A load of garbage is lifted inside Metro Vancouver's waste incinerator in south Burnaby. Metro wants to ban commercial haulers from taking garbage out of the region.

Metro Vancouver politicians peer into recycling abyss, warn of landfilling ‘Plan B’

Defeat on Bylaw 280 may bring higher property taxes, return to landfilling strategy, mayors warn

Metro Vancouver property taxes might have to go up if the province won’t approve the regional district’s controversial ban on trucking garbage to unauthorized landfills outside the region.

That scenario was raised at Metro’s waste committee Thursday by directors who said it’s time to consider a backup plan if Victoria won’t endorse Bylaw 280, which was passed nearly a year ago but still awaits the environment minister’s okay.

The regulation would stop commercial waste haulers from trucking Metro-area garbage first to Abbotsford and then sending it to U.S. landfills, skirting disposal bans here and avoiding Metro tipping fees.

Metro’s lost tipping fees are estimated at $11 million this year alone and officials predict haulers who avoid paying them will use their cost advantage to win more commercial hauling business, resulting in even more garbage flowing east in the years ahead.

North Vancouver District Coun. Roger Bassam said Metro might have to shift much of the cost of its waste management system directly onto property taxes “so we can drive the tipping fees down to the point where there is no economic incentive to leave the region and win the battle that way.”

Solid waste manager Paul Henderson said the region is starting to look at its options if Bylaw 280 is rejected.

He said shifting away from the user-funded garbage disposal system would bring disadvantages.

Metro currently charges $108 per tonne to dispose of garbage but much less for recyclables, creating a powerful incentive to separate them.

That tipping fee will rise $1 next year but officials say they can go no further due to competition from out of region.

If tipping fees were slashed to compete with eastbound haulers, Henderson said, there would be less incentive to recycle.

He noted Ontario’s commercial waste haulers aren’t bound by the same rules as residents and as a result the commercial sector’s recycling rate there is 13 per cent, compared to 39 per cent in Metro.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said defeat on Bylaw 280 would likely force Metro to revert to a landfilling strategy and abandon its plans to build a potential second incinerator to capture more energy from waste.

“There is a Plan B but it’s so unpleasant and it reverses everything we are doing,” he said. “We stop the aggressive recycling we do and we accept the alternative is landfilling.”

Corrigan said it would mean abandoning the user-pay principle in favour of taxpayers subsidizing the worst waste offenders who refuse to recycle.

“We will lose our reputation as a world leader in this area,” he predicted, adding numerous green recycling businesses that have sprung up will fail if the recyclables they process end up in dumps instead.

Opponents of Bylaw 280 contend Metro’s motive is to keep garbage penned up inside the region to feed a new incinerator.

“We find it outrageous that Metro Vancouver wants to use the taxpayers as hostages basically and threaten the province that property taxes have to go up,” said Lori Bryan, executive director of the Waste Management Association of B.C.

“They’re forcing the taxpayers and businesses to pay for their inefficiencies and to pay for the incinerator that nobody wants.”

Bryan said proposed mixed-waste material recovery facilities, which sort recyclables from garbage ahead of final disposal, could play an important role in retrieving more material that now goes to landfills or incineration.

Judy Rudin, spokesperson for Rabanco, a Washington State landfill receiving much of the outbound Metro waste, said Metro mayors are scaremongering with talk of dire consequences for recycling.

Other critics say waste flow control will let Metro sharply raise tipping fees to pay for a new incinerator, tentatively estimated to cost $517 million.

Environment Minister Mary Polak said she hopes to hand down a decision on Bylaw 280 in the next few weeks.

“It’s a very substantial shift,” she said. “I want to be certain that any decision we make is not going to have unintended consequences.”

Metro estimates 100,000 tonnes of garbage is currently being hauled east to avoid its tipping fees, up from 50,000 in 2012.

Various business groups, including the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, have opposed Bylaw 280.

Supporters include many Metro recycling businesses.

A planned renewable energy utility on Burnaby Mountain powered by wood waste biomass may also be thwarted if the bylaw is blocked, said Simon Fraser University Community Trust president Gordon Harris.

“If the region were to continue to allow haulers to ship garbage away unsorted, we – like other green energy businesses – would be at risk of losing our feedstock, rendering an environmentally beneficial operation uneconomic,” he said in a letter to Polak.