Canada’s York Region’s great hope to stop sending household trash to Michigan, United States in the next few years is a two-inch long, hard brown, mottled cylinder. That’s what our garbage looks like when drained of all moisture, shredded, mixed with "high heating value" material so it will burn and then pulverized into a pellet cement factories can use as fuel. It’s a plan untested in Canada. But Borealis, an investment arm of a municipal employees’ pension fund, has Vaughan eager to host a pellet factory and York Region ready to sign a contract next June -- provided Ontario’s Environment Ministry approves both the factory and the new "alternative fuel". Environmentalists, however, say that’s a dangerous move.
Making pellets from waste will help York’s municipalities reach their 60-per-cent diversion targets and reduce coal use in cement factories, said Betty Disero of MCW Light Heat Cool Ltd., consultants for Borealis. Borealis, through a company called Dongara Developments, originally wanted to go a step further by heating pellets at high temperatures in a process called gasification, drawing out useful gases and leaving a glassy material behind. MCW, however, has since changed its approach, shelving gasification for the short term and proposing a pellet plant in York to handle around 110,000t, far less than the amount Ms Disero says a gasification plant needs to be profitable -- provided it could secure ministry approvals. "We’re trying to get the GTA municipalities to make pellets as a first step and look down the road as technology changes again to make fuel from garbage," she said.
Garbage arriving at the plant would be sorted to remove recyclables, stones, rubble and hazardous waste. In 18 hours, the pellets could be shipped out to cement factories that burn 600,000 tonnes of coal a year in Ontario, Ms Disero said, adding leftover ash from pellets would be used in cement. The pellets burn cleaner than coal, Ms Disero said, according to MCW’s physical comparison of "typical coal" and a "typical pellet". Pellets appear to have lower levels of lead, sulphur, cadmium and other harmful materials than coal, she said.
But Gord Perks, spokesperson for the Toronto Environmental Alliance, said there’s no reliable data to support MCW’s "cleaner burning" claim and argues burning trash pellets will create highly toxic dioxins and furans. MCW is merely "the latest in a long line of guys trying to promote pelletization", which is incineration by another name, he said. Each place where pellets are burned would be a waste disposal site, he added. "Our lungs become the landfill."
The four companies who own Ontario’s six cement factories showed interest when MCW brought the concept to them last year, but they wanted to know if the fuel had long-term potential, said Teresa Sarkesian, business development director of the Cement Association of Canada. Companies deciding to use the pellets wouldn’t stop burning coal altogether but all are considering alternatives to mix with coal because they wish to produce less greenhouse gas and other pollutants, Ms Sarkesian said.
An MCW diagram shows cement plants in Bath and Woodstock, ON receiving 100 tonnes of pellets a day from a York pellet factory. Both plants are owned by Lafarge Canada, which has applied to burn used oil and tires, cellulose (paper and wood), bone meal and waste plastics at its Bath plant.