Some of the garbage that goes through Metro Vancouver transfer stations goes to the Vancouver Landfill in Delta. But growing amounts are trucked out of the region to avoid Metro tipping fees and disposal bans.

Garbage exports to U.S. hit all-time high

Dollar's drop may slow waste flow trend as U.S. landfills become more expensive.

Garbage exports from the Lower Mainland to the U.S. hit an all-time high in December, according to estimates from Metro Vancouver.

They show loads of garbage heading south for landfills in Washington State climbed 60 per cent over the last year to more than 19,000 tonnes per month.

Metro Vancouver last year tried to ban haulers from trucking waste out of the region over fears the rising flow of outbound garbage will cost the region millions in lost tipping fees and thwart recycling goals, as those loads are not subject to waste dumping rules, such as Metro’s new ban on disposal of food waste.

Environment Minister Mary Polak in October rejected the proposed ban but named MLA Marvin Hunt to review whether some form of regulation is required to control waste flows.

Hunt is expected to report back with recommendations in the coming weeks.

Critics have accused Metro of simply trying to keep waste in-region to feed a planned new incinerator and hope a final provincial decision will be the nail in the coffin of its waste-to-energy agenda.

Some industry players also believe Metro has exaggerated the threat of garbage exports, which they predict will be less viable now that the dollar’s drop from par to 85 cents has made it more expensive to use U.S. landfills.

“Fifteen per cent is a heck of a swing,” said Ralph McRae, chair of NorthWest Waste Solutions, which does not haul outside the region. “That’s got to make it less economic.”

Belkorp Environmental vice-president Russ Black suggested haulers who are still shipping to the U.S. are now “doing it out of stubbornness, not out of profitability.”

Metro solid waste general manager Paul Henderson agreed haulers’ profit margins are likely getting thinner, but said that hasn’t yet translated into any drop in how much garbage is shipped out, bypassing Metro transfer stations.

Black said Metro could cut its tipping fee to become more competitive and recapture some of the garbage business it’s been losing to the U.S.

Belkorp wants approval to build material recovery facilities – plants that break open garbage bags and separate out the recyclables that would otherwise be landfilled or incinerated – and Black said he made his case for the technology in a recent meeting with Hunt.

The Surrey MLA was an outspoken supporter of waste-to-energy back when he was a Surrey councillor on the Metro board.

Black said Hunt still seems to support incineration but was open minded, particularly to private sector solutions.

Black maintains there are limits to how far people will go to separate out their  recycables and food scraps, and also to the region’s ability to enforce its bans on dumping them.

He said Belkorp’s proposed NextUse plant in Coquitlam would offer a lass pass at extracting recyclables that would otherwise be garbage.

“We think that’s a better idea than burning the bag,” he said, referring to Metro plans to build a new waste-to-energy plant that may cost $500 million. “Our option is much more cost-effective because it’s private sector risk capital.”

Even if Metro reaches an ambitious target of 80 per cent recycling, he said at least half of the remaining garbage would still be recyclable or compostable.

Belkorp also operates the Cache Creek Landfill, which Metro intends to stop using, and regional politicians have argued the company’s real agenda is to hang onto its garbage business by undermining waste-to-energy.