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Garbage options, more landfills or waste-to-energy

A Waste-to-energy facility is one of four options the region’s solid waste management board has for dealing with garbage.

Waste-to-energy is the process of burning garbage into gaseous, solid and liquid products for the subsequent release of heat energy. The heat is then used to generate electricity.

The Comox Strathcona Solid Waste Management Board (which is made up of Campbell River and Comox Valley councillors, as well as regional directors) is currently in the process of updating the Solid Waste Management Plan for both the Campbell River and Comox Valley areas. The new plan will guide the board in dealing with the Campbell River landfill, which will reach capacity within the next year, and the Cumberland landfill which is estimated to be full in three to four years.

Consulting firm AECOM presented the board with a draft solid waste plan in October and from that came four recommendations: one expanded regional landfill in the Comox Valley; one regional expanded landfill in Campbell River; two regional landfills, one in the Comox Valley and the other in Campbell River; and waste-to-energy with location to be determined.

“In the draft solid waste management plan, using the Catalyst paper mill’s Elk Falls location for a ‘mass burn’ incinerator or a landfill is not part of the recommended waste disposal options being considered by the regional solid waste board,” said a press release from Comox Strathcona Waste Management. “However, as indicated in the regional district’s sustainability strategy, waste-to-energy technologies are being assessed as possible alternatives to landfilling waste in the future.”

AECOM presented a waste-to-energy assessment to the board which includes an environmental and cost comparison of waste-to-energy technologies versus expanding existing landfills for disposal of waste over the next 30, 40 and 50 years.

As part of the report, AECOM issued requests for information in July 2011. A total of 11 waste-to-energy vendors responded and it was determined that a large-scale waste-to-energy facility would be less expensive than either a small-scale facility in the Comox Valley or a large-scale facility in Gold River. However, the report also found that although there was no significant difference in environmental risks or greenhouse impacts between the waste-to-energy and landfill options, there was a cost difference.

Debra Oakman, chief administrative officer, said in a report to the board that there is “a very significant cost difference between disposal options.”

Oakman said costs are estimated to be $45 per tonne greater for garbage disposal using waste-to-energy than using a landfill.

“The comparison equates to a cost difference of $2.6 million per year which, over a 30-year waste-to-energy facility life, totals $78.3 million in additional costs for the waste-to-energy option.”

Oakman said at the present time, the AECOM study shows waste-to-energy is not a cost-competitive option for waste disposal, but it’s not completely off the table yet.

“Waste-to-energy technologies disposal options are included in the updated Regional Solid Waste Management Plan, and will remain a board option along with other technologies in the future,” Oakman said. “However, the AECOM report points out that as different disposal technologies emerge, costs may come down, making waste-to-energy options for residual waste disposal more cost competitive.”

The Solid Waste Management Plan will move to the public consultation phase in early 2012, with public meetings expected to be held throughout the Comox Valley and Strathcona Regional Districts. Dates, times and locations of public meetings are still to be determined.

 

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