B.C. has denied Metro Vancouver the power to ban haulers from taking mixed truckloads of garbage out of the region, a move that has outraged local politicians and called into question the region's entire plan for recycling and trash disposal.
"Our recycling efforts as a region are now in jeopardy," said Metro Vancouver vice-chairman Raymond Louie, who is also a Vancouver councillor. He said the province has now just made it easier for waste haulers who are "trying to save some money at the expense of future generations."
Metro had proposed the new bylaw a year earlier, saying that to promote recycling, it needed to be able to stop people from leaving the region for a cheaper option -- just dumping mixed waste into a landfill in the U.S.
But another group of people, including the Vancouver Board of Trade, Fraser Valley politicians, and the waste haulers themselves, is welcoming the decision from Environment Minister Mary Polak.
They say the bylaw was just Metro's way of trying to keep garbage in the region to feed a future $500-million incinerator that no one wants. And it will now allow private companies in the region to propose alternatives to an incinerator.
"Metro really gave [the provincial government] no other opportunity than to step in," said Russ Black, the vice-president at Belkorp Environmental Services, which co-manages the major landfill in the Interior that Vancouver garbage goes to.
The long-awaited decision is one that, once more, marks the province's determination to override regional government if it doesn't like its decisions. In the past, B.C. has taken planning powers away from the region, changed the structure of TransLink governance, and, recently, demanded a referendum on transit funding as it exerts control over regional issues.
The decision on Metro's bylaw has been the subject of a tremendous battle between Metro Vancouver and the region's many recycling-only industries, on one side, and the larger waste-hauling and landfill-management companies that have traditionally dominated, on the other.
The waste haulers, as well as the U.S. landfill operator where a lot of Metro Vancouver garbage goes, hired high-profile lobbyists like former attorney-general John Les and a former campaign strategist for the B.C. Liberals, Dimitri Pantazopoulos.
Ms. Polak has now ordered a three-month review of Metro Vancouver's whole solid-waste plan to assess what strategies the region should use to try to increase recycling. In her decision, she said the Metro bylaw risked creating a monopoly and encouraging illegal dumping.
Metro Vancouver, which is run by councillors and mayors from the region's 21 cities, had decided years ago on a plan to wean themselves off the Cache Creek landfill in the Interior, and to move to more recycling and a new "waste-to-energy" incinerator that would also power from its operations.
Metro has set a goal of 80-per-cent recycling by 2020. Currently, the region has a 55-per-cent recycling rate, largely due to the efforts made by residents in single-family residents. It is expected to go up significantly in 2015, when food scraps are banned from the landfill and all multi-family and commercial operations are required to come up with a plan for recycling organics.
But since the board approved that plan, a number of private companies have said they would like to build a new kind of recycling facility, one that takes the mixed garbage that people can't or won't sort themselves in their homes or businesses.
In these mixed-waste recycling facilities, garbage goes through mechanical sorting that businesses claim can recover up to 60 per cent of material for recycling.
"These facilities are working well in other regions," said Mr. Black, whose company would like to build one in Coquitlam. "At the end of the day, even if Metro gets to 80-per-cent diversion, there is still 60-per-cent recyclable" from the garbage that wasn't sorted by residents.
Metro's bylaw on waste hauling also had rules in place that would have made it difficult for those kinds of facilities to operate.
Those companies started lobbying against the incinerator plan and the bylaw, which they said was just Metro's attempt to make sure it had enough garbage in the region to feed it.
Fraser Valley politicians also mounted opposition to the bylaw, mainly because they feared it was tied to the incinerator plan. And some B.C. chambers of commerce, along with the Vancouver Board of Trade, joined in, saying that private companies should be given the freedom to develop alternative recycling strategies.
The provincial review will be headed by Marvin Hunt, a former Surrey councillor who was also the head of Metro's zero-waste committee and a past supporter of the incininerator plan.