This Article is part of the Up in Smoke Reporting Project special report See the full report

Big companies and big money square off over Metro Van's $480m incineration plan

First in a three-month series.

Russ Black at site of proposed Material Recovery Facility in Coquitlam. Zack Embree photo.

It’s becoming a battle of corporate interests, big money, green ideals, and a political body charged with creating one of the world’s most livable regions.

Within the year, the Metro Vancouver political board has to balance its regional sustainability mandate with a controversial plan to build a $480-million-dollar waste-to-energy incinerator that would burn a growing heap of future garbage.

The decision is already polarizing municipalities, environmentalists, and the business community.

Battle lines are being drawn, lobbyists are being hired, and a 2014 showdown is expected that could have huge implications for the future.

"There are so many lobbyists on this file. Everyone has a lobbyist,” says Belkorp Environmental Services corporate development VP Russ Black. His company manages BC’s largest landfill in Cache Creek, four garbage transfer stations in metro Vancouver, and 29 recycling depots for the Thompson Nicola Regional District region. 

“The Recycling First Coalition has a couple of lobbyists. Metro Vancouver has its own lobbyist, which is surprising. There's John Foden, with Waste Incineration Coalition. There is a lobby function going on at many levels. Within Metro Van there are staff lobbying provincial staff, there are politicians lobbying provincial politicians....”

“There are huge dollars involved, so when you have big decisions such as this, you have to expect that various parties have their own points of view and they want to share those points of view,” says Richmond mayor and Metro Vancouver Zero Waste Committee chair Malcolm Brodie, who Black identified as another active lobbyist on the issue. 

Black is battling to recover Vancouver's garbage and turn it into something new. He doesn't want to see a giant incinerator stoked by what might be recycled into usable goods.

The existing incinerator in Burnaby, run by Covanta, one of the world’s largest waste-to-energy operators. Photo via Mile105 on Flickr.

With the region's population expected to increase by almost a million people by 2036, Black sees much more than waste in the Lower Mainland’s piles of discarded rubbish, if it’s not first burned in a new Metro Vancouver incinerator.

“Their solid waste plan only allows them a mandate for disposing of the waste,” says Black. “So, upstream, we're saying, 'Let the private sector get more recyclables out of the waste stream.' It’s at no cost to the taxpayer. It’s private capital at risk. We can save the taxpayers a lot of money and we won’t need an increase in tipping fees (fees levied for receiving garbage at a waste processing facility), which will nearly double to pay for the incinerator."

Belkorp wants to tear down a defunct newsprint de-inking and recycling facility in Coquitlam one board at a time, sell off the ancient lumber and in its place build a $30 million material recovery facility (MRF) to pull reusable paper, plastics and metal from thousands of tonnes of garbage destined for a landfill or incinerator. The project would employ up to 80 people.

Former Coquitlam newspaper de-inking facility that Belkorp hopes to recycle into a future MRF. Zack Embree photo.

“If these facilities (MRFs) work, you save the taxpayer $500 million, "says Black. "If they don’t work, then you can build an incinerator with a good conscience.”

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Moderation or Choke

The finality to all this is that man poisons the complete planet. Before this tho he will realize somewhere along the way that if his generation is going to prolong the inevitable he must immediately put a stop to high altitude aviation.

To insure future flight he must first understand and work with new science.

Would definitely like to see

Would definitely like to see some progress on this - with the weighted vote system of the Metro Vancouver board North Shore taxpayers are going to be socked with sewage / recycling rates more than double what Coquitlam and Surrey taxpayers will be paying which is a bit rich given how much more we pay for Translink than those across town for less service.


We are all poisoning the planet.

Incineration proposal

And, of course, Black has no vested interest in killing or delaying the incinerator proposal. Har de har har!

