After an anguished 18-month process to come up with rules to encourage more recycling and less out-of-region garbage dumping, a Metro Vancouver committee has narrowly defeated the plan.
The 6-5 vote came on Thursday after two very different types of recycling businesses vehemently opposed the proposed bylaw.
More than a dozen recycling companies said the bylaw would drive a stake into the region's success at getting people to recycle because it would allow new facilities that process mixed garbage. The existing companies work with material that residents and businesses have already sorted.
Allowing the new facilities would "blow a hole in the consistent policies you've had," said Wayne Davis of Harvest Power, which has a booming business handling food scraps from several Lower Mainland municipalities.
But the people wanting to build those facilities, which would sort garbage mechanically and extract whatever is recyclable, said the bylaw would kill their efforts to bring in technology that could dramatically improve the region's overall recycling rate.
Ralph McRae of Northwest Properties Group, which has built a $20-million recycling facility for mixed waste material in Vancouver that has not been put into operation yet, said the bylaw would cripple his kind of business because it has so many restrictions on what it could accept and where residue could be shipped.
He said many businesses, institutions and apartment dwellers are not going to be recycling at a high rate any time soon, so having a facility that can do it for them is the best option for now.
At the heart of the issue is the question of how the region can divert more garbage from landfills and increase recycling rates – a topic that sounds dry and technical, but generated several hours of passionate arguments.
"This is a very emotional decision we are making. But it is incumbent on us to make [this bylaw] as perfect as possible," Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters said as she voted against the bylaw.
The committee sent the bylaw back to a task force for improvements to ensure rules and penalties are balanced for both kinds of recycling and greater detail on what can be taken out of the region.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie and several others said they did not think more time and discussion would create a different result. "There will be more talk, more hand-wringing, and it isn't going to change anything."
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan also supported the bylaw, saying it was created because the region was "presented with a problem where waste was flowing out."
Metro Vancouver statistics indicate that about 70,000 tonnes of garbage were dumped outside the region last year, significantly more than the 50,000 tonnes in 2012.
The assumption is that this is happening because Metro Vancouver has steadily increased its fees for landfill dumping in an attempt to make recycling economically attractive for companies.
He said the proposed bylaw created more complications for itself through its regulations to allow mixed-waste-material recovery facilities to operate.