Entrance to the Comox Valley landfill, where tipping fees are calculated / George Le Masurier photo
Directors challenge legitimacy of advanced recycling technologies
New directors of the Comox-Strathcona Solid Waste Management Board have called into question the legitimacy of a special committee exploring new waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies.
And new Area B Director Arzeena Hamir has suggested some at least one of the WTE committee members met privately and inappropriately with one of the technology proponents.
The committee, which originally named itself the WTE select committee but later changed its name to the Solid Waste Advanced Technologies (SWAT) committee, had explored methods of extending the life of north Island landfills at the Pigeon Lake dump.
Landfills are expensive to construct, and just as expensive to close when they are full.
The provincial Ministry of the Environment has ordered the closure of all existing landfills on the north Island at an estimated cost to taxpayers of just over $38 million. This includes landfills in Campbell River, Gold River, Tahsis and Zeballos.
All residential and commercial garbage that cannot be recycled or reused will be dumped into new high-tech landfills, also at Pigeon Lake, that minimize methane gas emissions and the leaking of toxic liquids into the ground. But each of these new landfills cost $10 million to construct and almost as much to close.
So new technologies that claim to reduce the amount of garbage dumped into landfills by 90 percent was obvious. Landfills would last longer, and the expense to taxpayers would decline.
But nothing is ever that simple.
The former SWAT committee members had leaned toward Sustane Technologies, a company that says it can recycle all forms of plastic and transform it into biodiesel pellets. They sell these pellets to other companies who burn it for energy.
Sustane does not yet have any functioning facilities using their technology, although Nova Scotia will pilot a project.
But Hamir and new Comox Director Alex Bissinger question whether that process — proven or not — constitutes any environmental benefit.
“What is the carbon footprint of these new technologies,” she said at the most recent solid waste management board meeting. “And shouldn’t we incorporate this (the net carbon footprint) into our analysis of them.”
Hamir wants the technologies re-evaluated to include climate change, carbon footprints and any impact on the entire solid waste management system, which includes recycling and a new organics composting facility.
Area A director Daniel Arbour said he supported a staff recommendation that ultimately passed to update the SWAT committee’s terms of reference to include emissions from burning the end product of the new technologies.
“If it really reduces the carbon footprint, then it should help reduce costs and increase diversion,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect the committee to recommend anything counter to the board’s mission.”
Hamir said the committee’s name change hides the fact that burning the product of any technology “is still waste-to-energy.”
Bissinger agreed and wanted clarification of whether such a technology actually achieved diversion under the Ministry of Environment’s definition and regulations.
Ministry officials told the solid waste management board in October that it must divert a minimum of 350 kg per capita of solid waste before the province would approve the use of any new technologies. And further, that the use of new technologies would require an amendment to the CSWM Solid Waste Management Plan. And that could trigger expensive studies and new regulations before implementation.
The previous SWAT committee, chaired by former Area B Director Rod Nichol, had operated on the assumption that the ministry’s diversion requirement was just a guideline, not a rigid number. But the October presentation and follow-up letter made it clear that was not the case.
Hamir also suggested that at least one member of the SWAT had met privately with Sustane Technologies, and did not declare the meeting or the substance of the meeting to the whole committee. She did not name the director.
Also, a budget issue
Area C Director Edwin Grieve supported the recommendation to update the SWAT committee’s terms of reference, and added a concern that Comox Valley taxpayers will pay an unfair share of the $38 million to close historic north Island landfills.
He raised the issue because some north Island directors oppose the use of a tax requisition to pay for the closure of historic landfills. They propose paying for the closures solely out of tipping fees (the charge individuals and commercial enterprises pay to dump garbage at the landfill).
The cost will be spread evenly among the 66,537 Comox Valley taxpayers and 43,000 north Island taxpayers. But the cost to close historic Comox Valley landfills totals just shy of $15 million, while north Island lands will cost more than $23 million to close.
“In terms of fairness, it appears that residents of the Comox Valley are paying the majority of the closure costs with the majority of the benefits going north of the Oyster river,” Grieve said in a personal letter to the CSWM board.
Grieve favors a tax requisition to pay for the closure of the historic landfills.
“The big cost facing us is the closure of the landfills and for that we must use taxation,” he said.
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I read your article and feel it requires some clarification.
I have spent the past five years actively researching alternatives to garbage disposal. Of the many technologies I have reviewed, I settled on Sustane’s because it is the best in terms of over-all environmental impact and cost.
To clarify the process:
– all recyclables are recycled – nothing changes there
– un-recyclable plastics are converted into a low Sulphur synthetic diesel that meets the specifications for home heating fuel
– remaining garbage is processed into pellets and sold to companies like pulp mills and electrical generating plants, replacing coal and other dirty fuels – because all plastics have been removed, these pellets have been identified as a ‘clean’ fuel
– the 5-10% of garbage that remains is then transformed into an inert sand-like material that ends up in the landfill – this reduction in volume will extend the life of very costly landfills by 10 or more times
– industry is presently experimenting mixing polymers with the sand-like material to make fence posts and patio stones, etc. which could further reduce the impacts on landfills
To spark your interest, the Federal Government had a consultant (Enviro Access) commissioned in 2017 to write a report assessing Sustane’s technology. Their report stated that this technology, operating a single plant, can remove 180,000 tons of CO2 – equivalent to removing 41,000 cars from the road permanently every year. It has been deemed by experts in the field as state of the art ‘advanced recycling’.
All of the individual technologies being used in Nova Scotia by Sustane Technologies have been proven to work. The only unanswered question is how they will work in concert under one roof.
I have met twice with Dr. Andrew Weaver, a leading expert in climate change. He is very interested in this technology and has asked to be kept up to date stating that, in his opinion, it should even be eligible for carbon credits.
There is more to discuss if you are interested.
There are other solutions like burning waste to make electricity. A double benefit with the cost of power. The new burners have little or no smoke. And in the mean time a free store at the dump.
I would like to know why we don’t have food waste pickup in Courtenay even though Cumberland and Comox have it. Seems like it would be a no-brainer to have far less waste going into the landfill!!!!
We should be having compost pick up everywhere in the valley as well as pick up of everything that is recyclable and resusable. I hate going to the dump and seeing all the potentially reusable materials going into the tip. We need a free store there!