Commercial waste haulers are increasingly trucking the garbage they collect to private landfills outside Metro Vancouver to avoid high tipping fees and disposal bans that are enforced by the regional district.
The developing trend has alarmed Metro Vancouver staff and politicians because every load of garbage that leaves the region means less money is collected in tipping fees to support the fixed costs of the waste management and recycling system, forcing those fees to climb higher for everyone else.
So far it’s estimated 50,000 tonnes of waste per year – five per cent of the waste stream – has shifted to private out-of-region facilities, resulting in a loss of $5 million per year in tipping fee revenue for Metro. It’s mainly coming from businesses, industry and multi-family residential buildings served by private haulers.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who chairs Metro’s Zero Waste Committee, said the fear is the outward migration of garbage will accelerate.
“The reduction could grow exponentially and then you’ve got a real issue,” he said.
“The trend could be a very difficult one if we don’t address the situation. If you’re taking waste out of the waste stream that means the cost for those who remain is going to increase.”
Brodie said a big chunk of the 50,000 tonnes of outbound garbage is believed to go to a private transfer station in Abbotsford, where it’s shipped by rail to a U.S. landfill run by Rabanco near the Washington-Oregon border.
Allen Lynch, manager of the North Shore Recycling Society, said the option of routing trash through Abbotsford costs customers much less than Metro Vancouver’s $107 per tonne tipping fee, which was raised 10 per cent in the past year alone because falling garbage volumes shifted more of the cost to remaining users.
“It’s a very tough situation for Metro right now,” Lynch added. “The more they put the tipping fee up, the more they’ll lose.”
Besides the cost differential, private firms can offer the convenience of not having to divert recyclables that are banned from disposal by Metro.
“A hauler could approach a customer in Burnaby or the North Shore and say ‘Don’t
worry about sorting that stuff out, we’ll take care of it and we can give you a cheaper rate,'” Lynch said.
But there’s no guarantee loads will ultimately be recycled in the U.S. or some other out-of-region destination at the level required within Metro, Lynch said.
The hauler is also no longer subject to occasional Metro surcharges for loads that break the rules because someone has thrown banned material in a bin, Lynch noted.
Rival waste firms that keep using Metro facilities, meanwhile, face a difficult decision: lose business to competitors who have started hauling east to the Fraser Valley or else join them.
“It creates an uneven playing field,” said Metro solid waste department manager Paul Henderson.
Tipping fees have steadily climbed more than 60 per cent since 2006, when they were just $65 per tonne.
Henderson said the fee for 2013 is being recalculated now, but he could not say what it will be.
Private-only waste facilities have lower costs in part because they deal exclusively with big bulk customers, not individual families that drive up with tiny loads, require more assistance and expect to pay in cash.
Henderson said haulers who go out of region and don’t pay a Metro tipping fee are not contributing to the full suite of recycling services here, as well as Metro’s inspectors who enforce the disposal bans at transfer stations.
Nor does any money flow to Metro’s planning efforts, such as figuring out how to implement the region’s complex solid waste plan and introduce new bans on organic waste and wood.
A staff report warns the outward flow could hinder Metro in achieving its aggressive goals of recycling 70 per cent of all waste by 2015 and 80 per cent by 2020.
The simplest solution is a bylaw that outlaws the hauling of Metro Vancouver garbage outside Metro Vancouver, according to the report.
But a series of different fee or regulatory systems are also on the table.
Henderson said staff are getting legal advice before bringing back a recommendation in a couple of months.
In recent months Metro downsized its plan to build a new waste-to-energy incinerator because of decreasing garbage volumes.
Most of the decrease – from 1.3 million tonnes of garbage region-wide in 2006 to 1 million now – is not linked to the shift to out-of-region disposal.
It’s mainly attributed to better recycling of construction and demolition waste by private operators within the region, which Metro supports. Waste diversion efforts and the economic downturn are also factors.
Revised: An earlier version of this story included an estimate of $40 to $50 per tonne to ship Metro Vancouver waste out via Abbotsford. According to a Metro Vancouver official, firms in the Fraser Valley that run transfer stations there and also collect garbage within Metro Vancouver can likely deliver the waste to the U.S. at a cost of $70 to $80 per tonne because of their vertical integration, despite a posted tipping fee for other users of $108, equivalent to Metro’s.
A spokesman for Rabanco was unable to tell Black Press how much waste comes to the U.S. landfill from Metro Vancouver, but suggested Metro’s estimate is too high. He suggested the economic decline, increased recycling and potential use of other landfills in the Fraser Valley on First Nations land could account for more of the shift in waste numbers. – JN