Getting a grip on our garbage

SUN0925 Incinerators

Nobody likes to be thought of as a garbage factory but — like it or not — that is what cities have always been and will continue to be, despite our sense of sophisticated entitlement. While only the most narrow-minded would dismiss the enormous cultural, social and economic contribution of the city to human development, there is a sobering reminder of the cost in the fact that we are also perceived as perpetual-motion refuse machines in the surrounding hinterlands to which we increasingly export our rubbish while importing their resources and young people.

In Vancouver, for example, just over 600,000 inhabitants generated 557,334 tonnes of waste last year. Sort that into commercial, demolition and residential waste and it turns out that the average citizen produces about half a tonne of garbage a year. Put another way — because fooling around with dimensional statistics is always fun — some amusing calculations for converting residential waste to volume that were developed in California show Vancouverites produce roughly enough garbage to bury Library Square to the depth of a 37 storey building, which is about four times higher than the present library. Our garbage tower would rank as the 22nd tallest building in the city. That’s just for 2013. Add another one, likely taller, each year.

Statistics Canada reports that between 2001 and 2006, population growth in the country’s 33 main metropolitan areas grew at a rate which was seven times that for small towns and rural areas. Most Canadians now live in just six of those metropolitan areas — 10 million of us in the regions surrounding Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. And even though there have been dramatic improvements in recapturing both materials for recycling and for energy from the urban garbage stream, the actual volume is obviously going to continue to be a problem with which we must wrestle.

If we are living examples of American writer Mason Cooley’s aphorism that human society sustains itself by transforming nature into garbage, it behooves us all to stop thinking about garbage simply as something useless to throw away. Start thinking about it instead as a resource we can exploit for all kinds of added value. In fairness, municipal waste managers, particularly across the Metro Vancouver region but in many other cities, too, have been among the most progressive thinkers in this. They have launched campaigns urging us to reuse, recycle and repurpose while developing practical and pragmatic ways to extract genuine economic value from the garbage stream.

As a result, we have effective programs for diverting organic waste — from kitchen scraps to lawn cuttings into compost — which can be reinvested in the natural landscape. Across Canada, more than 60 facilities — including here — now recover methane gas from landfills. Not only is gas used to generate energy, the extraction process reduces greenhouse emissions from urban landfills equivalent to almost seven million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. In Edmonton, a new plant converts municipal garbage to cleaner-burning biofuels to further reduce carbon footprints. Others mine discarded computer and electronic parts. And so on.

The success of these strategies has been remarkable. In Vancouver, for example, per capita waste generation has been trending downward with satisfying consistency since 2007. Overall, the diversion rate for municipal waste has improved from 37 per cent in 1994 to almost 60 per cent in 2014.

Opponents of Covanta rail development want more time for public comment

mobile incinerator
Residents have less than a week left to file formal comments with a state agency overseeing plans for a controversial rail development project at a local waste incineration facility.

The timeframe offered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the agency’s handling of the announcement have angered several opponents of the project which would allow Covanta Niagara to ship hundreds of thousands of tons of waste, via rail, to Niagara Falls from New York City each year.

“I’m very disappointed with the DEC’s relationship with the public,” said Shirley Hamilton, a Falls resident who was part of a group that protested plans for the rail expansion last year. “I thought the DEC was created to ensure that people, residents, us, were going to be protected.”

Covanta Niagara has been converting waste into clean renewable energy since 1980. The waste-to-energy facility incinerates municipal garbage. The electricity and steam produced at the facility supplies surrounding businesses and the regional electrical grid.

The company’s current permit application proposes the renovation of an inactive, 15-acre rail yard adjacent to the existing facility’s property. According to the DEC’s website listing for the application, the expansion will “more efficiently deliver up to 500,000 tons per year of waste by train in place of delivering the waste by truck.”

The DEC outlined procedures for public comment on the project in an Environmental Notice Bulletin on Sept. 24 and in the Niagara Gazette’s classified section a day later. The deadline to submit comments is Oct. 10.

DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes noted that copies of the application documents are available for review in two repositories in Niagara Falls, including the Doris Jones Family Resource Center on 9th Street and the Earl Brydges Library on Main Street. The documents are also available at the DEC Region 9 office on Michigan Avenue in Buffalo and on the region’s website.

Hamilton and other project critics aren’t pleased with what they have described as a lack of adequate, advanced public notice about the start of the comment period. They argue that 15 days is not enough for residents to digest voluminous materials tied to the proposed expansion plan.

“DEC ought to respond officially as to why they think it’s appropriate to give the community 15 days notice to start shipping New York City garbage to Niagara Falls for 30 years,” said Amy Witryol, a Lewiston resident who has questioned several aspects of the Covanta proposal and raised concerns about its potential impact on the surrounding community. “Why is that a question that deserves 15 days of comment, no hearing, and not even a press release?”

No direct incinerator cash bonanza for Runcorn residents along lines of shale gas fund

An aerial view of the energy-from-waste plant in Runcorn.

A CHEMICAL firm has said it will not be dishing out an energy cash bonanza to Runcorn residents after the company pledged to share 6% of its shale gas revenues with households in ‘fracking’ zones.

Ineos said an environmental fund is already in place whereby Halton Borough Council receives 60p of public project cash per ton of fuel burned in the incinerator – something that could be worth about £500,000 a year.

A company spokesman commented after the Weekly News asked it whether the inhabitants of Weston Point and further afield could expect a windfall funded by the energy-from-waste plant.

Last week Ineos announced a ‘£2.5bn shale gas giveaway’ to residents living in 100 sqkm areas where the company fracks.

Jim Ratcliffe, Ineos chairman, said the payments would give neighbourhoods ‘a real stake’ in the project.

Backers of fracking say the process could drive down energy prices, boost the economy and slash reliance on supplies from unstable regions of the worlds.

Critics say it will damage the environment, cause earthquakes, accelerate climate change and benefit a tiny few.

Incinerator waste has been promoted as a renewable source of power and a means to secure the future of the Runcorn chemical works while slashing the amount of waste going to landfill, but it too has sparked controversy from those who claim the Weston Point plant is too big, causes too much pollution, noise and bad smells.

An Ineos spokesman said: “There is already an environmental fund in place for the Runcorn EfW facility, which was agreed as part of the planning process.

“Ineos’s approach on shale gas applies to individuals and communities that would be situated directly above horizontal gas wells.

“It would not be appropriate to apply this to all projects, including Ineos’s share of the Runcorn EfW facility.”

Composting vs. Waste-to-Energy: The Politics Of Green Waste

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, green waste is very much on the political agenda. According to Tulsa World, the city’s trash board voted this week to pursue a plan to collect and incinerate it rather than invest in an active composting facility. Proponents of the composting plan are deeply disappointed by the vote.

City Councilor Karen Gilbert says, “That [vote] sets us further back from the original plan of having an active composting, mulching facility,” Gilbert said. “It’s frustrating that we start off with an investment, but then we don’t follow through with the priority of that investment.”

Those in favor of the incinerator approach complain that the city can’t afford the cost of the proposed composting facility and that is costs too much money to separate out the green waste from the rest of the city’s trash. Doesn’t it seem as though the situation in Tulsa is a microcosm of the entire “global warming/climate change” debate going on around the globe?

Green waste consists of two components: yard waste, such as leaves and grass clippings, and food waste. Disposing of them requires different strategies but taken together, they account for a significant proportion of all the waste going into US landfills every year.

According to, about 75% of solid waste is recyclable, but at present only about 30% actually gets recycled. 21.5 million pounds of food waste gets sent to our landfills every year. If that food waste were composted, the reduction in harmful emissions into the atmosphere – mostly methane – would be equivalent to taking 2,000,000 cars off the roads in America.

