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Death of an incinerator: BC rejects Metro Vancouver's Bylaw 280


Belkorp's "Next Use" division has proposed large automated recycling plants to sort Metro Vancouver waste beyond what's currently being achieved by residents, especially of multi-residential buildings. Artist's rendering.

Belkorp’s “Next Use” division has proposed large automated recycling plants to sort Metro Vancouver waste beyond what’s currently being achieved by residents, especially of multi-residential buildings. Artist’s rendering.

An article in Metro weekly newspaper summarizes what is surely devastating news for officials at Metro Vancouver: the province rejected their proposed Bylaw 280, which would have imposed “flow control” on local residual waste, requiring that it be sent for disposal only to Metro-owned facilities. (For convenience I’ve copied the article below.)

The bylaw was part of Metro Vancouver’s strategy to reduce waste locally and achieve goals of 70 per cent and higher diversion from landfill disposal. Metro has made the cost of disposal much higher than that of recycling — a pretty big incentive to divert. But Metro contends this is being undermined by waste haulers shipping material to lower-cost disposal sites outside the area.

We’ve always supported the concept that a region be able to fight undermining of its waste diversion goals, but instead of banning export we’d prefer to see a legal requirement that waste shipped elsewhere be recycled or composted, etc. to the same high standard as is required in the place of origin. (Yes, this would require greater oversight and enforcement.)

But in addition to establishing unpleasant flow control, we’ve been uncomfortable with Bylaw 280 for other reasons, which led me to write a not-so-subtly titled column a while ago, “Hey hey! Ho ho! Bylaw 280’s got to go!”  You can read my objections there, but they revolve around several major problems. One is that the bylaw was carefully written to make sure that only residual waste devoid of any valuable recyclables would end up at high-tech recycling plants proposed by a private company. This was a disincentive to innovation.

Another objection was that the bylaw was all about making sure residual waste fed Metro’s proposed $500-million mass-burn incinerator. And I didn’t like the way Metro subverted the term “Zero Waste” and changed it to mean “zero waste to landfill” which is not what the Zero Waste movement is all about. (ZW is about sustainability and changing society’s consumption patterns.) There are many weasel words in Metro’s long-term waste strategy that would allow it to direct some high-BTU plastics and other recyclables to its incinerator when needed.

I have no trouble believing that all kinds of lobbying from private haulers and landfill owners played a role in the province rejecting Bylaw 280, but I’m glad they did it. Now it will be interesting to see if those companies follow through with plans to build large high-tech recycling plants to help the area achieve its aggressive diversion goals. (See image.)

All of this should also be an incentive for producers and consumers to embrace fairly aggressive extended producer responsibility (EPR) not only as currently exists for traditional curbside recyclables (printed paper and packaging, sometimes called “PPP”) but also materials that never make it into the Blue Box and end up in the disposal stream. The producers of those materials must also be made to pay, and some of their products should never enter the market in the first place.

In the end, the rejection of of Bylaw 280 is about much more than putting the kibosh on Metro Vancouver’s incineration plans. It increases the stakes in the more important experiment in EPR that’s already underway in BC and that’s (hopefully) about to be amped up a great deal. The province could potentially be a leader in North America and the world in moving toward sustainability. What’s required next (in addition to further investments in waste diversion) is for policymakers, politicians and the media to carefully explain to the public the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, now that another great disposal maw has — for all intents and purposes — been sealed shut. If citizens of BC are truly environmentalists, the next decade will be their time to show it.

Here’s the article from Metro newspaper:

Province trashes controversial Metro Vancouver waste bylaw

By Emily Jackson
Updated : October 19, 2014 | 6:41 pm

Metro Vancouver is crying foul after the province threw its proposed waste bylaw in the trash, saying the region will never achieve its aggressive waste reduction goals without the new rule.

The regional district proposed the bylaw<http://metronews.ca/news/vancouver/1187886/province-trashes-controversial-metro-vancouver-waste-bylaw/www.metrovancouver.org/services/solidwaste/planning/Bylaw280/Pages/index.aspx> in 2013 to require all waste from the region to be disposed of at regionally owned facilities.

But B.C.’s environment minister refused to approve the bylaw on Friday, citing concerns from private facilities about losing business to a government monopoly. Instead, B.C. will conduct a three-month review on the region’s waste management plan.

Metro Vancouver argues the decision is “catastrophic” for the region’s goal to divert 70 per cent of waste away from the landfill by 2015.

As it stands, the region tries to encourage recycling by charging nearly twice as much to dump garbage than it does to dump organic material. Dropping off recyclables is also cheaper than trash.

But some garbage companies are avoiding these fees by driving outside the region to dump the waste. (Yes, this means that the cardboard you carefully separated from your trash might not actually end up getting recycled.)

This results in increased trucking traffic and greenhouse gas emissions, and drives up the cost for everyone else because there are fewer users of the system, according to a statement from Metro Vancouver.

The bylaw would effectively quash the practice of skirting the fees by forcing companies to use Metro’s facilities.

Metro Vancouver accused the province of bending to lobbyists representing big haulers and landfill owners.