Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Waste management industry in disarray

They were lined up in the Metro Vancouver Boardroom today, over a dozen speakers (one an avowed "lobbyist") waiting to tell Metro Vancouver politicians to butt out of waste management and let free enterprise solve the problem. They were members of the Waste Management Association of BC, delivering in person the message they published in the full-page ad that ran in the Vancouver Sun yesterday.

The issue on the table was a proposal by Metro to impose "flow control" on garbage. This would be a regulation, in Metro's own words, that "would require residential and commercial garbage to be delivered to Regional Facilities.

The Metro website backgrounder emphasizes that this is about the flow of garbage, not recyclable materials. It says: "Source-separated recyclable materials and materials like construction or demolition waste would be exempted."

The speakers today were all goin on about how flow control would destroy recycling.

But Metro says that regulating the flow of garbage will encourage recycling! The places haulers are taking our waste to are not as responsible as we are. They don't have disposal bans on recyclable materials the way we do. Their lower disposal charges encourage wasting.

Frances Bula approached me after the meeting and asked if I didn't think it was a good idea for Metro to cut off the flow of waste to other places.

But garbage isn't that simple.

The real intent behind Metro's proposal is to make sure that the new incinerator they're planning to build doesn't run out of fuel.

In a veiled way, the website acknowledges this: "Metro Vancouver is developing a strategy [i.e. a half-billion dollar incinerator] to manage the disposal of residential and ICI waste generated within the Region. Metro Vancouver’s proposed approach is requiring that residential and commercial waste generated in the region be disposed at Regional Facilities."

Metro should not be regulating the market in order to feed its own incinerator. Rather, as a few of the more public-minded speakers argued today, Metro should be using its regulatory authority and its resources to promote recycling. For instance, they should police their own disposal facilities and enforce their own existing regulations against throwing away recyclable materials. (Currently, Metro neither publicizes nor enforces their bans: it's like there were a law requiring us to stop at intersections but no signs and no police. One speaker noted that only 10% of the loads at regional facilities are checked for banned materials.)

Should we explore whether Metro has the authority to regulate recycling facilities? One of the speakers presented a promotional video of a "dirty MRF" (a facility that sorts raw garbage -- as opposed to a regular MRF that sorts materials that were set out for recycling). He entreated Metro politicians to give his company a chance to build a dirty MRF in Vancouver. A later speaker -- also a member of the waste association -- said history had shown dirty MRFs were a failure. Who speaks for the Waste Management Association of BC?

Maybe we don't need regulation of MRFs. The market may decide. China is certainly sending a strong signal.

FACT: The "waste management industry" includes our local governments. They have been in the garbage business for a hundred years. It's been an uneasy relationship between the public and private sectors of the waste industry. Local governments are the clients of the waste industry, and also competitors, especially in BC where disposal facilities are almost all publicly owned and many cities even have their own trucks and crews.

When our local governments try to beat the competition through the use of regulation, things get dirty and the industry gets mad. Seagulls squabbling over the garbage.

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