Garbage is packed down at the Vancouver Landfill in Delta

Metro Vancouver recycling rate hits 60 per cent

70 per cent target elusive, region forges ahead with new garbage disposal bans despite uncertainty

Metro Vancouver’s recycling rate climbed to 60 per cent in 2013, up from 58 per cent a year earlier, but it remains well short of a 70 per cent target the regional district is committed to reaching next year.

The improvement last year came almost entirely from a four per cent increase in the single family residential recycling rate, which Metro officials attribute to the move to mandatory organic food waste pickup for those homes and a decrease in the frequency of garbage pickup to just biweekly in Surrey and Vancouver.

“We’ve achieved a lot but there’s still a long way to go,” Metro solid waste manager Paul Henderson said.

Improved recycling of at least 70 per cent is a key assumption Metro has made in estimating it must build a new waste-to-energy plant capable of handling 370,000 tonnes per year of garbage that the region would no longer truck to the Cache Creek landfill.

A higher aspirational target of 80 per cent diversion by 2020 would reduce but not eliminate the need for a potential second incinerator.

Recycling diversion rates for multi-family residential and industrial/commercial were virtually unchanged, at 28 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively.

Officials hope those categories improve next year.

A broadened ban on the dumping of organics – which make up a big slice of the waste stream – takes effect Jan. 1, extending mandatory food waste pickup to major business generators such as restaurants, grocers and other food handlers.

A ban on the disposal of clean wood is also going ahead, which would target the demolition and construction sector, where there’s already a high recycling rate of 76 per cent.

Henderson said there may also be modest gains as a result of some additional types of containers now being collected curbside by Multi Material BC, which launched in the spring.

As with other disposal bans imposed by Metro, the new ones will be policed by inspectors at transfer stations.

Inspectors will issue warnings at first, but by mid-2015 they’ll levy a 50 per cent surcharge on any load containing too much organic waste. The cost of fines is expected to spur waste haulers to in turn police their customers.

The maximum proportion of organic waste in a load without incurring a surcharge will start at 25 per cent next year before dropping to 10 per cent in 2016 and five per cent in 2017.

The phased approach is expected to target the biggest food waste generators first and then gradually capture more businesses, pressing them to comply.

A long list of materials are already banned, from paper and cardboard, to electronics and mattresses.

But a Metro report warns all of the region’s disposal bans will “become ineffective” if the provincial government doesn’t approve Bylaw 280.

The waste-flow bylaw would outlaw commercial haulers from sending garbage out of the region – usually first to Abbotsford and then south to U.S. landfills – thereby evading Metro’s higher tipping fees and its disposal bans.

The bylaw was passed by Metro’s board a year ago and is still awaiting Environment Minister Mary Polak’s decision, amid intense lobbying from haulers who oppose it.

Many critics claim the regulation aims to justify a new incinerator by penning up garbage in the region to feed it, but Metro officials insist the bylaw is essential or its waste servics will be underfunded and steady improvements in recycling will be unwound.

Henderson has been warning for more than a year that an initial trickle of waste flowing out of the region threatens to turn into a flood.

Metro now estimates 100,000 tonnes of garbage – about 20 per cent of all commercially collected waste – will exit the region via Abbotsford this year, twice as much as did in 2012.

The regional district is expected to increase its tipping fee by $1 to $109 per tonne next year.

In contrast, haulers can dump in Abbotsford for an estimated $70 a tonne, according to Metro, creating a powerful incentive to send garbage loads out of the region.

The lost tipping fees are also beginning to add up – they’re expected to total $11 million in lost revenue for Metro this year.

If Bylaw 280 isn’t approved, Metro forecasts a $6 million deficit in its waste management budget next year on an assumed surge in haulers moving to take advantage of lower costs and fewer restrictions.

Metro’s fixed costs of operating transfer stations and its Burnaby incinerator make it difficult to reduce spending.

Nor, a staff report indicates, is it an option to simply crank up tipping fees to make up any shortfall.

“Metro Vancouver cannot adjust the tipping fee beyond an inflationary adjustment or an additional competitive advantage will be created for companies hauling garbage to Abbotsford, further increasing the rate of increase of commercial/institutional waste being hauled outside the Metro Vancouver system.”

Instead, the regional district would be forced to dip into its reserves, Henderson said.

METRO RECYCLING | Create Infographics