make the landfill less sustainable, and cause otherwise stable plastics to break down into less inert materials. That there are better things to be done with organics that do not involve the unsustainable burning of fossil fuels is really just a bonus.

Unfortunately, much of the discussion of waste-to-energy that Metro is running these days is less public than the Integrated Solid Waste Resource Management Plan was (despite the letter I got in the mail). The media reports are also unclear, as demonstrated in these two quotes came from the same story I linked to above:

“Ross said a key question is whether a new incinerator is built in Metro Vancouver or at an out-of-region site.”

…and…

“Meanwhile, Metro is currently calling for prospective partners to table their credentials and what type of waste-to-energy technology they’d use.”

So is the debate currently only “location of an incinerator”, or are other technologies aside from incinerators being considered?

I sure hope it is the latter, because that will make the difference whether many of us will support WTE in our community, or even the idea of shipping our waste to other communities to be made into energy.

Law of the Instrument

This is similar in tone to an earlier post I wrote regarding the misapplication of technology. In that post, I questioned how “on-line voting” was going to fix the low turn-out rates in elections. The problem of low voter turn-out was not caused by the lack of options or access to polling booths, so increasing that access through the wonder of the Internet was not really a sensible solution. It was the wrong tool addressing the problem from the wrong direction.

This time, I hope to convince you that increasing the volume of traffic is not the solution to the problem of an aging bridge.

In earlier stages of my career, I had plenty of opportunities to work with drillers. Guys (and yes, they were all guys) who operate drilling equipment are a special breed. It is hard work, intensely physical, dirty, noisy, and you are doing it in the rain, the sleet, the snow, and any other unpleasant environment you are asked. Days are usually 12 hours, and you spend much of your off time living in flea-bag hotels on the outskirts of towns you wouldn’t otherwise visit.

I have drilled (actually, stood there watching other guys drill while I sketched on a clipboard and put samples into jars) in pounding down rain in February in Port Alice, in frozen sleet in September in Wells; In heavy snow in Anahim Lake, and on bright sunny warm days while standing on bulk sulphur storage piles. I have even stood on a small barge in Burrard Inlet in the middle of winter with drillers running a Pionjar off the side. With all of these conditions, they are operating a piece of equipment that can kill or maim them instantly if they lose attention. As a result, drillers are tough, skilled, determined, crude and practical: Every edge they have is rough. They all smoke every cigarette like it is their last; I have never seen a group of people so enthusiastic about smoking, and I grew up in a Pulp Mill town.

L to R: me, a notable bridge, a Sonic drill rig.

All that aside, one of the charming things about drillers is their tool kit. It contains two types of tools: hammers, and unused. There is nothing a driller cannot fix with a hammer. If there is, it needed replacing anyway. Every process in the instruction book “Drilling for Dummies” starts with these two steps: 1) Get a hammer; 2) No, a bigger hammer.

As a result, drillers generally have a lot of broken and bent equipment around. When something goes wrong on the drill rig there are two ways it can go: lots of banging and then back to work; or lots of banging then back to the shop. The only shocking past is how often it is the former.

There is a truism called the Law of the Instrument, which is colloquially “when all you have is hammers, every problem looks like a nail”.

When applied to how our province has been operating its roads, and overseeing Translink’s management of the Major Road Network (including the Pattullo Bridge), it could be said that there is no problem that cannot be fixed by building more roads. Never mind what the problem is, or whether this solution has worked in the past, building more roads seems to be the one thing upon which this government has no problem spending taxpayers money.

If the connection isn’t obvious, let me put it this way: At a time when they are cutting back on bus routes and are putting all transit expansion on hold, TransLink is fast-tracking the “consultation” on the Pattullo, saying they need a new 6-lane bridge PDQ. This seems to be the solution to some problem, but there problem isn’t “traffic” or “truck movement” or “growing communities” (the talking points used to justify a 6-lane bridge). Their problem is an aging bridge.

Look at the “Replacement Factors” listed on their website for the project, what do we find? An alliterative list: Safety, Structure, Seismic, and Scour.

“Safety” issues are related to traffic operations on the bridge: lanes too narrow, inadequate railings, too many accidents. If TransLink or the Government was really concerned about driver safety on the bridge, they would put four photo radar cameras on the bridge and enforce the 50km/h speed limit. A revenue-generating end of the problem.

“Structure” arguments are all about corrosion of steel components on the bridge and degradation of the bridge deck, so exactly the same factors that led to the extensive refurbishment of the Lions Gate Bridge. There, things were repaired at a much lower cost than replacing the bridge.

“Seismic” seems pretty straight forward: a 1938 bridge does not meet 2012 earthquake standards. The Sandwell Report done for TransLink in 2007 was pretty clear: “…the bridge is vulnerable to collapse even under moderate earthquakes and is in urgent need of retrofitting.” So what are we waiting for? Let’s get on with that retrofitting and make a safe bridge, at a fraction of the cost of building a new bridge.

