Urban Wood Waste Recyclers operation in New Westminster sorts incoming waste wood

Wood waste recycling a chicken-or-egg challenge

Industry cautious as region plans for disposal ban

Metro Vancouver must do more than simply ban wood waste from the dump if it wants to boost recycling rates in the region’s construction and demolition sector, according to industry leaders.

The last in a series of public dialogues on Metro’s Zero Waste Challenge strategy heard experts call for a coordinated approach to ensure it’s easier to drop off wood – particularly for residential demolitions.

“If they ban wood waste completely but they don’t put in place where it can go, they run the risk then of people circumventing the regulation and dumping the stuff illegally,” warned Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association CEO Peter Simpson, one of the speakers May 31 in Surrey.

Construction, renovation and demolition work generates 1.3 million tonnes of waste in the region each year.

While 76 per cent of that is already recycled – thanks to effective handling of marketable materials like drywall and metals – Metro intends to ban wood from garbage disposal by 2015 in an effort to pull yet more material from the waste stream.

It’s part of the region’s strategy to boost the overall recycling rate from 55 to 70 per cent.

Legitimate contractors will comply with a wood waste ban while passing higher costs on to home owners, Simpson said.

But he said those rules will be ignored by scofflaws and worsen Metro’s already burgeoning billion-dollar underground cash economy for renovations and demolitions.

“It will penalize those who choose to operate above-board and play by the rules,” he predicted.

Simpson said it may make the most sense to require permitted contractors to send all waste to an authorized licensed facility, which would sort waste off site.

Corinne Fulton, general manager of 3R Demolition, said complete deconstruction – rather than demolition – of some buildings is possible, achieving very high recycling rates.

The challenge is where to put salvaged items like windows and door frames and how to market them.

Some items – like toilets – may not be reusable because of changing building standards.

“Deconstruction is good,” Fulton said. “We do a lot of that on our commercial projects. But in the residential sector there just isn’t the market to move all those things.”

She said 65 to 75 per cent of materials can be recovered from a conventional demolition, including wood, concrete, metals and even trees and shrubs.

Metro senior planning manager Ken Carrusca said the regional district intends to provide a draft bylaw to municipalities that would regulate wood waste recycling.

Someone who gets a building or demolition permit may also be required to take material to an approved recycling facility and then bring back verification showing how much was recycled.

It’s hoped that will foster development of other uses for wood and similar salvage materials, leading to more intensive recycling.

“You do need the regulations and at the same time places to take the material,” Carrusca said.

There’s usually little time to intensively recycle.

“The typical residential demolition happens in one day,” Carrusca said. “Why is that? Because it’s easy, practical and I wouldn’t say it’s inexpensive, but it’s affordable.”

Much wood now collected in the region ends up at Urban Woodwaste Recyclers, which was bought last year by U.S-based Harvest Power.

The firm now handles 170,000 tonnes per year and is pursuing a major expansion of its New Westminster operation, which could eventually add its own wood-fired heat and power plant, heating Royal Columbian Hospital and other nearby users through a district energy system.

Similar wood waste-fired energy utilities are now being built at UBC and SFU.

“I hope we’re doing 400,000 tonnes by the end of 2013,” Babcock said.

Harvest Power also bought Richmond Soil and Fibre, which has a regional contract with Metro to compost organic waste being collected in local cities.

Clean uncontaminated wood goes there for composting, Babcock said.

But he said a major challenge is the volume of incoming wood coated with lead-based paint or creosote preservative that can’t be used and is typically landfilled.

For the most part, wood recycling doesn’t mean manufacturing new wood-based products.

At least 60 per cent of the waste wood Urban handles is shredded and combined with bits of plastic and other combustible material to become a fuel burned by industries like Howe Sound Pulp and Paper and Lafarge Cement.

Waste wood fuel also counts as carbon-neutral, so burning it rather than coal allows firms like Lafarge to gain carbon credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They also avoid B.C.’s carbon tax, which is charged on coal but not wood.

The province’s Pacific Carbon Trust has been using money from arms of government and other clients who buy carbon offsets to subsidize industries or plants that convert to wood fuel.