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Crane operator Trent Kuznik moves waste with a giant claw apparatus at Metro Vancouver's Waste-to-Energy Facility where waste is incinerated and electricity is generated, in Burnaby, B.C.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

When about 1,500 tonnes of Canadian waste returns home this weekend after years languishing in the Philippines, it will head straight to south Burnaby for processing.

There, at Metro Vancouver’s Waste-to-Energy facility, extra staff will be brought in to process the 69 containers of mostly paper and plastic, boosting overnight efforts so as not to disrupt normal operations.

The facility has received international attention over the incoming trash.

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“It definitely has attracted a lot of interest, here and abroad,” Chris Allan, director of solid waste operations at Metro Vancouver, said with a smile.

The garbage saga began when a Canadian company sent 103 mislabelled containers, which were supposed to contain recyclable plastic, to the Manila International Container Terminal more than five years ago. Filipino authorities discovered they contained mixed waste, including household garbage and used adult diapers, and demanded Canada take it back.

The federal government hired a private company to retrieve the trash after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he was ready to “declare war” over it.

Chris Allan is the Director of Solid Waste Operations and Solid Waste Services for Metro Vancouver.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The biggest challenge will be that the waste is in bales, Mr. Allan explained, walking through the site on Thursday. This may require trucks to first dump each container on to the ground at the loading bay and workers to cut through the bales with wire cutters, rather than dumping each load directly into the refuse bunker.

“It’s a slight deviation from normal practice in terms of how we handle the material,” Mr. Allan said.

The volume is negligible; Mr. Allan said the incoming shipment amounts to roughly two days of processing.

Once dumped into the refuse bunker – a giant pit with mountains of waste – a six-pronged grabber crane will “fluff” the material, mixing the newly arrived and local garbage to create a consistent mix. Paper and plastic on its own is a high-energy fuel source and would burn too fast, Mr. Allan explained.

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This area smells surprisingly inoffensive. Mr. Allan said this is due to intake fans constantly sucking fresh air in from the outdoors and pushing it toward the incineration area, eliminating the most pungent odours.

On Thursday, the waste here was mostly indistinguishable: grey, broken material; plastics; some sort of upholstery. Asked whether he ever sees anything unusual, crane operator Trent Kuznik shakes his head.

“All the time,” he said, adding that he can’t say more.

A City of Vancouver employee clears Japanese beetle green waste from an area behind a garbage truck after dumping a load at Metro Vancouver's Waste-to-Energy Facility in Burnaby, B.C.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Post-fluffing, the waste will then be dropped down a feed chute to an incinerator that burns at roughly 1,200 C. The heat and gases pass into a boiler area – which smells like dumpster at the height of summer – where they heat tubes filled with water.

The resulting steam generates electricity that is then sold to BC Hydro. At any given time, the facility powers about 16,000 homes.

The garbage began its voyage back to Canada from the Philippines in late May aboard the cargo ship Bavaria, before turning back to be swapped out for a larger container ship, the Anna Maersk.

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The Anna Maersk is scheduled to arrive at the Port of Vancouver on Saturday and the trash is expected to be processed beginning on Sunday.

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