“Scour” is the argument that after 75 years, the River is now starting to scour away the sand and silt around the foundations of the bridge. Give me a couple of barges of 1-tonne rip-rap, and we can take care of the scour issue. No need for two lanes of extra traffic to fix this one.

Notably, not one of these “Replacement Factors” justify increasing the number of lanes on the bridge, and most can actually be facilitated at much lower cost by reducing the lanes to three (with counter-flow) like the Lions Gate. As compelling an argument TransLink makes for extensive refurbishment of the Pattullo Bridge, nothing that says we need to accept the negative impacts on the City and the region of increasing road capacity, or the loss of the iconic steel arch span that is part of our City’s heritage and skyline for 75 years. Nor do they justify ramping up a $200 Million refurbishment project into a $1Billion bridge expansion project.

However, bridge replacement and expansion is the hammer that TransLink has. Collecting tolls on the bridge is the force behind that hammer. So no surprise when the problem is an aging bridge, the solution is not fixing it. The solution is to imagine other problems that may be solved by expanding it and slapping on tolls.

Simply put: the Province will not pay $200 Million to upkeep the infrastructure it has, but will throw a bunch of money building other infrastructure with no plan for long-term maintenance costs.

Hardly a model of fiscal prudence in my book.

we might have made a big mistake…

It seems the City of New Westminster has decided to move towards single-stream recycling. This means that we will no longer be separating our paper from our plastics and containers, and will be throwing it all into one bin. The bin will be exactly like our existing black (garbage) and green-lid (organics) bins, and will be designed to be picked up by the same trucks.

At the time these ideas were floated, there was little feedback from the public. I didn’t comment at the time, as I felt that I was simply not informed enough to make a useful judgement about the merits of single-stream. I actually had lunch one day with the City’s Supervisor of Solid Waste, hoping he could explain the costs and benefits of going that way. It was clear to me after that meeting that I still didn’t fully understood the issue.

I was present at City Council on April 4 of this year when Allen Lynch , a New Westminster resident and Manager of North Shore Recylcing Program pleaded with council to not go down that path, but to consider the longer-term cost and sustainability implications of Single Stream Recycling. At the time, his issues seemed real, and I was happy to hear council direct Staff to address these concerns (most of which admittedly went over my head). I was equally happy to read a report from staff a month later that seemed to address all of the issues raised by Mr. Lynch. But it still stuck in my craw that somebody with a lifetime of professional experience managing recyclables was so convinced that the City was taking a wrong path going to single stream, and the main benefits to it were explained to me as saving money on trucks. When I feel underinformed, I tend to rely on experts in the field to explain the situation, and for the fourth time in this post already, I will admit I was not well-informed enough to take a position.

There was also quite a bit of discussion with the TrashTalkers group at NWEP, with some seeing the benefit of increased diversion promised by the Single Stream, and loving the idea of going to fortnight waste collection once it comes in, while others lamented the loss of 20 years of effective Community Based Social Marketing around the use of Blue Bins – we have taught a generation to separate recyclables, and recognize the differences in materials, are we going to lose some of that? Again, there were enough sides to this issue that the TrashTalkers could not come up with a consensus opinion, and therefore stayed out of the public debate.

I realise now that was a mistake. I should have met with Helen Spiegelman.

Tuesday, I attended a meeting of Zero Waste Vancouver, where Louise Swartz of Recycling Alternatives and Helen talked about single stream recycling, and the future of Extended Product Responsibility (EPR) programs in BC. It was a too-short 90 minutes, with a lively discussion amongst the participants, and I walked away with much of the information I was so lacking during my earlier ruminations on Single Stream Recycling.

Not to bury the lead; neither Helen (who has been involved in recycling and EPR programs since they began in the 80’s) nor Louise (who runs a very successful small business collecting recyclables from businesses and institutions) think that the move to single stream a good idea, for numerous good reasons.

Let’s see if I can summarise.

The justifications for going to commingling can be broken down to three “C”s: Cost, Convenience, and Capture. You can find them all mentioned here.

Cost is usually up front, and seems to be the main motivation behind New Westminster’s shift. By commingling recyclables, the same truck can be used for recycling as is used for trash, they just hose it out between loads. Therefore fewer vehicles are needed , and fewer crews to run the vehicles. The crews never leave the truck, so you only need one person per vehicle, and no-one is out in the rain physically tossing the recyclables. There is, of course, an upfront cost to buy the bins and the upgrade the trucks ($1.3 million in the case of New Westminster) , and there will actually be a small increase in the fee charged to residents (to cover the cost of the carts), but the City will save money in the long run, if all the other assumptions in the projection hold up.

