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Metro Vancouver incineration plan gets boost from European experts

Cheap landfilling is a bigger barrier to higher recycling rates than incineration, European experts told Metro Vancouver politicians earlier this month. - Black Press file photo
Cheap landfilling is a bigger barrier to higher recycling rates than incineration, European experts told Metro Vancouver politicians earlier this month.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

Metro Vancouver mayors say they're confident their controversial strategy to incinerate more garbage for power is the right one after seeking advice from European experts.

The regional district hosted a forum July 22 that featured British and Dutch experts who warned that cheap landfilling is the main barrier to much higher recycling rates, not incineration.

Both countries make considerable use of waste-to-energy plants.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said the Europeans cautioned against building too much incineration capacity – Metro has already reduced the size of its planned new plant from 500,000 tonnes per year to 370,000.

And he said the key takeaway was not to believe the "magic" claims of proponents of material recovery facilities, which are highly automated sorting centres that extract recyclables from garbage.

"It's mythical, they said it doesn't work, it destroys the recyclables so they're not useful and the product at the end from the organics is useless," Corrigan told Metro's board Friday.

"That's where the Netherlands and Britain reinforced what we already knew," added Metro board chair Greg Moore.

Belkorp Environmental wants to build a mixed-waste material recovery facility (MRF) in Coquitlam and argues Metro might not have to build a new incinerator if enough paper, plastic and other recyclables can be extracted.

Metro's Bylaw 280 – which is still awaiting approval by the province – would allow very limited use of MRFs to sort garbage from apartment buildings that don't have adequate recycling facilities.

The bylaw has been opposed by various business groups and the Fraser Valley Regional District, which says it will embrace MRFs.

Belkorp vice-president Russ Black argues firms like his should get a chance to extract recyclables from garbage before it's landfilled or incinerated, as a final pass to reduce waste.

"There's no risk to Metro Vancouver or the public with respect to giving these things an opportunity to work," he said.

But Moore says approving broad use of MRFs would be a step backwards, unraveling 25 years of public education to convince residents to separate their recyclables, rather than throwing everything in one garbage bin.

Black insists the real issue is Metro's pursuit of waste-to-energy.

"Mixed-waste material recovery facilities compete with incineration. They're after the same feedstocks."

He also questioned the objectivity of Metro's forum, calling the Dutch expert an advocate of incineration.

"It was just a promotion exercise," Black said.

Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer said it would have been more prudent to also invite experts from a country like Denmark, which she said has recently turned back from a heavy emphasis on incineration in pursuit of better recycling rates.

"We should be looking at a spectrum of experts," she said.

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