In Washington State, a local prison is vermicomposting all its food waste and saving about $8,000 a year in disposal costs. The compost then gets spread on the prison gardens to help grow food for the kitchen. At North Carolina State University, an ambitious program to collect and compost empty pizza boxes is on track to process more than 370 tons of the containers in its first year. And in Massachusetts and Seattle, new laws mandate composting of food wastes.

In Sweden, 99% of all trash is recycled, composted or burned. Sweden does not have the amount of open available land needed for large landfills. It also does not have the abundance of natural resources that the United States does. So it operates a number of large incinerators that provide electricity and heat for government buildings. Critics say that burning only adds pollutants to the atmosphere, but that nation’s political leaders maintain that modern technology removes virtually all of the harmful emissions and the electricity generated goes a long way towards meeting Sweden’s power requirements.

The best conclusion to draw from all this is that local needs will govern how trash – particularly green waste – gets handled by various communities. There is no “one size fits all” solution. One could argue that Tulsa is taking the easiest way out and looking only at short term costs versus long term benefit. But the real answer is provided by Göran Skoglund, an official with the municipal power facility in Helsingborg, a city in southwest Sweden. He says he hopes the supply of waste to keep the city’s incinerator going will disappear. “This sounds strange…[but] that would be great for this planet. It’s not sustainable producing the amounts of garbage that we do.”

And that’s the take away from this story. Ultimately, it is not about burning vs. composting vs. recycling. In the end, it is about reducing the amount of waste that people generate. That’s where the focus of the political debate about waste products should be.

Zero Waste dialogue under way downtown

Concerns that an industrial scale garbage incinerator might be built in Duke Point persuaded organizers of an international environmental conference to come to Nanaimo.

The Alternatives to Incinerators Landfills; Zero Waste International Alliance Conference and Dialogue started Thursday at the Coast Bastion Hotel. The annual conference attracts environmentalists from around the world, with an emphasis on science to reduce the carbon footprint of humans on the global environment.

“One of the issues our international committee was very concerned about (is) British Columbia seems to be the battlefield for zero-waste right now,” said Barb Hetherington, conference chairwoman and Gibsons resident.

Zero waste supporters have a global goal to end all disposal of solid waste in landfills or incinerators, through a combination of diversion, through the so-called three Rs — reducing, re-using and recycling items humans has buried or burned for centuries.

Reducing requires a long-term process of public education to change behaviours that led to waste of limited resources and pollution. Recycling is an incremental process that each community takes on.

Nanaimo residents already divert almost 70 per cent of their household waste from the regional landfill in Cedar, through recycling and composting.

But as communities get closer to 90 per cent diversion, it becomes increasingly difficult. Many products, such as running shoes and certain other manmade materials are not easily reused or recycled.

When incineration proponents suggest burning garbage to extract energy, the international Zero Waste community worries about what Hetherington calls “green-washing” of the brand of zero waste.

“B.C. is a very green province. We have an incinerator industry that’s really targeted British Columbia, so selling incineration as zero-waste and this is a Band-aid solution. It is a polluting solution. It has nothing to do with zero waste — it’s a disposal option.”

The three-day conference covers a range of topics around the theme of how to get closer to the zero waste target. Organizers acknowledge getting there won’t be easy, but say it’s achievable.



An open meeting for the community and anyone concerned was convened last Wednesday 1st October at Clann na Gael Community Hall. The meeting was well attended and was chaired by the Combined Residents Against Incineration (CRAI). The meeting was attended by local politicians and some representatives from Clontarf and Fairview.

Frances Corr, chairperson of CRAI outlined to the meeting the 17 years of concern and resistance to this project and reminded the meeting that on many occasions councillors have opposed and voted against this project. Despite this the latest Dublin City Council Chief Executive has signed the contracts with all the other Dublin Local Authorities to give Covanta the go ahead to start building. Covanta has stated in their recent release that they are ready to start building within weeks.

