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At public consultations, waste companies said they feared they were being pushed out by Vancouver’s garbage-flow plan.JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

The complex world of garbage management here is facing a major transformation as Metro Vancouver pushes both to control the flow out of the region and put more restrictions on private companies doing pick-up and recycling.

The district's effort to reform what's called "waste-flow management" brought almost a score of speakers to Metro's Burnaby board room on Thursday as many private operators argued that Metro will stifle innovation and kill jobs.

One of the most irate was Ralph McRae, who just spent $30-million on a new plant in Vancouver to process mixed garbage from apartments and commercial operations to extract recyclables.

"Metro thinks it needs to build a fence around the region. [Its staff] says there is no place for the private sector in [commercial] and multifamily waste disposal," said Mr. McRae, whose new Northwest Waste Solutions "eco-park" was due to open in two months. "Why would [they] possibly want to eliminate the private sector?"

Mr. McRae's case was supported by high-profile lobbyists like former attorney-general Geoff Plant and Mark Jiles.

Others from companies or groups like Progressive Waste Solutions, Waste Management B.C., Maple Leaf Disposal, HSR Services and more also came out to protest against what they fear is a deliberate effort by Metro Vancouver to push them out.

They suspect Metro Vancouver is trying to ensure it has enough garbage to feed a future half-billion-dollar incinerator it is contemplating.

Although Metro is two years away from deciding whether to build a new incinerator and what size it might be, many speakers said all of the smaller decisions the district is making now seem to be sending it inexorably down a path towards a large incinerator.

"If the whole exercise isn't about keeping more money and waste for Metro Vancouver, why not work with the Fraser Valley regional district? I remain concerned Metro Vancouver is determined to put taxpayer dollars at risk [by building an incinerator]," independent MLA John van Dongen said. Mr. van Dongen represents Abbotsford South, which includes a waste facility that is believed to be getting about 5 per cent of Metro's garbage from private haulers.

Metro Vancouver is running a public consultation process to the end of May, asking companies and the general public about new mechanisms to monitor and control garbage flow. Statistics indicate that about 100,000 tonnes of garbage a year in the region disappear, unaccounted for in either landfills or recycling facilities.

Private operators, unhappy with the consultation process, asked to speak to Metro Vancouver representatives directly on Thursday.

The consultations spell out that the district wants to make it mandatory for all private garbage-collection companies to deliver to regional transfer stations and landfills.

That would prevent companies from delivering to the facility in Abbotsford or shipping waste to Alberta or the United States. It would also allow the district to enforce "source separation" – sorting recyclables like bottles, plastics, and paper before they get dumped, not after.

But it might also prevent companies like Northwest from doing what they do now: pulling recyclables out of the mixed garbage from apartments and commercial or institutional operations.

The Metro Vancouver efforts have a lot of people who are interested in garbage and recycling conflicted, especially when it comes to garbage from the region's thousands of apartments.

Recycling enthusiasts believe that forcing people to sort their garbage is the best system, rather than allowing them to dump it into one bin and having companies sort it later, which produces what is called "dirty recyclables," the kind that China, for instance, will no longer accept.

But the reality is that it is difficult for short-on-space apartment dwellers to maintain several bins for recycling. So, if private companies cannot extract recyclable material, all of it could end up in an incinerator.