On May 14 I received a letter for publication from Paul Henderson, General Manager for Solid Waste Services for Metro Vancouver, BC. The letter is in response to a series of online and print articles I wrote about Metro’s proposed Bylaw 280 — a piece of flow control legislation that (among other things) would allow Metro to direct residual waste generated inside its jurisdiction to its own facilities, namely its planned waste-to-energy incinerator. The bylaw currently awaits approval from the provincial government.
My articles about this bylaw were quite pointed, saying it would stifle private sector investment in local waste diversion by making mixed waste recycling plants uneconomic, since the plants would only be allowed to accept waste with all the valuable materials removed. (Such plants are controversial but could be effective for contaminated waste streams from the multi-residential sector, using automated equipment to remove containers and fibres, etc. that don’t make it into recycling bins.)
In any case, I’ve written enough about this topic recently and am happy to afford Metro Vancouver the opportunity to tell its side of the story. Here’s the recent letter, reproduced in full without edits:
Many waste management professionals across Canada have heard of the waste reduction, re-use and recycling initiatives Metro Vancouver is taking to increase the region’s already-high waste diversion rate.
With our partners in the robust and growing recycling industry and with broad public support for recycling programs for food scraps and other organics, our region achieved a 58 per cent waste diversion rate in 2012. On a per capita disposal basis, Metro Vancouver is already on par with San Francisco, a community widely touted as having the most advanced waste diversion programs in North America.
Metro Vancouver’s Board of Directors have set a higher bar. Our targets are comparable to the best waste diversion rates reached around the world. Metro Vancouver’s waste diversion targets: 70 per cent by 2015 and 80 per cent by 2020. Metro Vancouver’s integrated Solid Waste and Resource Management Plan, approved by the Minister of Environment in July 2011, includes the implementation of waste flow management/flow control measures along with additional waste-to-energy capacity to recover energy and resources from waste we cannot yet recycle.
Bylaw 280, a waste flow management bylaw given third reading by our Board in October, 2013 and submitted to the B.C. Environment Minister for consideration, is critical if we are to meet our waste diversion targets.
The purpose of Bylaw 280 is to help achieve the region’s aggressive waste diversion targets and ensure a cost effective and equitable waste management system. The bylaw is intended to establish a level playing field for waste haulers and recyclers by requiring that garbage be delivered to Regional Facilities so that disposal bans can be properly enforced, and the cost of recycling and waste avoidance measures are shared equitably.
In 2012, we estimated that 50,000 tonnes of waste generated in this region were not were disposed at Metro Vancouver and City of Vancouver disposal facilities (Regional Facilities). In 2013, that estimate climbed to at least 70,000 tonnes. And this trend is continuing in 2014, with current levels translating to lost revenues of approximately $8 million per year and increased costs for all users of Regional Facilities of approximately $5 per tonne.
Bylaw 280 was developed after extensive consultation with stakeholders, and allows for consideration of mixed waste material recovery facilities and other private sector initiatives to recover recyclables from the garbage stream. It is supported by recycling companies and by other regional districts across the province.
Without Bylaw 280, Metro Vancouver projects that commercial haulers may take up to 600,000 tonnes per year of waste to disposal facilities outside the Metro Vancouver waste management system. If this occurs, Metro Vancouver’s expectation is that tipping fees will increase substantially and/or service levels will need to be cut. Other communities where tipping fee revenues have been insufficient to fund solid waste disposal services have moved costs to property tax to ensure that the core solid waste management services continue to be available to all residents and businesses.
Bypassing of Regional Facilities creates a number of negative impacts. Metro Vancouver has bans and prohibitions in place to encourage diversion. In 2013, Metro Vancouver levied approximately $500,000 in surcharges on 5,000 loads where “banned” materials were observed by inspectors in garbage loads. Metro Vancouver is consulting on organics and clean wood bans to be implemented in 2015. Without control over the disposal of garbage, bans become ineffective.
The debate regarding Bylaw 280 has become polarized. On one side the local recycling community has come out in support of Bylaw 280 as they see the application of bans and prohibitions as well as managed garbage disposal fees as critical to enhancing waste diversion. A group of local recycling companies have banded together to form the Recycle First Coalition and have recommended the Minister of Environment approve Bylaw 280. The Recycle First Coalition has 12 members who collectively employ over 800 people in the lower mainland and recycle more than 1,000,000 tonnes per year. Additionally, seven regional districts across southern British Columbia have passed resolutions in support of Bylaw 280. These regional districts realize that that control over the disposal of residual garbage is critical to implementing solid waste management plans mandated by the Province.
Waste management companies, a neighbouring regional district, and some business groups have spoken out in opposition to Bylaw 280. These entities suggest that Bylaw 280 will restrict competition and innovation and drive up waste management costs all in the name of building an “incinerator”. Metro Vancouver’s perspective is that no matter how the region manages its residual garbage, Bylaw 280 is critical to achieving our waste diversion goals and ensuring a cost-effective and equitable disposal system. Expected future increases in waste tipping fees are driven by expected decreases in waste quantities as Metro Vancouver achieves 70 and 80 per cent diversion. Overall disposal costs are expected to remain flat.
There are many milestones ahead in the development of waste-to-energy and entities that do not support the development of waste-to-energy should participate in the consultation and engagement process for the project. Metro Vancouver’s Board and ultimately the Minister of Environment will decide the fate of waste-to-energy at least two years into the future.
Some stakeholders suggest that Bylaw 280 restrains the development of mixed waste material recovery facilities. Mixed waste material recovery facilities have been tried in communities across North America for many years and have repeatedly been unsuccessful. To my knowledge, the only functioning mixed waste material recovery facilities in North America are in place in communities where the community controls the flow of waste and has dictated that the waste be processed through a mixed waste material recovery facility. Bylaw 280 has two key provisions related to mixed waste material recovery facilities. One provision is that bans and prohibitions that are applied at Regional Facilities must also be applied at the mixed waste material recovery facilities. This ensures that the development of mixed waste material recovery facilities doesn’t undermine source separation. Bylaw 280 also requires that residual garbage from mixed waste material recovery facilities is delivered to Regional Facilities. This will ensure that the regional system remains cost effective, and also ensures that the mixed waste material recovery facilities are not simply transfer stations in disguise.
In the end Bylaw 280 is about ensuring that control of the disposal of garbage remains with local government for the purpose of maximizing diversion and ensuring a cost effective and equitable disposal system. The alternative scenario of failure of Bylaw 280 and uncontrolled bypassing of Regional Facilities will all but certainly not achieve those objectives.
Paul Henderson, P.Eng
General Manager, Solid Waste Services