Food waste from local homes, supermarkets and restaurants is to be turned into compost and biofuel at two plants serving Metro Vancouver, perhaps starting as early as this year.
Metro Vancouver's waste management committee has approved the concept in principle, but some directors fear it may be money down the drain if alternatives aren't carefully considered.
Metro intends to invest up to $22 million in the construction of the proposed plants, which would serve the west and east halves of the region, taking both food and yard waste.
Staff have winnowed 23 original proposals down to two final private partners.
One is Net Zero Waste Inc., which plans a biofuel and compost plant in Maple Ridge. The other is Fraser Richmond Soil and Fibre, which already composts yard waste from most of the region at an east Richmond facility that could expand.
Net Zero would start with composting using the same Gore cover technology used successfully for five years in Everett, Washington and in a pilot test at the Vancouver landfill last year.
Within two years it would add the ability to turn separated food waste from restaurants and supermarkets into biodiesel that could power buses or municipal vehicles.
Methane that would otherwise belch out of rotting greenery in the landfill would be captured and piped into the Terasen Gas network.
The fuel generated from renewable sources would count towards reducing the region's greenhouse gas emissions.
Fraser Richmond officials say they, too, could capture methane and may burn it to generate electricity to sell to the power grid, creating revenue and carbon credits.
Negotiations are still underway but final deals with the two firms would see Metro pay a fixed contract amount per tonne of food and yard waste processed – a price expected to be below the region's current landfilling cost of $70 per tonne of garbage.
Committee chair Marvin Hunt said composting could be underway almost as fast as new systems to collect food waste can be set up in each city.
"We're targeting for between 150,000 and 200,000 tonnes per year," Hunt said.
But some directors have questioned the merits of the plan.
Stockholm, Sweden also generates biogas from organics, but instead of sending trucks everywhere picking it up, residents are urged to put food waste down garburetors and through the sewers to the treatment plant for processing.
"It avoids all the vehicles that are used in collection," said Vancouver Coun. David Cadman.
West Vancouver Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones said organics composting should focus on food waste from the big players – restaurants and grocery stores that dump tonnes of rotten produce daily – rather than less efficient household pickup.
Richmond Coun. Harold Steves cautioned some food waste shouldn't be composted because toxins could make their way back into the food chain.
Net Zero's proposed site in Maple Ridge is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and would need special approval allowing the composting plant as an agricultural use or else an alternate location would be sought.
Eating into the ALR to build such a plant is "dead wrong," Steves said.
Net Zero Waste director Mateo Ocejo said the Swedish sewer solution wouldn't work here because the biogas or biodiesel produced doesn't command the same prices as in Europe.
"In Sweden, they pay four times more than we do for power," he said. "The economics are totally different."
Metro officials say the food composting plants wouldn't be limited to vegetable and fruit peelings. They could take all food waste – from meat to egg shells – and even soiled paper, like greasy pizza boxes and paper coffee cups.
A final deal could be ready for the Metro board to approve as early as next month.
Food waste amounts to about 13 per cent of the region's garbage now going to landfills.
Diverting it for compost and energy generation would be a big help in boosting Metro toward its goal of recycling 70 per cent of waste, up from 52 per cent now.
How it works:
• Net Zero uses a Gore fabric cover over its compost. The same technology behind a Gore-Tex jacket keeps moisture out of the pile but lets air pumped into the pile pass through. It also boosts temperatures, accelerates composting and cuts odours.
• Fraser Richmond Soil and Fibre sucks air out of the pile, allowing it to run the exhaust through a biofilter for odour control. Its plant at the south end of No. 8 Road in Richmond already handles some food waste from Port Coquitlam, which last year began collecting household kitchen scraps and lawn clippings mixed together. Residents can mix food waste with newspaper in winter when yard waste is out of season.