Sustainable Development Goals

Organizations Involved:
City of Vancouver, Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD), BC Ministry of Environment, City of Burnaby, Fraser Health Authority, Babcock Wilcox, Alstom, BC Hydro, NORPAC, Veolia ES, Covanta
Services: Consulting, Feasibility Study, Due Diligence, CSR Education Plan

The Challenge:

Vancouver is the 3rd largest metropolitan region in Canada with an estimated population base of 2.5 million people that operates the 3rd largest Port in North America and is a major infrastructure owner as it manages approximately $25 billion of capital assets encompassing facilities, parks, streets, and underground infrastructure. Since 2011, the City has adopted a service-based capital planning framework to drive accountability, increase transparency, and enhance a more holistic, city-wide approach to the long-term capital investment decision-making process.

It is estimated that the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) and its residents, businesses, and institutions generated about 1,247,500 tonnes of garbage in 2021-2022. The GVRD has improved its recycling rate in the last few years, from about 40 percent in 1995 to over 60 percent in 2018. Concrete as well as yard and food waste (organics) are some of the most recycled materials in the metro region.

Key Facts & Figures

  • Approximately 2.6 million tonnes of municipal solid waste was disposed of in B.C. in 2020. While there has been an overall decreasing trend in municipal solid waste disposal rates since the 1990s, much of the waste disposed of could be reduced (by not being generated in the first place), repurposed, composted, or recycled.
  • Waste reduction efforts have become more and more important as the B.C. population continues to increase, landfills approach their capacity for receiving new waste, and the imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from waste disposal grows.
  • Tracking waste disposal across B.C. is important as it provides historic trend information and the current status of waste disposal, both of which inform and guide efforts to reduce the amount of waste we create.
  • In 2020, British Columbians disposed of an average of 499 kg of municipal solid waste per person, down 70 kg per person since 2012, though higher than the low of 473 kg/person in 2016.
  • Provincial initiatives which support decreases in waste disposal rates include the CleanBC Plastics Action Plan, organics diversionfood waste prevention, and extended producer responsibility (recycling) programs, and funding for organics infrastructure and collection.
  • Variability in disposal rates from one region to the next is influenced by factors such as population density, economic activity, tourist and transient population fluctuations, distance to recycling markets, the role of various stewardship agencies operating in an area, and the capacity and infrastructure in place in a region. While disposal rate data do not tell the whole story, they are useful in setting the stage for continuous improvement in waste management in B.C.

The Solution:

Sustainability has played a significant role in the management of municipal solid waste within the GVRD. In fact, this region is one of the first regions in Canada to consider the role of creating energy from waste using an integrated solid waste management system. Since its opening in 1988, Metro Vancouver’s Waste-to-Energy Facility (WTEF) has played an essential role in the region’s solid waste management system.

The energy from waste facility is owned by Metro Vancouver and when built was originally operated and maintained by a subsidiary of Veolia ES, the facility is now operated and maintained by Covanta Burnaby Renewable Energy Inc. The facility ensures that garbage is managed in an environmentally safe manner, and generates renewable and valuable energy sources such as steam and electricity. The Waste-to-Energy Facility (WTEF) is located in the commercial and industrial areas of south Burnaby. It receives waste from Burnaby, New Westminster, and the North Shore of Vancouver and is responsible for the environmentally safe disposal of over 20 percent of the region’s waste.

In 2003, the GVRD installed a turbo generator that uses steam to produce electricity, which is then sold to BC Hydro. In 2006, a $7 million upgrade was completed to increase the amount of heat recovered from the waste and therefore the amount of electricity produced. The revenue from steam and electrical sales offset the operational costs of the solid waste management system. Strict environmental monitoring confirms that the WTEF is one of the cleanest facilities of its kind. The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) recognizes it as one of the best facilities on the continent. In 2003, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. (APEGBC) presented its first Sustainability Award to the GVRD, in part for the installation of the turbo generator.

In 2018 Metro Vancouver introduced technological improvements to increase metal recovery at the Waste-to-Energy Facility by installing an eddy current separator to separate non-ferrous metals such as copper and aluminum from bottom ash. A second magnetic separator increased the recovery of ferrous metals.

