The provincial government has rejected Metro Vancouver's controversial Bylaw 280, which sought to ban the growing flow of garbage shipments out of the region.
Environment Minister Mary Polak cited concerns that the bylaw, passed by the Metro board a year ago, would create a monopoly on waste management, destabilize the private hauling industry and might increase illegal dumping.
The decision is a win for private waste haulers who want free rein to send waste outside of Metro, as well as U.S. landfill operator Rabanco – a major destination for the outbound garbage.
They and other opponents of Bylaw 280 – including the B.C. Chamber of Commerce – had lobbied the province hard for months to kill it.
The Fraser Valley Regional District and other opponents of garbage incineration also hope the decision derails Metro's plan to build a new $517-million waste-to-energy plant, which may not be viable if waste can flow freely to outside landfills.
"It makes it very very difficult for Metro Vancouver to justify the incinerator," Abbotsford Coun. Patricia Ross said. "And I doubt they can afford it without Bylaw 280, which would have given them control of the whole market to charge whatever tipping fee they want."
Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore called the decision a catastrophic blow to Metro's recycling record.
"It completely undermines all of the efforts we've made over the last couple of decades to have source separation occur and led us to incredibly high diversion rates," he said, adding haulers can now bypass Metro's recycling system and contribute nothing.
An estimated 100,000 tonnes of garbage a year is sent first to Abbotsford and then to landfills in the U.S. and that volume is expected to rise rapidly without new restrictions.
Haulers using that route pay much less than the $108 per tonne tipping fee in Metro and they don't have to abide by Metro bans on the dumping of recyclables or pay surcharges on violations.
Officials at the regional district have warned their bans on the dumping of various recyclables at transfer stations will be rendered ineffective without Bylaw 280.
The outflow of garbage has already cut Metro tipping fees by about $11 million a year and the regional district faces a $6 million budget shortfall as a result in 2015.
Some Metro politicians have suggested property taxes may have to rise so tipping fees can be cut to better compete against out-of-region alternatives.
Moore said it's too soon to say if the region will be forced to rethink its waste-to-energy plans and revert to a landfill-first disposal policy.
The region is committed to stop using the Cache Creek landfill.
He said the decision will mean higher costs for Metro ratepayers and may jeopardize hundreds of jobs with existing recycling businesses in the region.
Polak said she shares many of Metro's concerns about unrestricted garbage hauling and said some form of waste flow control will be necessary.
"We cannot leave this in an entirely unregulated situation," Polak said. "The movement of waste outside the region is something we need to be concerned about and we need to find the right way of regulating that behaviour,"
She named Surrey-Panorama MLA Marvin Hunt, the former chair of Metro's waste committee, to conduct a three-month review and make further recommendations.
While Polak said Bylaw 280 was "too heavy-handed" she did not rule out some new form of regulation.
"We have to make sure we're not working against our goals for diversion."
Polak said a key consideration is what may happen if the new package and paper recycling system overseen by Multi-Material B.C. eventually extends to commercial and multi-family residential.
Moore said he's dismayed Polak listened to lobbyists, particularly those from of hauler BFI Canada, which has a transfer station in Abbotsford and Cache Creek landfill owner Belkorp Environmental.
"This boils down to two companies that want to continue to put garbage into landfills because that's where they make their money," Moore said.
"Belkorp owns the biggest landfill in British Columbia," he said. "They've also received $600 million from Metro Vancouver taxpayers over the last couple of decades. They want that to continue. That is the absolute bottom line for them."
Belkorp vice-president Russ Black said his firm aims to build material recovery facilities to sort recyclables from garbage before it goes to whatever dump or incinerator Metro chooses.
He said it's a promising private sector-led alternative to boost recycling rates at no cost to taxpayers but was largely blocked by Metro's bylaw.
"The province saw through what Bylaw 280 was really about – that it is inextricably related to incineration."