Richmond is waiting for composter to clear the air

Harvest Power takes yard and food waste from the city and turns it into renewable energy and compost. - Harvest Power photo
Harvest Power takes yard and food waste from the city and turns it into renewable energy and compost.
— image credit: Harvest Power photo

Richmond City Hall is seeking assurance from an East Richmond composting facility that it has a plan to clear the air.

In recent weeks local residents have been waking up and smelling the coffee—grinds, and other organic materials—from Harvest Power's facility near No. 9 Road. The strong odour has generated numerous complaints to Metro Vancouver, which is responsible for air quality in the region.

On Monday Robert Gonzalez, the city's general manager of engineering and public works, told city council that staff have asked for a "definitive plan" for the facility.

"We're looking for some physical improvements to the site to ensure there's a short-term foreseeable improvements in air quality," he said.

Gonzalez noted an anaerobic digester recently came online, but said it won't be fully operational until sometime next year. The digester is expected to contain the composting process in a closed-air system.

"We've been advised by Metro Vancouver that it should have a significant impact on improving air quality," he said. "It's a graduated process where they're increasing the amount of organics it can take."

Gonzalez said the East Richmond facility is taking a lot more material than originally anticipated, as it's the first facility in the Lower Mainland to accept organics—of which a growing amount is being collected at curbs across the region.

Harvest Power has set up a community hotline to respond to inquiries, comments and complaints at 604-836-8387.

Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt acknowledged the odour is "quite strong" in many parts of Richmond. She said it's good residents have bought into the green can program, but a permanent solution for the stink is needed.

"We don't want people for whatever reason, turn their back on (composting) because of the smell."

The facility is raising a stink just months before the city expands its green waste collection program. In June 2013, all townhouses with blue box service will get curbside green waste pickup, and new wheeled carts and kitchen containers will be distributed to all homeowners where the service is offered.

Halsey-Brandt said she'd like to see the program also expand to apartments, possibly in the form of a subsidy to owners who buy their own under-the-counter composter, similar to a program reimbursing residents who buy low-flow toilets.

"As we did with the toilet rebate program, this might be the only solution for condominiums, because believe me the contamination of all our recyclables in apartment buildings still continues, no matter how many pictures you put up…" she said. "I cannot imagine what it would be like with food products.

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