“Convenience” is the assumption that separating your recyclables is a big hassle. I guess it is hard to argue that tossing everything in one bin is more convenient for the homeowner (… ugh….)

“Capture” is related to this. The assumption is that by making recycling more “convenient”, people will do it more, so a higher percentage of the recyclables will be captured, and diversion rates (the stuff at your curb that doesn’t go to the landfill) will go up. This has been measured in places that have gone to single-stream, and there is usually a slight increase in the percentage of materials going into the blue bins compared to the black bin (in the order of 5-10%).

Now let’s look at the alternative view on these three points:

The Cost savings are amortized over 20+ years, and are based on a lot of assumptions about fuel costs, about how we as a society are going to manage our waste, about where tipping fees are going, and about the future of recycling technology, markets for recycled materials, and producer extended product responsibility (EPR) programs. This is without even getting into the sustainability arguments around externalized costs relating to the down-cycling of materials and the loss of valuable materials, but let’s save that for another day, as this is already too long a rant.

The convenience gains are frankly ridiculous in New Westminster. Currently, the City asks that you separate your “garbage” (black bin) from your organics (green bin) and your recyclable containers and paper (blue box). We further ask that you separate your clean paper and newsprint from your containers by putting it in a blue or yellow bag along with your blue box. With commingling, you will still need to separate your “garbage” from you organics, and put your recyclable containers and paper in a blue bin. The only difference is that you can toss your paper in with the containers without having to put them in the bag first: hardly a massive time saver, and hardly a saving of hours of careful thought as people look at an object and wonder if it is a newspaper or a plastic container. So the increased convenience is a marginal gain at best.

However, what we lose by gaining this convenience is huge: and this is where the big lie comes in. Theoretically, there is an increase in “capture”; people will recycle more due to a mostly imaginary increase in convenience. However, this gain at the curb is very quickly lost at the Material Recovery Plant (MRF), and now we enter the murky world of Residuals.

Your recycled materials, either out of your blue box (plastic, metal and glass) or your new commingled blue bin (plastic metal glass and papers) go to an MRF to be sorted. (if you paper went in a blue/yellow bag, it is alreadt separared, so it goes through a separate process). At the MRF, the metal is removed using magnets and/or density-sorters, and the plastic and paper are sorted partially be mechanical means, and partially by hand. I wrote last year about touring one of these facilities in Iowa, but our MRF is in Surrey. Your recyclables are separated and bundled for shipping off to wherever they will be reprocessed (which is another whole separate Blog topic). At least most of it does. Some of the material that shows up in the MRF is not recyclable, either because it didn’t belong in the recycling in the first place (plastic bags, PVC, wood, BeeGees cassettes, etc.) or because it has been so contaminated and mixed with other materials it cannot be recycled (think a newspaper pressed up against a half-empty yoghurt container in the collection truck compactor). Depending on who you ask, and how you count, the residual rates in the MRFs can range from 5% to 50%. That is a big range. Clearly, even the most modest residual rates will offset any increase in “capture” you got from increased curb-side use. It also does not include the “down-cycling” component, that is the material that comes out of the MRF as much lower quality than it went into the blue bin, and consequently, cannot be used again for its original purpose.

The worst part is this residual rate going up (the 50% end oft he range as opposed to the 5% end) is largly the result of mixing fibre materials with containers, which is the only result of the New Wesmtinster’s commingling initiative! Of the materials being collected for recycling, paper is the one material that is at highest risk of being contaminated by other materials, and it is the material whose value as a commodity in the recycling market is most closely tied to its quality. A few shards of glass or a single sheet of soft plastic can turn a Tonne of paper fibre into a liability for the receiver, and can be stripped of its entire value. This is why the City currently asks you to separate your paper from the other products in the Blue box.

But it gets worse. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but Allen Lynch was quick to point this out at New West Council. As of May, 2011, The Province of BC added “packaging and printed paper” to their EPR regulation. That means that all packaging materials and all printed paper will be managed through an industry-led extended product stewardship program, the same type of program that now makes the producer responsible for refillable bottles, cans, tires, computers, paint, and all those other things you can take to a recycling facility and dispose of at no cost to you (because you paid for the recycling when you bought the product). What does this mean for the commingled recycling? Will the City get paid to collect the paper? Will the city send a bill to the EPR program operator (Encorp, or whomever)? Will all packaging (recyclable plastic and non-recyclable plastic, including films and blister packs) be mixed in with the paper? If so, how will we separate them? Simply put, the answers to these questions arw not known yet. The main point Allen Lynch was trying to make in April was that it may be irresponsible to throw a lot of money down this path until we know where it is going!

