Metro Vancouver Puts Waste-To-Energy Procurement Process on Hold

Connector Winter 2016

Due to uncertainty around future waste volumes and continued reduction in residual waste, Metro Vancouver has discontinued its current waste-to-energy (WtE) procurement process. The development of new waste-to-energy is part of Metro Vancouver’s provincially approved Integrated Solid Waste and Resource Management Plan.

“Metro Vancouver remains committed to waste-to-energy as the most sustainable technology solution for deriving benefits from residual waste after all efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle,” said Greg Moore, Chair of Metro Vancouver. “Given our collective achievement in recycling and waste reduction, the timeline for requiring additional capacity has been pushed forward by several years, enabling us to scale-up over time based on a growing population and predictable waste volumes.” This reflects concerns there won’t be enough garbage to feed a proposed 250,000-tonne WtE plant.

The regional district has spent $4.5 million since 2012 on investigating WtE options. Directors had pledged to release a short list of potential sites before Christmas and build as many as three waste-to-energy plants in or outside the region by 2018.

Garbage volumes have been dropping sharply as a more people reuse, reduce or recycle waste and organics. In addition to the rise of recycling, Metro directors say part of the problem is that commercial haulers are taking Metro’s garbage elsewhere, particularly to Washington state. The regional district recently reduced its garbage tipping fees from $109 to $80 per tonne in hopes of drawing more commercial haulers back to Metro.

The proposed waste-to-energy facility, estimated to cost $500 million, was expected to take garbage that now goes to the Cache Creek landfill, which is slated to close at the end of next year. However, the landfill, which previously received 500,000 tonnes of garbage a year, now gets less than 200,000, Moore said.

Metro should be able to deal with the excess waste at the Vancouver landfill in Delta, which only receives half its licensed volume of 650,000 tonnes, Moore said, and the Burnaby incinerator, which accepts 280,000 tonnes per year.

Metro had planned to scale back the 25-year-old Burnaby plant once the new waste-to-energy plant was on stream, but says it will now spend another $30 million over the next five years on improved capacity, technology and further emission-control upgrades.

Metro Vancouver internal and third-party analyses have consistently shown that waste-to-energy is the least expensive and most environmentally sustainable option for managing residual garbage over the life of a facility.

“The challenge with new waste-to-energy is that it requires a significant up front capital investment as well as predictable waste flow,” said Malcolm Brodie, Chair of Metro Vancouver’s Zero Waste Committee. “Metro remains committed to continued progress towards Zero Waste as outlined in the Integrated Solid Waste and Resource Management Plan with the appropriate management of residuals”.

Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer heralded the decision as a win for taxpayers, saying the region can now look at more-sustainable options. Vancouver has long opposed the incinerator plan, saying the region’s ambitious diversion targets would leave little for incineration and put pressure on burning recyclables such as wood and paper.

Metro aims to divert 80% of waste from landfills by 2020, and now sits at about a 62% diversion rate. “Our vision from day one was increase diversion, the total amount of waste and we won’t have the volumes to justify a half-billion-dollar incinerator,” Reimer said. “This is a win.”

Abbotsford councillor Patricia Ross agreed, and said she hopes Metro and the Fraser Valley Regional District will work together to build a joint materials recovery plant. The Fraser Valley regional district has vetoed the idea of including an incinerator in its 10-year solid-waste plan, and 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.

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

Source: Metro Vancouver, ZWIA, and The Globe and Mail