Officials at the Metro Vancouver Regional District have axed a controversial plan to build a $500-million trash incinerator to handle the waste generated by the region’s residents.
The decision was announced today due to the “uncertainty” with future waste volumes output and the regional district’s ongoing initiatives to reduce residual waste, such as the recently launched mandatory organic food waste policy and educational programs to recycle. As a result, overall waste volumes have been falling out of earlier trajectories; more waste is avoiding landfills.
“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, in a statement. “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”.
Metro Vancouver had been engaged in a multi-year process to select a site and proponent to construct the incinerator. The facility was originally slated to burn 500,000 tonnes of garbage a year, but the capacity was later reduced to 250,000 tonnes last year when waste volumes began to fall. Heat generated by the plant would create steam, which in turn generates electricity for the B.C. Hydro grid.
Over the past few years, about a dozen sites have been discussed as possible locations for an incinerator, including two sites in South Vancouver, two in Delta, one at Squamish, one at the Sunshine Coast, and one at Nanaimo. One of the proposed Vancouver sites was along the Fraser River, between the Canada Line and Oak Street bridges.
While the project is no longer moving forward, officials maintain that emissions from incinerators are relatively low compared to other sources of pollution from industry.
“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, in a statement. “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.”
A number of European countries that possess a high recycling rate also depend on waste-to-energy facilities. Austria’s recycling rate is 70 per cent and incinerates 30 per cent of its waste while the Netherlands recycles 71 per cent and incinerates the remaining 39 per cent. Both Germany and Belgium recycle about 60 per cent and incinerate nearly 40 per cent.
Plans will still proceed on an upgrade to Metro Vancouver’s existing incinerator in South Burnaby, which has been operational for the last 25 years with no substantial air quality impacts. The regional district has spent millions on upgrades in recent years and will spend another $30 million to increase its capacity, improve technology, and further emissions controls.
The Burnaby facility processes approximately 25% of the region’s garbage, generates enough electricity for 16,000 homes, and recovers about 8,000 tonnes of metals per year. Additionally, the regional district gains $6 million in revenue per year from the electricity and $500,000 per year from the sale of recycled metal to a company that produces reinforcing steel.
Metro Vancouver has a stated goal of increasing the region’s recycling rate to 80 per cent by the end of the decade. Currently, about 60 per cent of garbage is recycled.