OK, one more point, just to throw gas on this fire. What happens to these MRF residuals? Traditionally, they go to the landfill, like the rest of your black bin trash, or potentially into the new incinerators that the region wants to install. However, with increased diversion, with an EPR program on packaging and paper, with organics in the Green Bin, there will continue to be less and less black bin trash. The fuel source for these incinerators is going away, even before they are built. However, residual waste from the MRF is excellent incinerator fuel! With the organics and wet materials out of it, it is low moisture, with the metal sorted out at the MRF, you are left with paper mixed with plastic film, heavy plastic, and a bit of broken glass: this shit will burn great! This I where the cynic says: The entire commingling move is a back-door way of diverting otherwise-recyclable materials to incinerators!

People who know me know I am not a conspiracy theorist, I always default to Hanlon’s razor. However, the implications of commingling are both unclear (in the real costing and in the fact that the metrics for diversion vs. residuals are very muddy from any City that has gone that way), and crystal clear (what the fate of the materials you put in your blue bin will be). The case for commingling is so poorly made, that I am waiting to be convinced that there is a sustainability component that I am missing. And while I wait, we are spending millions buying trucks and building incinerators.

I will come back to this theme in later posts. Mostly, I am confused about what we do next to deal with this issue. In New Westminster, we will be moving to commingling in 2012 unless we can prove to the Council prior to the November election that this is not the way we want to manage our recyclables. It is also an open secret that our Mayor is very interested in having a garbage incinerator installed in our City, in spite of the loud and ongoing public opposition to the idea.

To be continued…

Water fight!

I’m getting a little tired and punchy over The story that just won’t die. What started as an effort to reduce the environmental impact of bottled water in our schools has turned into one of the silliest political debates in the city since… hmmm… I can’t think of sillier one.

I should declare my bias here, since conflict of interest is such a big part of this. I have already publicly declared my opinion that bottled water is one of the most egregious examples of the victory of cleaver marketing over common sense, good economics, and sustainability. Not on par with smoking in the personal-health-risk department, but probably more damaging on a global heath risk, and no less stupid. So my bias is that I agree with the students on this one, not the Board of Education.

I don’t know Lori Watt, I had never met her before the infamous school board meeting where the latest motion on bottled water was discussed. Frankly, I was not impressed with her unprofessional manner at the meeting, but it is not like being unprofessional stood out in that completely dysfunctional organization, where most if not all of the members have lost touch with what they are there to do. Speaking as an adult, I was embarrassed to have the students in the audience watch their elected representatives act like that. So for the two “slates” on the board, I say a pox on all your houses.

However, the claims of “conflict of interest” in this case seem a bizarre stretch, legal opinion notwithstanding. During the last election for Board of Education, Lori Watt worked as a staffer for CUPE, and was a member of COPE, and CUPE contributed to her campaign (as they did to Trustee Ewen and Trustee Janzen). These are not secrets, nor do they preclude her for running for the Board. People voted for her in spite of (or in some cases, I am sure, because of) these associations. Labour Unions are political organizations, just as multinational corporations are. They have political interests, and put their support behind those that reflect them. Watt is a member of a labour union (like about 30% of Canada’s working population), and quite possibly shares some of the same political ideas as the Union does. It is possible she even goes to Union Meetings and takes part in the democratic process of setting those policies. Of course, she can’t vote one CUPE policies, only COPE ones.

Note also that New Westminster is a “union-friendly” City. There are numerous union offices in town, the population mix is decidedly working class, and it is a longstanding labour-NDP stronghold since before the days when Tommy Douglas represented New Westminster in Ottawa. It is entirely possible that Lori Watt’s labour connection helped her get elected: that people voted for her because of her union affiliation. These people are her constituency: like it or not, that is representative democracy.

So a member of the Board of Education, elected as a union member, put forward a motion for a policy change, seconded by Trustee Graham (who did not receive CUPE funding) and supported by all members of the board, that happened to reflect the expressed interests of her constituency. That is the conflict of interest? Conflict of interest is now putting forward a motion reflecting the interests of her constituency that was immediately supported by the rest of the board? Huh? Is there any suspicion that she personally gained financially from this? Did she short-sell her PepsiCo stocks prior to this motion coming forward? If she didn’t bring the motion forward, would she be fired from her union job? Where was her gain here? Excuse the French, but this is so much ado about sweet fuck all.

But what of the legal opinion, you ask? Given sufficient money, I could have a legal opinion drafted up that says the sky is not blue and the ocean is not wet. When one of the world’s largest bottled-water selling multinational corporations (Nestle) pays for a legal opinion from the same law firm that represents another one of the world’s largest bottled-water-selling multinational corporations (PepsiCo), and that opinion comes back in favour of the position of the bottled-water-selling multinational corporations, are we to be surprised? We should be no less surprised that the Board’s own legal opinion said there was not conflict. Legal opinions are like children: there is no limit to how many you can have, even if you can’t afford them, and everyone thinks their own is the best.

