Some East Vancouver residents have turned up their noses at a local animal rendering plant that they say produces odours that are far too foul.
“It in part smells like burning flesh… It smells like rotten fish sometimes. It smells like pet food. But all these descriptors don’t do justice to it,” said Don Dickson, a member of the Stop the Stink campaign.
The clash between a century-old neighbourhood and a 50-year-old business has pit industrial regulations against community aesthetics. A rule change by Metro Vancouver seems the only solution to the stalemate.
Stop the Stink wants Metro Vancouver to restrict the plant’s operations. Barry Glotman, the president and CEO of West Coast Reduction, said the rendering plant meets air quality regulations and provides an environmental service.
“It’s all about recycling,” he said, noting that someone has to take care of all the animal waste material produced in the Lower Mainland.
Canadians eat a combined average of 60 pounds of chicken, pork and fish every year, according to Statistics Canada. That places more than 125 million pounds of non-ruminant meat on greater Vancouver plates each year, and creates an equal quantity of inedible waste.
Waste not, want not
Towering white silos line the eastern edge of the plant. Squat grey trucks monitored by hungry seagulls dump loads of raw animal parts into below-ground holding tanks.
Inside, scientists and technicians test their equipment and monitor emissions.
Glotman said his company collects an average of 1.6 million pounds of unwanted raw animal products from businesses across the Lower Mainland every day.
The company purchases the majority of the raw material from local animal processing factories.
“We don’t call it garbage,” said Glotman. “We see it as a by-product because there’s value to it.”
The plant cooks the raw material – feathers, beaks, bones, and other animal parts – at high temperature, then dries and grinds it into various products that may be used in animal feed, plant fertilizer, or other applications.
Glotman said the company also collects the used frying grease of more than 3,500 Lower Mainland restaurants.
He said rendered fats like these might end up in cosmetics and soaps and rubber tires. Better, he said, than the alternative: down the drain.
Glotman said the rendering process is not scent-free, but likened it to cooking a turkey in a kitchen.
“There is some odour. There is potentially some odour,” said Glotman, “but we control all those… everything’s captured and then cleaned and recycled.”
The offending odour tends to concentrate in a three-kilometre radius south of Hastings Street and east of Clark Drive. Schools, parks and single-family homes dot the ethnically diverse neighbourhood. The area houses roughly 30,000 people.
Stop the Stink is not alone in thinking the odour is just too heady. In 2005, 347 complaints were registered against West Coast Reduction. In 2006, complaints increased to 412.
When complaints reached 627 by the end of 2007, Metro Vancouver turned to its Air Quality Management Bylaw and amended the company’s operating permit. The changes required weekend and holiday work stoppages as well as mandatory odour concentration testing.
Related: How odour testing works
The B.C. Environmental Appeal Board overturned the regulatory decision in spring 2010.
The board found that Metro Vancouver’s bylaw does not recognize odour as an air contaminant. Metro is now in negotiations with the plant.
“If the company agrees to changes in their permit that we believe will result in acceptable air quality… we will not need to develop any further bylaws or regulations,” wrote Ray Robb, a regulation and enforcement manager with Metro Vancouver.
Dickson has lived near what he calls the “epicentre of the strongest concentration of odour” for approximately a decade.
He said Metro Vancouver is obliged to do more about the smell, and that stronger regulations could lead to improvements in quality of life for local residents.
“We literally have to leave on many occasions during the summer,” he said. “We can’t stay here and have dinner, we have to get out of the neighbourhood.”