Recycling is the vision, not garbage incineration

Waste Incinerators Burn Through Taxpayers' Dollars

The proposed Metro Vancouver garbage incinerator is estimated to cost between $450 and $520 million. However, according to a review of the project by the accounting firm KPMG, the final costs will likely be much higher. 

The report “Resources Up in Flames” by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance was written for the perspective of the Global South at a time when incineration companies were pushing incineration there while there seemed little chance of sales in North America, however all of the points still hold true today whether you live in the Global South or here in North America where the incineration push has returned with a vengeance.

Locally, while Metro claims it will make money ( 35 Yr Cost: WTE = Profit $20 million, Landfill = Cost $1.5 billion) the numbers have not been shown to prove this. First,  projecting costs out to 35 years is a tricky business, particularly with changing waste volumes, waste programs, waste types, energy pricing, economy, and carbon pricing. 

This also does not factor in any future changes to laws, emissions control ones especially. (Note the Burnaby Incinerator had spent nearly $100 million upgrading the emissions equipment compared to its initial $80 million cost for what was state of the art at the time.)

The proposed costs for a new incinerator in Durham, Ontario (which will not be state of the art) were $272 million for a 140,000 tonnes per year facility  with operating costs projected at $14.7 million and energy revenues of $8.6 million.

Two items of concern are the fact that the Durham council will not be able to see the costs involved with the contract until it is signed and that these costs are for a non-state of the art facility that is smaller than the 500,000 tonnes per year facility proposed by Metro.

The Burnaby Incinerator costs approximately $20 million a year to operate and pay its financing debt to process around 280,000 tonnes per year with revenues of $11 million a year for energy (half of which are dependent on having a stable customer for their steam).

So in general, operating costs are almost double energy sales. Metro Vancouver’s proposal forecasts energy revenue to be more than the operating costs (without showing how this would be the case). Industry estimates show higher initial cost projections than Metro is using too. 

So the Metro numbers hinge on getting a bargain on building the incinerator and getting far higher revenue from energy sales than others.

This kind of gambling has not paid off for some communities. In the US, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, in part because of choosing to build an incinerator for waste and being unable to make the payments.

A critique of some of Metro’s assumptions for planning was given at the Vancouver Board of Trade by Paul Levelton of KPMG. Here is their rebuttal to Metro’s review of their analysis. (note: although the work of KPMG was paid for by Belkorp, the operator of the Cache Creek Landfill, KPMG is a well-respected company providing third party expertise, providing the type of research that Metro Vancouver should have been doing as part of its due diligence for its citizens.

They may possibly have less vested interests than AECOM who did Metro Vancouver’s report as AECOM operates the Swan Hills incinerator in Alberta and is now one of the bidders on the RFP to build an incinerator for Metro.)

Finally, keep in mind, these kind of expenses would only forestall the day when the landfills are full…of ash. What kind of investments would make sense?  Investing in behaviour change and staff to assist residents, businesses and institutions make the necessary changes as well as systems for organics composting. 

It seems like the Vancouver Board of Trade agrees. See their July 5, 2010 letter pointing out their concerns.

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