Material recovery facilities typically use manual sorters as well as various machines

Material recovery facilities typically use manual sorters as well as various machines

Metro Vancouver compromises on new recycling policy

Regional district's revised rules still unworkable, says sorting plant proponent

Metro Vancouver has reluctantly agreed to let new mechanized garbage-sorting plants open and extract more recyclables from the waste stream that are now landfilled or incinerated.

The regional district had been poised to ban private firms from opening new mixed-waste material recovery facilities (MRFs) that can take incoming garbage and use various technologies to sort out at least some usable material.

Metro staff originally feared the advent of mixed-waste MRFs would lead to single-bin pickup at businesses and apartment buildings – years of persuading residents to source-separate materials would fall by the wayside and the sorting of recyclables from garbage would be left to machinery.

Several green industries also opposed the mechanized solution, predicting it will be inferior and leave them with fewer recyclables and organics to process and more contamination.

But persistent lobbying by Northwest Waste Solutions – which is building a mixed-waste MRF in south Vancouver – has prompted the regional district to make some room for that type of option.

Metro intends to tightly regulate such plants to ensure they work as billed.

It wants businesses and apartment dwellers to keep separating recyclables from the garbage.

And MRF operators could be fined or lose their licence if too much recyclable material ends up landfilled or if they wish to export too much residual garbage out of region. (Some could be shipped out without penalty.)

Metro board chair Greg Moore said it allows MRF operators the chance to recover more recyclables from garbage and help the region boost recovery rates from multi-family apartments, where poor compliance pulls down the regional recycling rate.

“Technology is evolving quickly in this field, so we’ve said why not be open to that concept,” Moore said.

But Northwest Waste CEO Ralph McRae said Metro’s olive branch appears to be just a pretense, adding the planned regulations are so restrictive they’re unworkable.

He doesn’t see how he can open his $30-million plant and predicts no other companies will invest the money to build new MRFs either.

“It’s a horror show is what it is,” McRae said. “It’s like saying you can put a team in the National Hockey League but you can’t wear skates. And if you don’t win 50 per cent of your games, you’re out.”

McRae said Metro is unreasonably defending the source-separation system to protect the flow of material to established recyclers.

The move is part of Metro’s broader policy to outlaw the growing practice of hauling garbage to out-of-region transfer stations.

The regional district no longer intends to force a licensing system onto garbage haulers, but they will be required to take all waste to approved regional facilities or face fines.

Without that, Metro says, it has no way to enforce the region’s bans on the disposal of recyclables when garbage is shipped out to the Fraser Valley or the U.S., leaving a loophole that could let growing numbers of homes and businesses ignore Metro recycling rules.

Each load that goes out of region doesn’t pay tipping fees to Metro either and staff have warned the current trickle of outbound material could grow to a flood, since regional tipping fees are slated to rise further.

Opponents of the waste-flow policy contend it is all about ensuring enough fuel is kept in the region to power a new incinerator Metro plans to build.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with a new waste-to-energy facility,” Moore responded. “Even when we get to 70 per cent diversion we’re still going to have to deal with 700,000 tonnes of garbage a year.”

If Metro reaches 80 or 90 per cent diversion, he added, Metro can wind down use of its existing Burnaby incinerator.

Metro will hear delegations on the proposed bylaw Sept. 5. If the Metro board then gives it third reading it would still need approval of B.C.’s environment minister.

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