Many councillors wished to speak at the meeting. While being adamant about supporting resistance to the project, there were no specific solutions put forward by any councillors. Many locals advocated the need for civil resistance if necessary and many in the community are prepared to join with these type of actions.

CRAI are examining the specifics that were set down in the original planning conditions as there is a genuine concern that these may be breached, even at this early stage. The Poolbeg incinerator was originally planned on the basis of burning Dublin waste, yet given the size of the plant and the figures involved, it is highly likely it will need to take National waste to keep its need of 600,000 tonnes to accomplish it’s commercial goals and profits.

Although John Gormley was in attendance as a concerned resident, he was asked to speak to the meeting to give his views. Gormley outlined how the pursuit of “this incinerator was a stupid policy and would fossilize recycling efforts in Ireland.” With so much waste needed, it would twart national policy and motivation to recycle. Gormley emphasised that the project needed to be stopped “by getting into court as quickly as possible.”

A long time opposer to the project, Joe McCarthy, also spoke to the meeting and brought up many technical points regarding the incinerator. Joe McCarthy and Valerie Jennings are helping CRAI work out the technical points that may be contravening the conditions set out in the planning permissions for this plant and it is expected that there will be a legal challenge, such as a Judicial Review, initiated against this incinerator very soon.

In the meantime, there will be a growing resistance to the project on the ground. Northside groups were also in attendance. This included the Clontarf Residents Association as well as the Stop the Poolbeg Incinerator Campaign, a concerned group based in Marino and Fairview that have formulated since the announcement that this industrial practice will now take place in the heart of Dublin Bay. There seems to be much concern and alarm by many Dublin residents who may have been taken by surprise that this incinerator is being built when so many were of the view that it had been terminated some time ago.

CRAI announced a march to the Dail on Wednesday 22nd October starting at 5pm in Ringsend. “It’s our first march on the Dail and it’s happening there as we believe that is where the power lies,” says Frances Corr. The march will convene in Ringsend at the church and set off for the Dail. It is hoped that this march will draw in all those who have genuine concerns from Dublin and beyond. Anyone who cannot make the walk can join at the Dail by 6pm.

Allentown, PA Kills Controversial Waste Incinerator Proposal

More than two years after the deal’s controversial approval, Allentown has terminated its contract with Delta Thermo Energy, ending speculation about whether the company would ever build a proposed waste-to-energy facility in the city.

In a letter dated Sept. 26, Allentown solicitor Jerry Snyder wrote that Bucks County-based Delta Thermo Energy had “consistently failed to advance” plans for a 48,000-square-foot facility on Kline’s Island that would have burned pulverized municipal waste and sewage sludge to generate electricity.

While Delta Thermo received approval for two permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection in May 2014, the company repeatedly failed to meet extended deadlines to acquire financing for the $49 million project, the letter states. It became clear that Delta Thermo could not meet a deadline of Jan. 1, 2016, to complete construction of the plant, according to the letter.

“Under the circumstances, the city has no reasonable alternative than to declare the agreement terminated,” Snyder wrote.

Asked Tuesday if he had a response to the letter, Robert Van Naarden, president of Delta Thermo, said he would have a formal statement in the next several days. He then said he did not know what a reporter was asking about.

“I don’t need to speak to you,” Van Naarden said.

Mayor Ed Pawlowski said he was disappointed that the contract had to be terminated, but it was a financing issue, not a problem with the company’s technology that killed the deal.

“At this point in time, we need to move on,” he said.

From the time it was first discussed in 2010, the proposed plant was a highly contentious issue for members of Allentown City Council and the public. The project was panned by local environmentalists, and the components used in the proposed waste-to-energy process have never been used in combination in the United States.

Developers initially failed to convince council members of the merits of the project. The plan failed after a 3-3 vote in February 2012. One month later, developers managed to sway Councilwoman Cynthia Mota, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the proposal during a raucous March 2012 council meeting attended by more than 400 people.