Since we are on the topic of conflict of interest: we know O’Connor received some financial assistance from Nestle for his supposedly one-man grassroots campaign against Watt. We know there were other, so far unnamed, financial contributors, willing to spend money to support one failed Board of Education candidate, as the “public face” of the fight. Receiving secret funding to wage a personal campaign? No possibility of conflict there. If O’Connor was really concerned about openness and accountability, he would declare just how many people contributed to his “grassroots” campaign, and how he got the address of PepsiCo’s favourite law firm. Still, I have yet to hear Patrick O’Connor mention anything about the interests of students (remember them?) in this entire debate. It is pretty ugly on the face of it.

I am afraid the local “Voice for openness and accountability” is on the wrong side of this fight. They threw another shot across the bow last week in the form of a letter from the President to the News Leader, praising the Board for making a “balanced and thoughtful” decision on this matter. It is clear Neil was not in the room witnessing those discussions, as there was clearly little thought put into the fall-back position this board came to.

However, there are two things I think get lost in the language, but not the spirit, of Neil’s letter, and I hope to clarify them: the health concerns of NWSS water, and “freedom of choice”, two arguments used by Voice Board of Education Members, and reinforced by the Gentleman™ from Nestle™ at that board meeting.

During the meeting, there were three people expressing the opinion that the water at NWSS was not safe: Trustee Cook, whose nuanced argument included reference to a video he apparently saw on YouTube and a headline from the Vancouver Sun that he took out of context to create the perception that school water was laden with killer lead; The Gentleman™ from Nestle™ who made vague references to “immune-deficient people”; and some guy named “Paul” from the DPAC, who I didn’t know, but I seem to recall him saying something about commies and our precious bodily fluids:

But the funniest moment was shortly after this when Trustee Goring suggested (without a hint of irony) we need to educate the youth better, because he didn’t know where these rumours were coming from amongst the students that the water was unsafe…when there were numerous youth in the room arguing for a ban on bottled water, and it was only a few misinformed (or misinforming?) adults making these ridiculous claims…

For the record, the public health officer did not say the tap water at the school was unsafe. She suggested that a ban on bottled water should be applied concurrently with a ban on all single-serving drinks, including juices and sodas. Note, she was not arguing to maintain “freedom of choice”, but to remove all choices, leaving the school with only tap water, as this would be the healthiest alternative.

Which brings us to freedom of choice. This was big part of the Gentleman™ from Nestle™ argument, and something Trustee Cook was all over: give the students choice, and educate them to make the right choice. The false choice thing aside (with no facilities to easily fill refillable bottles, and big, glowing, pop machines everywhere you look in the school, just what is the message students are being given?) why would we give the students a choice that is the opposite of the recommendation of the public health officer? I am sure the public health officer would not suggest we install cigarette machines, then let the students “choose” not to smoke. Part of an education system is empowering the students to make the right choice by providing respite from the constant media bombardment to do the wrong thing. How do we effectively teach them to make the rational choice when we turn around and take money from a global multinational to advertise the irrational choice in the teaching environment?

On an almost completely unrelated note, you might have noticed this story about how Pepsi has slipped to #3 in the “Cola Wars”. Frankly, I don’t care what brand of malted battery acid you drink, but one number popped out to me: the United States annually consumes 1.6 billion cases of Coke. A “case” is an industry measure, equal to 24 x 8-oz containers, or 192 oz. That means the USof freaking A consumes 9.1 Billion Litres of Coke a year. To put this number in perspective, if you were to fill a 10-foot-deep swimming pool with this volume of Coke, the pool would need to be as wide as a CFL Football Field, and more than 100 km long! And that is just Coke Classic, we haven’t even thought about the Dr. Pepper effect. Freedom of choice indeed.

So, if the Board of Education was really concerned about the student’s health, they would immediately adopt the public health officer’ recommendation (see the recommendation here, on page 20) and begin the phasing out of vending machines in the schools. It is clear that the public health officer thinks tap water, supplied by Metro Vancouver and regulated by Vancouver Coastal Health is the helathiest, safest alternative. If Patrick O’Connor is really interested in cultivating his position as “maverick community activist” and not a bought-and-paid hack for Multinational Corporations, then he should stop taking their shadowy money, and if Voice is really interested in open and accountable governance, they should probably be backing away from this issue and Mr. O’Connor completely.

Oh, and everybody: apologise to the damn students for being such idiots.

News update…

So much going on, so little time to write about it.

First off, Christie Clark announces her Cabinet. To her credit, I think it is a good mix of old and new, evidenced in how Moe Sihota was stuck on CBC concurrently complaining about the lack of some new members’ experience and the fact there was no evidence of change! No problem: that kind of cognitive dissonance is nothing new for Moe. There is no local angle here (New West is a long way from any Liberals of note, figuratively, if not literally), but there is an environment angle. The new Minister of Environment is some guy no-one outside of Kamloops has ever heard of. That said, he is genuinely educated (a Veterinarian), has executive experience (Mayor of Kamloops), and seems a generally nice guy (including doing a lot of overseas development work for a non-religious organization), so I am hopeful.

