BC Chamber Op-Ed: Let business drive zero-waste solutions

In the News, Op-eds & Commentary

The following op-ed was published September 14, 2014, in the Vancouver Sun.

By: John Winter, president and CEO, BC Chamber of Commerce

A clean environment. A competitive economy. The B.C. Chamber of Commerce has long supported the goals of minimizing waste generation and maximizing reuse, recycling and material recovery, which happen to be the first two objectives of Metro Vancouver’s integrated solid waste plan.

With the Metro Vancouver Zero Waste Forum being held Tuesday, it’s important to give all Metro Vancouver residents a more complete understanding of business’s position on zero waste and how our regional government is dealing with this issue.

Instead of working with business in an open market, Metro’s proposed Bylaw 280, better known as the flow-control bylaw, is looking to build an invisible wall around the region’s borders to prevent the movement of waste outside the Greater Vancouver region.

Business cares and the average Metro Vancouver resident should too.

Metro’s Bylaw 280 will allow the regional government to increase the tipping fees — the price you pay to dump your waste at Metro-controlled facilities — from a current $108 per tonne to at least $157 per tonne.

In a free-market system, this price hike would cause companies to take their waste to cheaper jurisdictions. However, by removing the freedom to choose where our waste will go, flow control will give our regional government the ability to set whatever price it wishes with little recourse for business, and ultimately residents, who will pay for it in higher prices for goods and services.

Another reason to care would be construction of an incinerator that no one wants because it isn’t green and it will cost taxpayers more than $500 million. For incineration to be viable, it needs a consistent feed stock (a.k.a. flow control) that is rich in hydrocarbons (a.k.a. recyclables). This runs counter to Metro’s zero waste management plan.

Private enterprise has a solution to help Metro meet its zero waste goals through mixed-material waste recovery facilities (MRFs). However, instead of being welcomed to help, these private businesses are cast aside. Instead of being given clear rules as to how they can solve the problem, goalposts are being moved. These operations are paid lip service in a bylaw that treats them simply as waste-disposal companies, instead of recognizing them as the supplemental recycling facilities they can and will be.

These companies want to invest tens of millions of non-taxpayer dollars and create hundreds of jobs, while helping us all meet our goal of removing recyclables from the waste stream before being dumped into our landfills. Instead of being empowered to create well-paying jobs for the region, some companies are being asked to jump through hoops, beyond the standard practice of the Metro Vancouver regulatory process.

For the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the issue of Bylaw 280, and ultimately incineration, boils down to three simple questions Metro officials cannot seem to answer:

1. Would companies that are looking to design and operate the incinerator on behalf of Metro still be willing to do so if they didn’t have a secure feedstock (i.e. flow control)?

2. If Metro is correct that MRFs won’t work, why not let the private sector sink its money into a “lost cause”?

3. If MRFs don’t work, then why is Covanta, one of the companies bidding to design and build the incinerator for Metro, also entering the mixed-waste recovery business in Indiana?

The answer to these questions will lead to what many feel is the inevitable conclusion: that Bylaw 280 is not the correct solution for Metro Vancouver’s waste-reduction needs.

Solving waste issues in Metro Vancouver, and in all the regions across the province, will require a team effort.

We need a regional government that will build a zero-waste system and regulatory process that looks to fully integrate free-enterprise solutions to green issues. We don’t need monopolistic rules and regulations that pre-ordain higher fees for business and residents alike and an incinerator that will fail to burn our problems away.

Bylaw 280 is a solution looking for a problem. It’s laudable that we want to handle our waste in the region, and we agree we should handle our own mess, but Metro already has the tools to do this. So before we look to add more red tape that punishes private business, let’s look at more enforcement of existing bylaws.

Business is ready and willing to assist local governments in achieving zero-waste goals. The private sector can deliver more jobs, more recycling and lower fees. Let’s get to work.