Since then, Delta Thermo has had difficulty finding private financing for the experimental plan, fueling rumors that it would never be built. The city’s agreement with the company paid for up to $500,000 in consulting fees to explore the project — to be reimbursed if the plant was built — but put the burden of acquiring financing on the company.

In December 2012, Van Naarden told The Morning Call that there was “zero concern” about not finding a financial backer. The city’s letter states otherwise.

Delta Thermo “consistently failed to satisfy the financing requirement” in the agreement, Snyder states in the letter. An initial financing deadline of Jan. 31, 2013, was not met, and multiple extensions were granted, including the most recent extension that expired April 1 of this year.

Shortly before that date, Delta Thermo requested an additional extension for financing, the letter states, but city officials asked for additional assurances that the project could be completed by Jan. 1, 2016. Letters were exchanged throughout the summer between the city and Delta Thermo. In August, city officials denied a request from Delta Thermo for access to the Kline’s Island site to begin preliminary work.

In September, Delta Thermo officials told the city that they were no longer working with their previous financial backer, and planned to have the financing underwritten by Stern Bros. A letter from Stern Bros. to the city stated its “confidence” in financing the project if the deadline were extended to June 1, 2016, according to Snyder’s letter.

Allentown’s garbage contract will be rebid in 2015, Pawlowski said. There was no way the plant was going to be operational in time for that process.

“We provided every opportunity for them to make the deal; there were a number of extensions,” Pawlowski said. “We got to a point where we couldn’t move any further. I have to have some sort of a commitment in place before I bid out this contract in 2015.”

Pawlowski said he is committed to the idea of finding an alternative place for Allentown’s trash. It may still be possible to find another company that could build a waste-to-energy facility in the city, he said.

“I see this as one of the most critical issues for us, and we’re going to work for it,” Pawlowski said. “We’ve set the groundwork and a platform for us to continue to look for technologies for solve our garbage problem.”

The termination of the contract means Allentown will have to eat the nearly $500,000 it spent on consultants to vet the financial and technological aspects of the waste-to-energy plan. Two consultants provided conflicting reports to city officials about the technology needed, one saying he was confident the plan would work, the other stating there were “a number of technological, performance, operating and environmental risks.”

Pawlowski said he didn’t view the money as wasted. The city now has a “template” that can work for a potential contract moving forward, he said.

“I would have been criticized highly if I didn’t bring in the best professionals,” Pawlowski said.

Council Vice President Ray O’Connell, who cast one of the two no votes on the proposal in 2012, said it became clear in recent months that the company was never going to be able to build the facility on time. The city should try to recoup consulting fees, he said.

“My bottom line, No. 1, is that I’m extremely happy that it’s not going to be built,” he said. “No. 2, let’s go after the $500,000 that was spent.”

In addition to public outcry, Delta Thermo’s controversial proposal prompted a failed ballot question in 2013. The question, which would have asked voters if they wanted real-time monitoring of new air-polluting facilities and live disclosure of emissions data, was thrown out by the Lehigh County Board of Elections for lacking DEP approval. The decision was upheld by Lehigh County Court, and an appeal was later dismissed by Commonwealth Court.

Dan Poresky, one of the activists who opposed the plan and helped organize the ballot question, said a group of activists was working on raising $25,000 to pay two attorneys to take further legal action challenging a previous court ruling and the DEP for issuing permits to Delta Thermo. Despite rumors that financing was not in place, organizers did not want to take a chance that the plant would be built, he said.

“The city has been saved both environmentally and financially from a major mistake,” Poresky said when asked about the termination. “This is not the way to handle trash and sewage sludge.”

Councilwoman Jeanette Eichenwald, who voted against the proposal, said Delta Thermo’s proposed technology was unproven and environmentally unsafe. It was not surprising that investors could not be found, she said.

City officials should treat the experience as a lesson, Eichenwald said, and take a closer look at how the city spends money on consultants.

“I’m gratified that this phase of Allentown city life has come to an end,” she said. “I feel vindicated.”

