Waste incineration opponents hold signs up at the back of the public gallery as Metro Vancouver directors listen to delegations Thursday on the regional district's proposed waste flow regulation.

Metro waste policy prop for new incinerator: critics

Recycling firm wants to use automated plant to sort garbage

Opponents of a Metro Vancouver plan to keep waste from being hauled to the Fraser Valley said Thursday the regional district’s real agenda is to ensure it can feed a new garbage incinerator.

Several recycling and waste hauling firms denounced Metro’s proposed waste flow regulation, saying it would unfairly disrupt their business and block innovation.

Metro wants to license garbage haulers and ensure they only take trash to Metro-approved facilities.

That would bottle up waste within Metro and ensure those dumping it pay the steep tipping fees that support Metro programs and abide by local bans against dumping recyclables.

The region’s planners worry that if regulations aren’t imposed now, a trickle of waste now flowing east to Abbotsford will turn into a flood and millions of dollars in tipping fees will be lost.

But Ralph McRae, CEO of Northwest Waste Solutions, told Metro waste committee members the planned rules are mainly geared to ensure a second incinerator is built.

His firm is building a $30-million material recovery facility (MRF) in south Vancouver that will be able to sort 300,000 tonnes of waste per year when it opens in July.

He says Metro’s rules will block the MRF from processing garbage from multi-family residential buildings and businesses to extract recyclables from the waste stream.

The multi-family building recycling rate is just 16 per cent and McRae contends his advanced system can divert 80 to 90 per cent of paper, plastics, organics and other material apartment dwellers toss out as trash.

“Rather than sending it to the landfill or incinerator we want to cleanse it of recyclable material first,” he said. “We want to have a shot at taking that 80 or 90 per cent out.”

Metro has been firm that only source-separated recycling by residents is okay, he said, not after-the-fact processing of their garbage.

McRae said he knows why Metro won’t let him to do what he wants.

“They need to trap the high-calorie content material in the waste stream,” he said. “The stuff I want to take out – the paper, the plastics, the wood products – that is the stuff that they need to have the incinerator operate efficiently. It won’t just burn rocks.”

Exclude the combustible materials, he said, and an incinerator will run less efficiently, with more toxic ash, if it can be justified at all.

“That basically undermines and kills their incinerator so they’ve tried to stop me.”

Metro also expects to jack garbage tipping fees to between $150 and $200 per tonne from around $107 now in order to pay for the new $500-million waste-to-energy plant.

At such astronomical prices, he said, waste is sure to flow out of the region at a much faster rate.

The new incinerator can only be built, McRae said, if Metro imposes the waste flow regulations to force residents and businesses to pay the high premium for in-region disposal.

Lawyer Geoff Plant, speaking for Green Coast Rubbish Inc., told the committee Metro cannot legally enforce source-separation and should allow the automated sorting of garbage at advanced plants.

But some speakers were split on what’s the best solution for the environment.

Harvest Power CEO Paul Sellew, whose firm runs a food waste composting plant in Richmond, disputed whether McRae’s automated sorting plant will be able to effectively extract organic material from garbage without the resulting compost being too contaminated for agricultural or horticultural use.

“You’ll have glass, you’ll have batteries. You’ll have other things in there that will prevent those materials from being marketed,” Sellew said.

Grant Hankins of BFI Canada Inc. also opposed the waste flow rules, saying they will only drive up costs to customers and squelch the growth in green jobs in the Lower Mainland.

Doug Mass of Maple Leaf Disposal said letting recycling firms extract more material before sending garbage to disposal only makes sense. “It isn’t waste until we give up on it,” he said.

Abbotsford MLA and Independent candidate John van Dongen also made an appearance, calling on Metro to work with the Fraser Valley Regional District on recycling goals rather than take an “intensely regulated and heavy-handed approach.”

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said it’s not surprising private firms want a bigger slice of the lucrative waste business in the region but said Metro must look out for taxpayers first.

“Who does that garbage really belong to? It belongs to the people putting it out at the curb.”

Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer said the out-of-region waste flow issue is important because “if garbage is going missing, it becomes impossible to divert it.”

But she suggested Metro may need to rethink its stance against so-called ‘dirty MRFs’ – plants that sort recyclables from garbage – noting much more multi-family recycling is needed for the region to meet its goals.

“There’s a lot of conflicting research on what actually drives diversion.”

Metro is continuing to take public and stakeholder comment on its plan until May 31.

A staff report and recommended strategy is expected this summer.

Any regulation would go to a board vote and would then require provincial government approval.

As for Metro’s waste-to-energy plant procurement, a short list of potential private partners is expected in June.

Final decisions on a winning partner, the technology and location are to be made in 2015 and the plant is to open in 2018.

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