However, Clark’s biggest concern should not be her cabinet selection, or Moe Sihota, it should be the three high-profile, right-of-centre-right BC MPs who have just announced they are leaving federal politics . In Stockwell Day, John Cummings, and Chuck Strahl, the BC Conservatives suddenly have an electable core, and they they won’t have to dip into the Randy White pool o’ crazy for a leader. The landscape of BC politics is about the change: you read it here first.

Now getting more local, The UBE open house on Saturday was apparently well attended and well organized. I was out of town for a curling bonspiel, and could not go, but from the reports I have heard, any topics I would have covered were covered very well by others. I am actually at a committee meeting at the same time as the Wednesday consultation, so I will not be able to attend, but I recommend all with any interest do so!

The “water bottle in the school” issue will not be going away any time soon. With the President of Voice writing an opinion piece supporting the School board (while getting some of the facts wrong), on the same day we find out that the pro-water bottle “legal opinion” was actually financed by the Gentleman™ from Nestle™. I think Voice’s best tactic now is to back slowly away from this issue. Secretive corporate financing of Mr. O’Connor’s “grassroots” anti-labour rhetoric is not really the kind of thing people commonly associate with the “accountable, transparent, democratic” ideas Voice usually represents. O’Connor is not, to the best of my knowledge, a Voice member, nor does he speak for them, but this is probably something they don’t want to be too close to when it crashes and burns.

Finally, rumour has it that the City is looking at fortnight trash delivery. Good news.

Counting your Trips to the Curb

For those who remember the NWEP’s campaign around the roll-out of the automated trash bins, we put a lot of effort into convincing the City that 120L bins were large enough for most, if not all, households. We used the City’s own data and data from MetroVancouver’s own solid waste folks.

We even threw together some graphics.

In the end the City decided wisely to use 120L and the standard bin, and to offer 240L bins for an increased cost for those who insisted on clogging up landfills to the maximum possible extent. I was chagrined to find out that they ran out of 120L bins, and I (of all people) was one of the few houses that got a 240L bin, but the City swapped it out for me a month later (a month in which I didn’t use the bin once, just to make a point).
Kristian at the City must have got a laugh out of me, with my loud mouth, being one of the people with the 204L black bin, as he (I suspect) chose to swap out my green bin for a 120L model recently, without even telling me. Not a complaint, as I have hardly used that bin, with my green cone and compost both going gang-busters. In fact, I have no idea when the swap happened, I just noticed one day they were the same size.

However, another member of the NWEP Trash Talkers group was complaining recently about only using her 120L bin once every two months or so. With the organics out of it, it doesn’t stink, and she just doesn’t produce enough waste to fill it, and sees no point taking it out until it is full. Her only concern is that the garbage truck comes by her house 52 times per year, when it only really has to come by 6 or 7 times. She wondered how many other people found they were putting out the bins less than once a week. And from the kernel or thinking came the NWEP Trash Tracking program.

Using the lessons of the successful Glenbrook North and Sapperton Zero Waste Challenges, this idea is to estimate how much trash people actually put out: is there enough interest in fortnight or less frequent pick up if it means money savings? Is there use for 75L or smaller bins with concomitant savings in your trash bill?
To find out, first we need to collect some data, which we can then take to the City and use to plan further waste-reduction strategies. This is where you come in.

The NWEP have put together a simple garbage-tracking form.

It is designed to be posted next to the garbage calendar you receive from the City. To fill it out, you simply make a check mark every time you take one or both of your trash bins to the curb. You can mark if the bin was “full”, about half full, almost empty, or if you didn’t take it out that week. The same for the Green Organic Waste bin. Although the form starts this week, we will only use the data from April through on for stats crunching, the March start gives us a chance to get the word out and the bugs worked out. You can download it from the NWEP website and print it, or you can fill it our digitally, or if you don’t have a printer, contact us and we will get a form in your mailbox ASAP.

At the end of the survey, you can scan, e-mail, or drop your tracking sheet off (or we can come by and pick it up from you). We will collect this data, post it on our website (the names and addresses of all participants will remain anonymous) and hopefully present it to New Westminster Council and Staff in the Fall.
More info and contact info if you need more answers at the NWEP website .
p.s. I did some serious weeding last weekend, so my 120L green bin will be going out 1/2 full. Looks like my black bin is only about 1/3 full right now, so I will not be taking it out this week at all.

Bottled Water, and the Gentleman™ from Nestle™

The Board of Education meeting Tuesday was strange, fascinating, frustrating, and educational. None of those in a good way.

