Vancouver British Columbia May Export Waste to United States

As Metro Vancouver, British Columbia Canada pursues in-region strategies for trash disposal, it’s also seeking permission to ship some garbage out of the country.


Metro wants to amend its Solid Waste Management Plan to allow for exporting up to 600,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste to the United States for up to five years, beginning in 2010.  Metro says exports would be an interim measure as it develops its zero-waste program and waste-to-energy plants, which some oppose over air pollution, traffic and greenhouse-gas concerns.

B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner has voiced concerns over shipping waste out of the country. But garbage exports are already happening.

Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley Regional District, which takes in Duncan and Ladysmith, first shipped waste to the U.S. in 2006, when a strike in Vancouver disrupted the district’s 10-year routine of shipping garbage to the Cache Creek landfill.

“We went south and it worked out really well for us,” says Bob McDonald, CVRD’s manager of waste management. When it came time to renew a contract with Metro last year, CVRD decided instead to strike a deal with Rabanco, a Washington State landfill operator.

The cost is about the same and the carbon footprint is lower, Mr. McDonald says. Garbage is loaded on trucks, shipped by barge to Surrey and then moved by rail to Washington. (The CVRD ships about 27,000 tonnes a year to Washington. Whistler is also shipping some trash south.)

In days of heightened security concerns, it may seem bizarre that containers of garbage can move across the border. The district’s contract with Rabanco stipulates against shipping hazardous or dangerous goods, and material is checked before it’s loaded.

And as the district pays its garbage export bills, which are in the $100-per-tonne range, it keeps looking for ways to ship, and spend, less.

“We were between a rock and a hard place,” Mr. McDonald says, “and this gives us all the financial incentive in the world to reduce our waste.”

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