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Fraser Valley pushes for new recycling facility as incinerator plan put on hold

The big increase in organics recycling in 2015 reduced what goes to landfill, but a change in the cost of dumping in U.S. landfills has brought some garbage back to the region.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

Metro Vancouver's decision to put its plans for an energy-producing garbage incinerator on hold have long-time opponents hoping the idea is dead, especially with the regional district's neighbour in the Fraser Valley preparing to try an alternative.

Metro Vancouver, which includes more than 20 communities, announced just before Christmas that it had temporarily suspended its procurement for a proposed incinerator. The regional district insists the delay does not mean the $500-million incinerator plan will be shelved completely.

At the same time, the Fraser Valley regional district has vetoed the idea of including an incinerator in its 10-year solid-waste plan, approved by the province just before Christmas. Instead, it will be pushing hard to get a materials-recovery facility, which would separate out any recyclables from mixed garbage before it heads to the landfill.

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The sharply different approaches to waste management in the two regions highlight the struggle of many cities and regions as they try to decide how to reduce waste and handle garbage that cannot be recycled.

Some, such as Metro Vancouver, have said they will encourage recycling as much as possible, but that incineration in a waste-to-energy plant is the best option for what's left over, with ashes being buried in a landfill.

Others, such as like the Fraser Valley, say they will encourage recycling as much as possible, but that it is better to try mechanical separation for the rest of it, extracting more recyclables and then burying the last bits of garbage in a landfill.

Patricia Ross, the vice-chair of the Fraser Valley district, says she hopes a materials-recovery facility could be a reality within two years. "We're chomping at the bit," she said. "We want to get this done as quick as possible. We can set a model for Canada – we're fairly confident we can do that."

A materials-recovery facility mechanically separates mixed garbage from which users have not sorted out glass, paper, organics or other materials that could be recycled. Theoretically, that recovers some of the recyclables that homeowners might miss.

Ms. Ross said the region did not even consider incineration for a minute, because it is expensive for taxpayers and leads to less recycling and more pollution.

"Once you build an incinerator, you've got to feed that beast," said Ms. Ross, whose regional district has opposed the plans for a Metro Vancouver incinerator for years.

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Metro Vancouver's surprise announcement to delay its incinerator plans was also welcomed by one of the province's biggest waste haulers, Belkorp Environmental Services Inc., although vice-president Russ Black is less optimistic the idea is dead.

"I don't think by any stretch of the imagination do they want to take it off the books," he said. But he is hopeful the proposed Fraser Valley material-recycling, which his company will be bidding to build, will show Metro Vancouver that it is a good alternative.

So far, Mr. Black says, Metro has stalled his application to build a materials-recycling facility in Coquitlam because of misguided ideas that incineration is better.

However, some Metro Vancouver directors still insist a second incinerator is the best option.

"It is not cancelled," said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who is chair of Metro's zero-waste committee. "It will be coming back in 2016 with a new process. We remain just as fixed on this, but you've got to be able to successfully predict the flow of garbage."

The amount of garbage going into Metro landfills has fluctuated a lot recently, he said. The big increase in organics recycling in 2015 reduced what goes to landfill, but a change in the cost of dumping in U.S. landfills has brought some garbage back to the region.

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The Fraser Valley, where residents and businesses currently recycle 51 per cent of their garbage, hopes to push recycling to 90 per cent by 2025, according to its plan. Metro Vancouver's plan envisions achieving an 80-per-cent diversion rate by 2020, up from 60 per cent.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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