This story gives the headline, but instead of actually discussing the issue, or talking about what happened at the board, it ends up being an advertisement for Nestle water. Rather lazy reporting, I’m afraid.

It is telling that Nestle™ , one of the largest multi-national food conglomerates in the world (2010 revenues: $113 Billion CDN) flew a director in from Toronto to take on two local Grade 11 students. With his 24 years of corporate and marketing communications experience, I’m thinking he doesn’t fly Coach. Near as I can tell, Nestle is in direct competition with PepsiCo, the makers of Aquafina, which is the exclusive brand of water offered at NWSS, so one has to wonder what Nestle’s horse was in this race…

After the Students from the NWSS Environmental Club gave a presentation to Board, reiterating their earlier request that the board take a principled environmental stand here, there were several addresses from the audience on the issue, and some discussion amongst the board members. To protect the innocent, I will not paraphrase any audience members except myself and the Gentleman™ form Nestle™.

Having endured the earlier hour of partisan bickering and procedural minute of the first part of the Board meeting, I decided not to bore the audience with meaningless environmental statistics. The environmental argument against bottle water is pretty cut and dried: bottled water represents a ridiculous victory of clever marketing over common sense, economics, environmental science, and sustainability. Large Multi-Nationals like Nestle take tap water, run it through a filter and maybe add some salt (the benefits of either dubious), stick it in a foul-tasting disposable plastic bottle, chill it (to reduce the plastic flavour), and sell it for 2000x to 3000x the value they pay for the water. The more remarkable part is that we fall for it. But that is where the clever marketing comes in.

We all know who clever marketers like the Gentleman™ from Nestle™ covets the most: teenagers. There is a reason they invest so much time and energy into getting at the captive audiences in high schools. This is where life-long habits are formed the most. Like toothpaste brands, cigarettes and religions: if they get you by 18, they probably have you for life. A high school full of bottled water drinkers will “normalize” paying that 3000x mark-up for a completely unnecessary product. Since all bottled water (labels aside) are exactly the same product, it doesn’t matter if students get hooked on Aquafina, Dasani, or Nestle water: if you get hoodwinked onto buying one, you will be a customer of them all. Enter the Gentleman™ form Nestle™, with no products on NWSS, fighting to keep his competitors products on the shelf there. That’s the FreeMarket® 2.0.

The real story here should be the group of students who identified an environmental, social and moral issue. They educated themselves about the issue, they talked to their peers, they got a petition signed, they presented a report to the Board. This is how Representative Democracy should work. I hope they were not too discouraged by what happened next.

The Gentleman™ from Nestle™ read a prepared statement, using baffling statistics (apparently not as concerned about keeping peoples interest) such as “almost 75% of water bottles in Canada are recycled” (with the other 25% being, presumably, of no concern to anyone, and completely oblivious to the issue of downcycling that the students had already covered in their presentation), made it clear Nestle supported people drinking tap water at home (!?!), made vague suggestions that tap water was less safe, or even an imminent threat to immune deficient people (demonstrably not true) and claimed that all water extraction and bulk sale in Canada is tightly regulated (simply utterly false: there is no regulation on groundwater extraction in British Columbia). But the main point he wanted to make: this was about freedom of choice.

Of course, our students make lots of choices. They may choose to work hard at school and get better grades, they may choose to play video games all night. They may choose to join an environmental club. They choose their friends, and their clothes, and their extra-curricular activities. They may even choose to smoke, or do drugs. Of course, not all choices are equal, and one of the roles if the Education system is help them sift through these choices they are offered. The school system can help make some choices, or they can confuse the issue by allowing the aggressive marketing of the wrong choice to the captive audience of students on school. There is a reason we don’t have cigarette machines in schools, to have them would be to tacitly encourage that choice.

Once the Trustees started the discussion, it was clear the divide was already well drawn. Most seemed to like the recommendation on the table: that bottled water be phased out, along with sugared and caffeinated drinks, and this would not take place until the capitol plans (e.g. three new schools) are completed.

Seeing that this is a rather silly and arbitrary timeline (“we are able to do two things at once”), Trustee Watt attempted to amended the plan to remove the phrase linking the phased plan to the capitol projects. Atkinson, Graham and Cook paradoxically voted against this amendment, without providing good reasons for it, and the two other members abstained (thanks for coming out students, welcome to democracy). Trustee Ewen brought another amendment that water bottle filler fountains be brought to all schools: this received more support, but was accepted only after being watered down (pun?) by Goring asking for “costing” first. In the end, bottled water is leaving the schools, but not for at least another 6 years. Ugh.