The Outcome:

Originally sited in 1985 to utilize steam through sales to a paper recycler, the central location of the site was selected because it minimized the distance of hauling waste which resulted in further benefits for the facility. This was designed with future potential in mind for eco-efficiency. Commercial operation started in 1988, using a state-of-the-art combustion and air pollution control system. Over 50% of the facility equipment is dedicated to air pollution control. This waste to energy facility has 3 processing lines, with each line processing about 11 tonnes of garbage every hour, and has processed more than 5 million tonnes of municipal solid waste since its start-up.

Throughout its 30+ years in service, each year the WTEF turns on average 250,000 tonnes of garbage and trash into 900,000 tonnes of steam, and 132 GWh of electricity, providing both economic and environmental benefits to the region. A portion of this steam was originally sold to North Pacific Paper Company (NORPAC), a paper recycling facility, helping eliminate the use of fossil fuels. Air emissions produced from the facility are a small percentage of the total air emissions in Metro Vancouver and the facility operates under continuous air emissions monitoring that is well within all regulated limits.

The electricity sold to BC Hydro is enough to power 16,000 homes and recovers about 7,000 tonnes of metal annually. The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) recognizes it as one of the best facilities on the continent. The benefits of Waste-to-Energy plant like the Burnaby facility are that it can be located in densely populated metropolitan areas as a highly responsible local disposal solution for waste that cannot be recycled. Metro Vancouver annually earns approximately $8 million from the sale of electricity and $300,000 from the sale of recycled metal to a company that produces reinforcing steel.

Strict control over combustion conditions, such as temperature and airflow, minimizes the amount of emissions released. State-of-the-art environmental protection technology is used to treat air emissions which are continuously monitored and regulated under provincial legislation. Monthly reports are submitted to the Provincial Ministry of Environment, the City of Burnaby, and the Fraser Health Authority. Independent stack tests are performed on each processing line three times a year to test for acid gases, total hydrocarbons, metals, and particulate matter. The Lower Fraser Valley Air Quality Monitoring Network continuously monitors the ambient air environment at 30 sites throughout the Lower Mainland. No measurable impact has ever been found from the WTEF.

The facility is approved by the BC Minister of Environment through an Operational Certificate which sets requirements related to the facility's operation, including emissions limits, monitoring, reporting, and publication. Strict environmental monitoring confirms that the WTEF is one of the cleanest facilities of its kind.

See the Environmental Monitoring page to view up-to-date data on emissions from the Waste-to-Energy Facility >> GO.

The WTEF has zero liquid discharges (excluding washrooms) to the sewer system. This means reduced impacts on the environment by minimizing water use and lowering demand on the sewer system. The WTEF is International Standard Organization (ISO) 14001 certified. This is an international environmental management protocol to ensure regulatory compliance, ongoing monitoring, and continual improvements. Additional key attributes are:

  • 1 Tonne of waste processed by the facility reduces lifecycle emissions by 0.7 tonnes of net CO2e compared to landfilling;
  • In 2020, the facility avoided emissions equivalent to 35 thousand passenger vehicles driven for 1 Year period, or burning 82 million kgs of coal;
  • The facility operates up to 98% below Operational Certificate Limits; and
  • 32,678 garbage trucks diverted from landfill.

Awarded for Operational Excellence in Waste to Energy

  • Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) Award in 1990 for the best facility;
  • ISO 14001 Certification in 1999;
  • Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC inaugural Sustainability Award - 2003;
  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers Award for Large Waste-to-Energy Facility of the Year - 2004;
  • Power Smart Excellence Award - 2004;
  • Federation of Canadian Municipalities Sustainable Communities Award - 2004; and
  • Canadian Institute of Energy Award - 2005.
This project addresses the SDGs by taking into account the following goals and associated targets. It contributes to ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns by coming up with a sustainable waste treatment framework (Goal 12). Through a safe and inclusive waste disposal system, the SDG strives to protect ecosystems and prevent biodiversity loss (Goal 15).