Up In Smoke

"Everyone has a lobbyist,” says Belkorp Environmental Services corporate development VP Russ Black. In actual fact, only the major waste companies, stewardship landfill and incinerator giants have lobbyists. The diverse local recycling industry in BC has no lobbyists. They have nobody speaking up for this incredible diverse industry that has been doing the recycling heavy lifting for decades now. The amount of lobbying to create a monopoly controlled discard waste management and recycling system, province wide, is staggering. Why has Belkorp not invited, collaborated with the small and medium sized recyclers, haulers and processors into the the materials recovery camp?? Do local communities really need more "one size fits all" monopolies? It is obvious that incineration is just stupid. It is definitely not supportive of Zero Waste, and the garbage incinerator folks seem quite content to keep their good-old-boys-group tight and small. So would Belkorp not benefit by helping to create a province wide materials recovery infrastructure in concert with existing recycling and recovery businesses that already exist? There are many excellent companies in BC who started resource and materials recovery long before this idea popped up who have no lobbyists. Perhaps there is an opportunity for Belkorp to help collaborate with the smaller players who stand to be steamrolled by the battling giants? Perhaps Belkorp can help lead the way to supporting, collaborating with those in BC who already do materials recovery on a smaller scale in local communities all across BC. Maybe even help "lobby" for the little guys? 


A couple of points:

•Yes, recoverable and recyclable material should get properly extracted from our waste stream; that should be a given.  After that, a lot of waste does remain, something must be done with it, and our land fill sites are getting full.

•The option under consideration is a waste-to-energy plant, not an old-fashioned "up in smoke" incinerator.  As I understand it, these facilities employ highly efficient new technology with very low emissions and the added benefit of energy output into our electrical grid.


We are making a mistake in our thinking that every bit of plastic should be recycled. When we get to the lower quality plastics we must add gender bending and genetic altering bis-phenol chemicals as binders and coatings. It is better to use a gasifier to reduce poor quality trash to energy or back to clean natural gas.   

MRF is a step in the right direction

A MRF and gassifier are only 2 components of a complete waste reduction/ waste to energy plan.

1. Implement source reduction initiatives.  Green bin, wide variety recycling programs, etc.

2. Run all the garbage through the MRF.  Recover 36% valuable material.

3.  Gassify the remaining 64%.  Current air scrubbing technology provides near 100% non toxic emissions, consisting of 99.99% c02.

4. Recover the heat generated from the gassification process to drive a steam turbine and generate a substantial amount of electricity.

5. Utilize the gassifier c02 emissions in a greenhouse facility to grow plants.

This combination of systems is as close to ZERO WASTE as you are going to get with today's technologies, leaving about 1% waste to be landfilled.  It also derives value from every step of the process, and creates jobs.

It is unbelievable that the best plan the city of Vancouver can come up with is an incinerator. Unimaginative, greasy palmed scam artists.


Big Companies & Big Money

Very important when covering topics such as MRF's to drill down on some serious shortcomings in terms of 'true diversion' of materials coming into these plants. In most cases, the recyclable materials are so contaminated and downgraded due to being mixed with garbage that they will never go to recycling markets. Just as San Jose or other municipalities for the %'s on true recycling recovery and materials that go to high recovery recycling markets - the stats are discouraging.Good recycling practices and source separation are the key to ensuring materials are recycled instead of ending up on the floor of the MRF plants on their way to the landfill. We need the diversion numbers.

Gasification just another incinerator in disguise

Important not to be dazzled by "new" technology.  Important to look at the emissions tests for ALL emissions from the facility (independent lab, continuous monitoring) if you can get them, which you probably can't.  I say that if a product is not easy to recycle, then re-designing it is the next step.  


Gasification is very old technology. What is new is the ability to monitor the complete process electronically and produce the desired end fuels. It is like your multi-fuel Ford car with the exception that it is possible to add specific gasses along the process to fine tune the end fuels. Gasifiers are not incinerators. Trash is super heated in a closed container. The usual end fuel is ordinary natural gas which is the base chemical for new, clean plastics.