International companies are lining up to bid on Metro Vancouver's entry into the era of high-tech garbage incineration and gasification, as they look to showcase new systems on a continent that has mostly resisted them.
The competition is fierce because of Vancouver's reputation as an environmentally progressive, livable city. Local politicians say that aspect is something that will enhance the reputation of whichever system and company is chosen for the contract to dispose of the region's 500,000 tonnes of garbage.
That will be like an advertisement to thousands of cities around North America who are being forced to contemplate a future where landfills are no longer an option.
"They want to do business with us in Vancouver because we're a leader in green," said Metro Vancouver chair Greg Moore. Regional debate will be dominated this year by a pending decision over building a half-billion-dollar waste-to-energy incinerator.
"I think we'll be surprised by how many people will be attracted to this," said Mr. Moore, who is expecting the Metro Vancouver regional board to issue requests for proposals on new waste-disposal systems by the end of March.
Until now, the only public proposals heard for a new system have been from Covanta, offering to build a facility in Gold River, and Aquilini Renewable Energy, working with the Tsawwassen First Nation.
Whatever new system is chosen will replace the region's current practice of sending almost half of its garbage every year to a landfill in Cache Creek in the Interior.
But the conversation over what system to use is likely to be extremely heated.
Many European countries have adopted waste-to-energy systems enthusiastically. According to reports, there are more than 400 such plants throughout Europe, with more on the way.
In North America, there haven't been any incinerators or waste-disposal alternatives built for almost 15 years after just under 100 were built in the 1960s and '70s.
That's in large part because public opposition to incinerators has been so intense that politicians have been unwilling to fight against it.
In spite of that, in the past year, a few cities and regional governments in North America, unwilling or unable to keep expanding landfills or finding new sites, are turning to the European solution.
The city of Los Angeles, after considering a variety of hi-tech systems, recently awarded one of two contracts to Green Conversion Systems, with an "advanced thermal conversion" process.
Durham/York County near Toronto is in the process of building a waste-to-energy facility.
Edmonton has also started construction on a new massive garbage-processing facility that will intensively sort all garbage, removing anything recyclable, and treating the rest to produce the continent's first bio-ethanol products from garbage.
Mr. Moore said Metro Vancouver is likely going to have a two-tier bidding system. One contract will be for a waste-to-energy incinerator that can handle at least 500,000 tonnes. The other, which will be open to anyone with alternative technologies, will be for 100,000 tonnes.
Currently, Metro Vancouver produces about 1.3 million tonnes of garbage a year. Besides what goes to Cache Creek, another 500,000 are handled at the Vancouver landfill in Delta and 300,000 are burned in an existing incinerator in Burnaby.
A waste-to-energy incinerator is likely to spark major public opposition, as incinerators have elsewhere.
People opposing them have expressed fears on several fronts. One, they say incinerators produce toxic air particles. Second, they worry that the facilities remove any incentive a region or city might have to increase recycling, since it's more convenient simply to burn everything.
Besides the whole technology issue, local politicians will also be debating how any new garbage-disposal facility should be owned and operated.
"There are lots of ways to skin that cat," Mr. Moore said.