Debate rages over energy-from-waste incineration plants - The Mississauga News

Mississauga News, Mar 12, 2013

PEEL — There is a burning question facing municipalities across the province: What do we do with our garbage when the landfill is full?
Across much of the GTA, the answer - for now - seems to be energy-from-waste plants, the modern, cleaner face of incineration.

Peel Region is about to put out calls for another incinerator to be built in Brampton to handle garbage from Mississauga and Brampton.
The Clarington incinerator being built by York and Durham regions is now a steel skeleton on the edge of Lake Ontario, on track to open for testing next spring or summer.

A conceptual rendering of the Durham York Energy Centre, a state of the art incinerator being built to burn much of the waste that's left after recycling, composting and other kinds of diversion reduce the garbage stream.
The building into which garbage from Durham and York regions will eventually be trucked is rising in Clarington.

Farther east, Ottawa has signed a deal with Plasco Energy Group to use “plasma gasification” technology to convert waste to gas using high temperatures and electrical energy — a system still in its infancy for use in municipal waste systems.

For these municipalities, energy from waste is a way of slipping a fourth “R,” recovery, after the traditional three — reduce, reuse, recycle — and before the dreaded landfill.
“We can at least take the energy out, instead of putting it into the landfill,” says Norman Lee, head of waste management in Peel Region.

And while the municipalities outside Toronto move toward burning more of their waste, Toronto plans to continue trucking its leftover garbage to a relatively new landfill near London. At least for now.

But what happens after that? Securing landfills or building incinerators takes time and resources. Municipalities must plan years ahead.

The Clarington plant, built and operated by New Jersey-based Covanta Energy Corp., a global waste-management firm, will burn waste, producing steam that drives a turbine. Once fully operational, it will produce 20 megawatts, enough to power nearly 12,000 households.

Peel Region might be the site of another plant. The region is looking to upgrade after a 20-year contract with the Algonquin incinerator in Brampton ended last year.

“We needed reliability,” Lee says of Peel’s decision to pursue incineration and gasification. “It was the right decision for our municipality. Another municipality may choose something else.”

The proposed site for the $3-$400 million plant is the region’s integrated waste-management facility at 7795 Torbram Rd. in Brampton.

A 2009 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that modern incinerators produce more energy and release less greenhouse gases than do landfills.

Still, many environmentalists remain opposed to energy-from-waste plants, arguing they produce harmful dioxins and remove incentives to divert waste because they demand a never-ending supply of garbage to keep the power on.

“When you make that capital investment, you need to keep giving material to that facility in order to justify that investment. You never build those facilities to shut them down,” says Jo-Anne St. Godard, executive director of the Recycling Council of Ontario.
The most environmentally progressive approach is zero waste through reduce, reuse and recycle, she says.

“When you build an EFW facility, you are saying we will never get to zero waste, we are giving up that goal and we might even be retracting on our diversion goals … since we need to keep coming up with materials to feed it. So the incentive to recycle more goes down as a municipality.”

Emily Alfred, who handles waste policy for the Toronto Environmental Alliance, adds that plastic and organic waste are the most useful garbage to burn for energy. As those are diverted through recycling, she says, energy-from-waste plants would produce less energy and thus be less economically viable.

Peel’s Lee disagrees. Even with population growth and improved diversion rates factored in, he is adamant there will still be enough garbage to make the plant economically feasible for the next two decades.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario hopes that energy-from-waste will be seen as a method of diversion rather than disposal — recovery, rather than the absolute last-ditch option of landfill.

“Energy-from-waste should only be used for those products that can’t be used any other way up the hierarchy,” says Monika Turner, policy director for the AMO. It’s not popular with environmental advocates, she admits, “but isn’t it better to recover even a modicum of something from that product than sending it to a landfill site? And getting another landfill site in Ontario isn’t very likely.”

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