Materials recovery facilities, or “murfs” as they’re called for short, are all about breaking open garbage bags to extract the recyclables.
It’s an option not being considered seriously enough as a viable alternative to burning garbage, say critics of the Metro Vancouver plan.
Supporting MRFs to take out the recoverable or recyclable elements from the waste stream, could present a better choice than Metro Vancouver’s plan to build a new incinerator.
“We have the technology. We have the business interest,” said Jessica Morrison, environmental services coordinator for FVRD, explaining how materials recovery stacks up as an alternative to incineration.
“Metro Vancouver is skipping this step in their solid waste plan,” she said.
Morrison was joined Monday night in Chilliwack by Russ Black, vice president of Belkorp, at the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce event. A small crowd showed up to the Vineyard Centre to hear about Waste Management and Incineration, and MRFs as an alternative.
The key is transitioning from the linear “burn-and-bury” economy to a more circular one, said Morrison.
One of the issues with incineration is there’s no real incentive to remove the recoverables or recyclables that end up in the waste stream. Garbage volumes have to stay high to justify the trash-burning part of the plan, which commits them to landfilling as well.
The stats show that up to 30 per cent of what’s in a garbage bag could be retrieved or recycled, and “that’s not acceptable,” said Morrison.
Organic materials could be up to 40 per cent.
“What we need to do is get into the practice of recovering those materials. We need to think about reusing them, not disposing of them. That’s a circular economy.”
What’s left after incineration of solid waste is called bottom ash which is toxic and has to be landfilled in a special way. Think about toxic plastics, TVs, iPhones and batteries that end up burning in “giant furnaces,” she said.
“What is left, they call it ash. I call it slag,” said Morrison.
WTE is an inefficient way of generating power, and there may be greater costs than are being discussed.
So why should the Fraser Valley care about what Metro Vancouver does with its garbage?
Part of the answer is the “giant smokestack” belching pollutants and nano particles into the air toward Chilliwack, and the Fraser Valley.
Morrison likened the Metro plan and incinerator to the doomed SE2 power plant proposal that was turned down.
“The difference is in this case there is a Canadian proponent for the project.”
Not only will the Metro plan impact health, the ecosystem, agriculture, business and tourism, but the business case does not add up, she said.
Estimates for the construction cost of the incinerator at just over half a billion are too conservative, while the estimated tipping rates were too high.
Russ Black of Belkorp Environmental Services mapped out the private sector vision for three MRFs in Metro Vancouver as an alternative to the plan for more incinerators.
He’d like to see Metro hold off on the WTE plan to see MRFs built and tested first.
MRF technology has evolved to make better business sense than burning recoverables, he argued. No senior level of government is requiring Metro Vancouver to push ahead with building another incinerator.
Incineration is “unnecessary, uneconomic and unwanted,” said Black, who also criticized the “marketplace distortion” offered by bylaw 280, which seeks to impose a requirement that Metro Vancouver waste be restricted to facilities within the region. It was passed but awaits ministerial approval.
The region is at “a crossroads” with its waste management options, he suggested. It could opt to go the route of big government infrastructure or go with MRF which offers a “proven private sector solution that doesn’t require additional taxation,” he added.