Metro Vancouver disposal ban on food waste 'unworkable'
Metro Vancouver is preparing to impose a ban on the disposal of organic food waste next year but restaurants are opposed to the idea and some regional politicians fear they may face a broader public backlash as well.
The regional district intends to add organics to the list of items banned from the trash for homes and businesses as part of Metro's strategy to boost recycling and slash the amount of garbage that must be burned or buried.
Metro Vancouver has already seen a 30 per cent drop in the average amount of garbage generated by single-family households between 2011 and 2013 that planners attribute to local cities' rollout of organic curbside collection in green bins.
"It's been pretty substantial," Metro solid waste division manager Paul Henderson said.
Many cities cut their garbage pickup frequency to every other week as weekly organic pickup came on stream, spurring thousands of residents to use green bins and step up recycling of other items.
Henderson thinks a formal ban on organic disposal will take that progress further, by sending an important signal that food should no longer go in the garbage.
But restaurants worry they'll pay more and struggle to store separated organic waste until it's collected.
"Right now we're saying it's unworkable and the costs are unpredictable," said BC Restaurant and Foodservice Association president Ian Tostenson.
"My concern is that we're still in the tailwinds of the recession," he said, adding the restaurant sector has been slow to recover.
"To add this burden onto them by arbitrarily saying by 2015 you will do this – why can't it be 2017 or 2018?"
Consultations are continuing with affected businesses, but Henderson expects Metro will finalize the details of the organics ban later this summer.
He admits it's "more challenging" to enforce a ban on food waste, which is harder to detect inside a dark garbage bag than other banned items like cardboard or old TVs.
As with other material bans, contractors who haul waste from homes and businesses will have their loads randomly checked at transfer stations. If inspectors find more than a certain amount of organics they'll pay a surcharge on the offending load.
Haulers would then act as curbside police, prodding their customers not to toss banned food waste in the trash.
One option is a 50 per cent surcharge on loads containing more than five per cent organics.
But other scenarios under consideration start out with a much looser 50 per cent tolerance threshold that tightens over time, or else a much lower 10 per cent surcharge that climbs over time.
The first six months would be an "education period" when inspectors would tell haulers if their loads fail but not charge them extra.
Metro's aim is to reach diversion rates of first 70 and then 80 per cent to minimize the amount of waste that goes to landfills or incineration.
Organics make up a major part of the waste stream and Henderson estimates the current 300,000 tonnes per year of organics collected must climb to 550,000 tonnes to reach the 80 per cent target.
"The organics disposal ban is a key tool to doing that," Henderson said.
Tostenson said restaurants don't oppose Metro's goal, they just question the practicalities, such as potential pest infestations.
A better solution, he said, would be to let restaurants continue to put organic waste in the garbage and let highly automated new material recovery facilities that are proposed separate out the organics.
"They'd do the separation at no increased cost. To me that would be the way to go."
That's not under consideration at Metro, where officials have been skeptical of such garbage-sorting systems.
Henderson said some material recovery plants in California grind up garbage with their organics, resulting in something that's passed off as recycling but is so contaminated it can only be used as topping at landfills, not for any agricultural or horticultural purpose.
"They're calling it a beneficial use when in fact it's ground-up garbage," Henderson said. "We want it to be processed into a high-quality usable product."
Food waste can become compost or be turned into biofuels.
Surrey aims to award a contract this fall for its new biofuels plant, which deputy operations manager Rob Constanzo expects will capture biogas and feed it into FortisBC's natural gas grid.
He said he was "very pleasantly surprised" that Surrey captured 70 per cent of its single-family food waste just one year after launching organics curbside pickup.
But more work is needed – Surrey and other cities are working on pilot projects to extend organics separation to apartment buildings and other multifamily residential where there are more challenges.
Local cities are only responsible for managing residential organics pickup.
Businesses, including restaurants, are the responsibility of their contracted haulers.
Surrey Coun. Barinder Rasode is concerned just one Surrey business participated in Metro workshops so far on the planned organics disposal ban.
She and other directors fear a last-minute revolt on the eve of the ban taking effect.
"I'm a little bit worried about that," Port Moody Coun. Rick Glumac added.
North Vancouver District Coun. Roger Bassam predicts it will be ordinary residents "who don't like the smell or find it awkward" who will put up the most resistance.
- Metro Vancouver's organic waste ban page
- Green Table Network's Closing The Loop advice guide for restaurants.
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