Food and other organic waste makes up 38 per cent of what's dumped in the garbage by Metro Vancouver households.

Compost scofflaws will pay more: Metro

Surcharges to hit dumping of organic-laden garbage

Metro Vancouver plans to add stiff surcharges to tipping fees on garbage loads containing kitchen scraps and other soon-to-be-banned organic waste.

The extra charges are part of Metro Vancouver’s strategy to steer compostable food and yard waste from the garbage to new organic waste processors that will turn the material into compost or biofuel.

Surcharges would start at 10 per cent in 2012 and climb to an extra 50 per cent by 2015, according to a staff report.

Households and businesses wouldn’t directly pay the fees on what they put out to the curb or dumpster.

But it’s expected the haulers who do pay will find ways to pass the costs along and enforce the region’s planned ban on organics disposal, spurring residents to use green bins.

“We want to ease in that ban so it’s not an overnight trigger,” said Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, who chairs Metro’s waste committee. “That starts to provide financial incentives to municipalities or private sector haulers to change their operations.”

He said Metro still plans consultations ahead of the expected ban on organic dumping for single-family homes by the end of 2012 and for all other homes and businesses by 2015.

Adjustments to the strategy are possible, he said, including the allowed tolerances at which surcharges would be triggered.

“If you have five per cent contamination maybe you don’t get charged, but if you have 20 per cent maybe you get charged more,” Moore said. “There are lots of ways to peel that orange.”

Removing an estimated 265,000 tonnes of organics from the waste stream is a corner stone of Metro Vancouver’s commitment to boost the region’s recycling rate from 55 per cent to 70 per cent by 2015, and 80 per cent by 2020.

Achieving that improvement won’t come cheap.

Metro’s base garbage tipping fees are forecast expected to climb steadily in the coming years, from $96 per tonne of garbage now to $153 by 2014 and $205 by 2016.

That climb reflects the expected higher costs of a series of waste-reduction and recycling initiatives, as well as potential costs to build new waste-to-energy plants.

With the surcharge added, compost scofflaws could be paying more than $300 per tonne within five years.

Metro also debated how far it should go in actually building new organics processing facilities as opposed to letting the private sector do it.

Some organic material already collected from homes goes to a private composter – Fraser Richmond Soil and Fibre – while the City of Surrey plans to find a private partner to build a biofuel plant at its local transfer station in northeast Surrey.

But more processors will be needed, given the volumes of material that will be picked up as a full ban on disposal is phased in.

Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean questioned why Metro wouldn’t run the plants itself.

Metro wouldn’t want to end up paying costly subsidies, he said, but noted the reverse may be true.

“There’s money in garbage,” MacLean said at a recent Metro meeting. “I don’t want to walk away from something where we could be making money for a change.”

Metro senior engineer Andrew Marr cautioned such ventures all come with risk and aren’t guaranteed to be profitable.

He said it would be a big departure for Metro to compete against private firms by running its own organics plants when it does not do so in other recycling sectors such as metal, plastics and paper.

Metro might face accusations of unfairness, directors were cautioned, if it opted to run its own plants and direct organics to them to ensure they don’t lose money – all the while also regulating other private processors.

The Metro board last Friday approved a hybrid model that calls for the private sector – but potentially also interested cities – to open organics plants.

Metro itself would not own or operate plants but would use its system of surcharges and other regulations, if necessary, to ensure an adequate flow of feedstock.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said he’s fine with a system of leaving organic processing to private firms and interested cities, adding that will free Metro to get the best deal on the open market.

“If a few people get rich handling organic waste, I think that’s great.”

Organics currently account for 19  per cent of all Metro waste, but 38 per cent of residential garbage.

Surrey’s planned biofuel plant is to convert 80,000 tonnes per year of organic waste into a type of natural gas that could either power vehicles or be pumped into the FortisBC gas grid.

The city would own the land while a private partner would build and operate the facility, said Surrey deputy manager of operations Rob Costanzo.

The exact process is still to be determined but he hopes to call for bids later this year and have the plant operating by late 2013 or early 2014.