Solid Waste & Recycling

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Small is Beautiful

Is there a move toward a new urbanism in which local groups of individuals strive to become self-efficient and sustainable through local gardening, local electrical generation, and local water management? If the answer is "yes" then localized...


Is there a move toward a new urbanism in which local groups of individuals strive to become self-efficient and sustainable through local gardening, local electrical generation, and local water management? If the answer is “yes” then localized waste management should be part of this new trend.

There are growing examples across Canada of a new approach to supplying heat, electricity, water, and waste management services through a non-centralized approach.

From a regulatory approval perspective, smaller is better. With environmental assessments for large projects taking years, the move toward smaller, localized waste management systems could make sense.

In Ontario, for example, a landfill of less than 40,000 cubic metres requires only a Certificate of Approval. Anything over 100,000 cubic metres means an individual environmental assessment and could easily take five years or more. And as occurred in Simcoe County recently, even a costly EA can’t guarantee a landfill project won’t be killed at the last minute by politicians.

Another advantage of localized waste management systems is the concept of “away” is lost. “Away” is not too far away for a local waste solution.

If the move toward the new urbanism comes to include local waste solutions, then the most likely solution will be compact waste-to-energy facilities. With the proliferation of companies designing modular systems in the range of 20 tonnes per day (tpd), the purchase of high-efficiency units scattered throughout a municipality (servicing an industrial park, or shopping mall) is not too hard to imagine.

After all, a compact WTE can produce heat and/or electricity for the local community and can provide green collar jobs that cannot be exported overseas. Moreover, if the claims of the developers of the latest systems are to believed, such WTE facilities can meet the stringent emission standards set by the federal and provincial governments.

At the time this article was written, Roger Anderson, Chairman of the Regional Municipality of Durham, had the final say to commit $250 million for a 180,000 tonne per year incinerator that would meet the waste management needs of Durham and York Regions for the next 25 years.

To date, not too many municipalities in Canada have taken the same path as the Regions of York and Durham. The time (more than years), effort (over 200 public meetings) and expense ($260 million for the incinerator not counting consulting fees for the EA) for this project to come to fruition may be a cautionary tale for some civic leaders.

Technical guidelines

In early 2010, Environment Canada (EC) issued Technical Document of Batch Waste Incineration. The purpose of the document was to provide guidance to owners and operators of batch waste incinerators regarding the proper selection, operation, maintenance and record keeping.

The EC Technical Document acknowledges that thermal treatment can be a cost-effective and environmentally sound solution to manage waste in remote areas such as mining camps, industry, the health care sector, and ecologically sensitive areas (i.e., northern communities).

The goal of the EC Technical Document was ensure that such systems achieve Canada-wide standards for dioxins/furans, mercury and other toxic substances.

The EC Technical Document may be an indication that regulators acknowledge that compact-sized thermal treatment systems can perform just as well as large incinerators. The future of waste management in Canada may be toward the use of smaller, more advanced thermal treatment systems that meet the required emission standards.

John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at john.nicholson@ebccanada.com


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