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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