Going up in smoke

RUBBISH disposal is a lucrative business in urban areas, so much so that we have companies that are eager to propose incinerators to help us deal with the problem.

After all, Japan and Germany are big-time users of this technology, so it has to be good right?

In 2004, the Kuantan Municipal Council built an incinerator for research and development purpose.

That incinerator design consumed about 120 litres of diesel to incinerate only one tonne of waste, due to the high water content of local waste.

That is essentially the difference between Japan and us when it comes to incinerator technology — Japan does not waste good diesel to burn rubbish like we would.

In order to utilise this technology properly, we really need to separate our rubbish first. Otherwise, burning wet rubbish requires adding fuel to the waste and that means we are burning money to dispose of waste.

It should be no problem to force Malaysians to start separating their rubbish, as a provision has been included under the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Act for this purpose.

The clause just has not been activated by the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister.

However, rubbish separation is not just a responsibility for households but markets, restaurants, factories, shopping malls and office towers too.

Most businesses would not have the means to enforce rubbish separation, and there is that tricky issue about being held responsible for the mess if someone decides to dump unsorted rubbish into your wastebin.

This is a headache our Government will have no answer for because there are only so many things laws can deal with.

People’s attitudes need to be changed for rubbish separation to work, and we just do not have that sort of civic consciousness in our society.

So, we have a problem separating rubbish at source but our Government is still keen on incinerators. Will that be a problem?

Well, we already have several incinerators operating in Malaysia — located in Langkawi, Pangkor, Tioman, Labuan and Cameron Highlands, to name a few.

According to a Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) study on incinerators done in 2013, incinerators “had failed due to faulty design, improper operation, poor maintenance, high diesel usage and waste characteristics, due to high moisture content of 60% to 70%.”

The existing incinerator operators know this is a huge problem and seek to mitigate it by separating the rubbish as best they can.

For example, the Pangkor incinerator operator segregates moist food waste and dispose of it at an adjacent landfill but the process is not perfect as the waste is already mixed by the time it gets to the incinerator.

This in turn causes the burning to be imperfect and smog is released into the air.

When it comes to incinerators in general, of equal concern is the residual ash from the burning process with possible by-products of toxins depending on what sort of rubbish got burnt (we would not know since rubbish segregation does not happen here). Does our Government have a programme to store and contain such waste in a safe area?

The same UKM study actually notes the following: “research has shown that in communities where incinerator plants are built, its long-term effects come in the form of reproductive dysfunction, neurological damage and other health effects are known to occur at very low exposures to many of the metals, and other pollutants released by incineration facilities.”

Are the authorities and all the proponents for incinerators really sure this sort of technology is suitable for the Klang Valley given the problem we have of even separating and sorting our rubbish?

What do we do when the incinerator has reached its capacity and unable to cater to escalating waste due to population growth?

Do we build more incinerators or do we advocate a sustainable method of reducing waste through Zero Waste Management when the amount of waste is reduced significantly and substantially?

There are private companies that are eager to explore such methods of turning our waste into useful products if they are given the chance.

Example technology includes anaerobic digestion that is a simple, natural breakdown of organic matter, which produces biogas — a fuel that can be burned to produce both heat and electricity — and methane, a substance that can be used as vehicle fuel.

The process produces a by-product called digestate, which can be used as fertiliser as it is rich in nutrients.

Indeed a whole new industry can be spawned from such recycling initiatives, which can be equally lucrative, as the by-products are actually useful.

But such possibilities are being overlooked in favour of implementing incinerator technology where we will be using fuel to burn away the rubbish.

Whatever it is, so long as the process is not looked at in detail and the issues I have highlighted not resolved, our Government can expect to face resistance from each and every resident group where the project is proposed next.

> Mak Khuin Weng cannot afford to send our politicians overseas for ‘lawatan sambil belajar’ trips, so he hopes this article would suffice in terms of his advocacy for recycling.