A crane lifts a load of garbage at Metro Vancouver's Burnaby Waste To Energy Facility. One Metro director hopes waste from apartments will be sorted at new material recovery facilities instead of being burned in a new incinerator.

Organic recycling exemption eyed for Metro Vancouver apartments

Relaxed rules should help keep waste from new incinerator: Reimer

Residents of some older apartment buildings may not have to obey Metro Vancouver’s directive to separate all organic food waste starting in 2015.

The regional district’s zero waste committee voted Monday to let member cities exempt specific apartment buildings when the organics disposal ban in place for regular houses extends to multifamily residential.

Diverting organic waste is a key plank in Metro’s plan to reach at least 70 per cent recycling but local cities increasingly admit it’s too difficult for older apartment buildings without space for specialized bins.

The recommendation, which still needs Metro board approval, is part of a proposed bylaw to block garbage exports that regional planners have revived after a previous version was rejected Sept. 5.

Residents in exempted multifamily buildings would continue to toss their food waste in the garbage, which would be taken to a material recovery facility (MRF) that would use various technologies to extract the organics and other recyclables.

Since apartments have dismal recycling rates of around 15 per cent – dragging down the regional average – it’s thought that mixed-waste MRFs may retrieve more usable material that will otherwise be dumped or incinerated, so Metro has agreed to let private firms build and run the automated plants.

“Eighty five per cent of the plastic, metal and paper that could be recovered isn’t being recovered,” Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer said.

She sees MRFs as critical to quickly diverting more material to recycling so that Metro doesn’t build a bigger garbage incinerator than necessary.

The region is in the midst of procuring a controversial new waste-to-energy plant and Reimer has been exploring ways to minimize its size or avoid building it altogether.

“Once the incinerator is built there will be no way to go to more source separation,” she said.

If apartment waste is diverted for now to a MRF, she said, it won’t be calculated as part of the garbage needing disposal in determining the final size of a future WTE plant, currently estimated at 370,000 tonnes per year.

“We don’t see the MRF concept as damaging our ability to source separate in the long term.”

The proposed waste control bylaw would require all garbage to go to regional facilities, blocking shipments to out-of-region landfills where tipping fees are far lower and Metro bans on dumping recyclables don’t apply.

Metro planners say a trickle of waste now being trucked out of region threatens to turn into a flood, bleeding the regional district of tipping fee revenue that underpins the entire garbage and recycling system.

The retooled bylaw, expected to come back before Metro in the weeks ahead, will plug one loophole that would have let residue from MRFs be dumped outside the region.

Metro will also ask the province for the power to ticket MRFs for rule violations.

Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters previously voted against the flow control bylaw but now says her concerns have been addressed.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said the multifamily organics exemption, which would be reviewed after five years, is an acceptable compromise to stop garbage flowing east.

“That’s the price I’m willing to pay to avoid the bypassing of waste out of our region to facilities that are simply landfilling it.”

But Port Moody Coun. Rick Glumac opposed the changes. He said the enforcement provisions are too vague and predicted no MRFs will be built under the rules.

“I don’t think we have any idea of the unintended consequences that are going to come of this,” added North Vancouver District Coun. Roger Bassam.

Various business groups have opposed Metro-imposed waste flow control, but it’s supported by local recycling industries that fear usable material will exit the region.