More policy changes are being promised by the provincial government on how garbage disposal and recycling can be regulated.
But it’s not yet clear whether any new rules will steer more garbage to waste incinerators, landfills or other technologies in the years ahead.
Environment Minister Mary Polak appointed Surrey MLA Marvin Hunt to review the issue last fall when the province rejected Metro Vancouver’s attempt to ban out-of-region waste hauling – a measure to protect the regional district’s tipping fee revenue.
Hunt has proposed six guiding principles that mirror much of what Metro is already doing to promote recycling and waste reduction, and enforce bans on dumping recyclables.
But he also suggests local governments let business take the lead in determining what emerging waste technologies will be most productive.
“Let the market do the deciding,” Hunt said in an interview. “You have to allow the private sector into this otherwise we will never advance technology beyond where we are.”
Belkorp Environmental wants to build a mixed-waste material recovery facility that pulls recyclables from garbage that would otherwise be landfilled or incinerated.
The company pitches it as a way to greatly boost Metro’s recycling rate and predicts it will also leave little garbage left to burn in a new incinerator, effectively killing that Metro initiative.
Hunt is skeptical that Belkorp can extract as much usable material from garbage as it claims, but says the firm shouldn’t be denied the right to risk its own capital in the attempt.
“We’re trying to get as much value out of that residual as we possibly can.”
Metro has been reluctant so far to grant Belkorp a licence for its plant – regional planners think the resulting material will be too contaminated and suspect the company is mainly trying to ensure garbage keeps going to its Cache Creek landfill, rather than an incinerator.
But Hunt said building a costly processor that fails to extract plenty of recyclables from garbage would be a quick way to lose money.
Recycling industries also worry they’ll have less access to recyclable material if garbage processors are built, particularly if that results in fewer households using blue bins.
Hunt said he agrees the best quality recyclables come when households or businesses separate them – which he said local government should encourage – rather than leaving it to mechanized sorting.
The former Surrey councillor championed waste-to-energy when he served on the Metro board.
Today, he still thinks the economics favour waste-to-energy proponents, who will have short hauling distances and valuable energy to sell compared to garbage “being dragged all the way to Cache Creek to just put it in a hole.”
Hunt said Lehigh Cement’s plan to burn Metro garbage as fuel in its Delta operation looks particularly promising.
“I definitely believe that the residuals have value to them,” he said.
He said regional districts are right to carefully regulate the industry so as much is extracted from waste as possible.
Hunt said garbage tipping fees should be high enough that they encourage people to recycle, but not so high that waste flows out to Abbotsford or the U.S. to avoid Metro tipping fees, or is illegally dumped.
More detail on what the province will propose is expected later this summer when an intentions paper is released, followed by consultations in the fall. A final waste planning guideline is expected to be released in 2016.
Metro was supposed to reveal several more prospective sites for a new waste-to-energy plant last year, but it has yet to secure options to purchase any of them.
Metro solid waste manager Paul Henderson said regional district staff are continuing to assess the implications of the rejection of Bylaw 280 on the waste-to-energy project.
He said the flow of waste out-of-region has stabilized since the April tipping fee changes but added it will be important to see what further changes the province proposes.
Hunt’s six principles
- Promote the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle)
- Maximize beneficial use of waste materials and manage residuals appropriately
- Separate organics and recyclables out of garbage wherever practical
- Establish and enforce disposal bans
- Level playing field within regions for both private and public companies
- Manage tipping fees