The conversation around this was even more telling than the vote or the decision. Trustee Cook mis-quoted a newspaper article and used that as a suggestion that NWSS’s schools water was laced with lead. This sounded especially rich 5 minutes later when Trustee Goring asked (and not rhetorically) where the students ever got the idea that the water wasn’t safe. He suggested that more education about the water was needed (but presumably not from Cook). Of course, Cook thought the water bottle machines were fine, and that instead of getting rid of them, we should educate the students about making the right choice: he even used the successful advertising and social marketing campaigns against smoking as an example. As ridiculous as it sounds, Cook just made a compelling case for bringing cigarette machines back into high schools. The entire conversation was Hellerian .

If the purpose of the Board of Education is to educate, then they have succeeded: I learned a lot going to my first Board meeting. However, I fear I learned more about the Peter Principle than I did about Roberts Rules. As another audience member commented to me after: “If only these meetings were televised, none of these people would ever get re-elected”. On display were not only variations on Roberts Rules, but of basic decorum and respect one would learn in a Grade 2 class. People talked out of order to make cheap shots, people on the left side of the table shared whispered secrets while a person on the other side we talking, and vice versa. I watched one Trustee abstain from a vote on an amendment (causing it to fail), only 5 minutes later to argue a point that the amendment would have supported, leading one to assume he abstained not because he didn’t support the motion, but because of who moved it, or more accurately, which side of the table it came from. There didn’t seem to be any other logical reason for it. One 25-year trustee appeared to be comatose for most of the meeting. Neither people acting as chair (one was challenged successfully at one point) effectively managed the debate, evidenced best by the first half hour where everyone was arguing over some procedural issue relating to the minutes or previous meetings, with there being no motion on the floor to even discuss. After a half hour of unorganized bickering, it ended with no resolution. I felt sorry for the students who were present and had to see that.

The end of civilization will be Grāpe® flavoured.

The Clean Bin movie was great. Well attended, and a well-shot and entertaining movie with surprisingly high production value and humour. The filmmakers were friendly and engaging, and had a nice Q&A session after. It was a good evening.

A few people wondered how the film topic (reducing trash) meshed with the food security ideals of a local Farmers Market. In the film the link became obvious. Through trying to reduce excess and non-recyclable packaging, the filmmakers ended up buying more food at the local Farmers Market, while being exacerbated by trying to purchase food at the local SupraMarket without packaging. They also found themselves eating better and saving money, as whole foods replaced processed food in their diet.

Which brought me to think about a book I read a few years ago, ”The End of Food” by Thomas Pawlick. The book begins with his description of the modern tomato, closer to a tennis ball than it is to the tomato that previous generations loved. Due to selective breeding for characteristics like shelf life, durability for shipping, predictable ripening time, and size, the consumer tomato has undergone evolutionary change. Unfortunately, flavour and nutrition are not two things that are selectively bred towards. Therefore, tomatoes are puffed-up, bland, tough, nasty brutes compared to the Tomatoes of our parent’s youth. Worse, according to the USDA’s own reports, the modern tomato contains significantly less vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, potassium and protein than they did 50 years ago. They do, however have 65% more fat, and more than twice as much sodium as they did in the 1960s.

There is no doubt that factory food production and delivery has made more kinds of food available to more people. Unfortunately, the actual food is commonly less healthful than it once was.

That said, I am not a big believer in the “organic food” movement. The term “organic” is so fuzzy as to be meaningless, and too often people shut off their critical thinking and assume “organic” means it is good for you or more ethical, in the same way we have (still do?) with “whole grain” or “Fat Free”. If there is any diet idea I can agree with, it is Michael Pollen’s “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. As such, I spend most of my time in the grocery store around the outside walls, where the veggies, meat, and other food is, and away from those inner aisles where the food-inventions in boxes-in-foil and foil-in-boxes are shelved. As long as we have produce, we won’t starve.

Until I saw the Grapple® at my local Cave-in Foods. There, in the fruit section, between BC and Washington state apples of various variety, is a plastic-packaged 4-pack of apples. Intrigued by the wasteful packaging choice, I was horrified to read what the product really was.

An artificially flavoured apple…

Apples are, hands down, my favourite food. I eat one every day if I have access. Hate apple juice, like apple pie, can give or take dried apples, but absolutely love a fresh, crisp apple. Granny Smith (when crisp), Macintosh (when you can get them from the fruitstand in Keremeos) or Fuji are my favourites. It never occurred to me that impregnating an apple with artificial grape flavour would be an improvement.

Don’t get me wrong: I like grapes. Grapes are great in all their forms, except the form of an apple, a banana, a grapefruit.. any other form of fruit.

Artificial Grape Flavour is great for getting children to take cough medicine, but an asinine way to get a kid to eat an apple. It is like mixing single malt scotch with Grape Tang, I don’t care if you like it better that way, it is wrong to the core.

What does this say about our society? That we add artificial flavour to fruit in the produce section? Or that people are actually shelling out $5 for a plastic-clamshell 4-pack of apples with artificial flavour when they can get 6 apples and a pound of grapes for $5?

I wept for mankind.