Something that comes to mind when you tour TCR Environmental Corp.’s waste processing plant in Aylmer Ontario (between Toronto and London) is the old engineering adage “not a penny for paint,” meaning, “don’t waste money in a project making it pretty. Just make it work!” The Aylmer plant appears quite stripped down, but that’s the whole point, according to TCR’s President & CEO William Hett (previously waste management director for the Town of Markham).
Says Hett, “When we bring municipal waste managers through the plant, they notice we don’t have many extra ‘bells and whistles.’ It’s not a palace with marble floors, and you won’t see exotic equipment from Europe. Some visitors complain that it’s not fancy enough! But we get the job done, save taxpayers money, and divert waste from landfill at an incredible rate.” The plant, Hett adds, is also in compliance with all environmental laws, health and safety regulations, and local bylaws.
The plant processes waste from the surrounding municipalities of Aylmer, Tillsonburg, Strathroy, Malahide, and South Dorchester (population about 40,000). Municipal garbage (sorted by residents into blue and black bags), IC&I, and agricultural waste are delivered to a 16,000 sq.ft. wet-dry MRF or (in the case of ag waste) directly to a 42,000 sq.ft. “compost barn.” High ceilings and roll-up doors in the MRF allow every size and type of truck to tip material directly onto the tipping floor. Material (including green garbage bags) is taken by a small Cat to a bag breaker from where it’s conveyed along a picking and sorting line. Workers scoop specific materials into chutes at their stations, and these fall into portable bins below. Recyclables such as metal cans and plastic or glass containers are baled or bundled for sale. (Recyclables generate about $12.90 in revenue from each tonne of waste delivered to the plant.)
Residue is sent to landfill, but most of what’s left at the end of the picking line is organic matter, fibre, and other compostables. These are shredded and conveyed into a 10-channel in-vessel “compost barn” directly alongside the MRF. Each channel is 170 feet long and 15 feet wide. Aeration is computer controlled, and each channel is turned once per day. Over a 21 to 28 day cycle, the material is pushed to the end of the building by the turners, then taken outside for further curing. (The 10 acre site is landscaped and bermed). Cured compost is trommel-screened and prepared for various agricultural, horticultural, and consumer markets. (It meets the provincial environment ministry’s regulatory standard for “unrestricted use.”) TCR’s bagged consumer compost will soon be available through retail outlets nationwide.
The seven-year-old company (which won two Recycling Council of Ontario awards in April) overcame early odor problems by installing nearly $800,000 worth of air quality controls which exchanges air up to six times each hour. This is then filtered through a 20,000 sq.ft. biofilter which utilizes microbes, charcoal, wood chips, and compost material. (Standing directly on this, I could detect no odor at all on a hot and humid summer day.)
The plant would be most efficient at an annual input of between 35,000 and 40,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste for processing. At this level, it would generate 12,000 to 15,000 tonnes of compost, 8,000 to 8,500 tonnes of recyclables, and 7,000 to 7,750 tonnes of residue (currently landfilled).
William Hett is outspoken about what the company is achieving. “We’re the only Canadian municipal waste management company that’s publicly traded, and the Aylmer plant was built from private funds with no subsidies or government grants. I think the market and potential municipal clients [for similar plants] should be very interested to learn that our capital cost was only $5.2-million–exclusive of the underlying land–and that we’re diverting an aggregate 80 per cent of material from landfill.” Tip fees range from $25 for clean organics to $75 per tonne for commingled IC&I and MSW streams.
Hett says some people dismiss the operation as a “dirty MRF,” but he’s adamant this type of plant is the “landfill” of the future. He claims that–with only a few modifications–it could meet the needs of large urban communities just as well as rural ones, and allow them to meet and even greatly exceed requirements to divert 50 per cent of waste from landfill by Year 2000.
“Our system is very simple,” says Hett. “We can save municipal clients a lot of money from collection–their greatest cost centre–because they don’t need Blue Boxes (which divert only 15 to 20 per cent of recyclables) or special collection systems. We’re also proving you don’t have to have millions tied up in expensive recycling equipment that may not be appropriate for a changing market, or that only pays its way if operated continuously. Instead, we make the best use of people. Sure, if fantastic machinery proves itself in the market, we’ll look at it. But almost everything inside these walls was fabricated locally.”
The plant has recently conducted trial runs co-composting municipal sewage sludge with organics. Hett is confident that sludge will enhance the quality of the end product and put TCR in the position of being able to help municipalities cut costs by not having to construct additional sewage treatment plants. Hett states, “Clients in Southwestern Ontario have expressed interest in this idea, and our system could greatly extend the life of their existing landfills.” The company plans to bid on contracts in York Region and other areas which are currently embracing the wet-dry concept.
Guy Crittenden is editor-in-chief of this magazine.