Incineration and fuel conversion: city council eyes methods to reduce burden on city landfill

A garbage truck dumps a load at the Prince Albert landfill. – Screencap from City of Prince Albert Youtube page.

Efforts to make space in Prince Albert’s landfill were the major topics of discussion as the city’s elected officials met for their first council meeting of the fall.

Council approved requests for two reports aimed at saving landfill space. The first, brought forward by Deputy Mayor Don Cody, will have administration investigate the feasibility of incinerating garbage. The other, initiated by Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards, will have administration look into turning plastic waste into diesel fuel.

Deputy Mayor Don Cody said the city landfill is getting larger and more expensive, and the city has to do something to stop that growth.

“I think it’s an opportunity,” Cody said after the meeting. “We have to try and get away from building new (landfill) cells constantly. They’re getting higher in price all the time. The next one we build is going to be about $3.5-million.”

Incineration is already widely used in some countries, like the United Kingdom, which burns almost 40 per cent of all waste. Cities like London burn more than 50 per cent. The numbers are even higher elsewhere. In Switzerland, 54 per cent of waste gets incinerated. In Belgium, it’s 48 per cent.

Canada and the United States are at the lower end of the spectrum, coming in at 8 per cent and 16 per cent respectively.

While the move to start incinerating garbage in ‘waste-to-energy’ incinerators has been popular, it has not been without its critics. They argue it’s not affordable, bad for the environment, and actually discourages people from recycling and waste reduction.

Cody said he’s confident the toxins generated by an incinerator can be minimized, and he says it’s better than having a landfill, where the city is constantly spending money to keep those toxins from seeping into the river.

However, he also stressed that this is just a report, and nothing has been decided yet.

“I just thought it was necessary for us to just have a quick look here,” he explained. “We’re not saying this is going to happen today or tomorrow, but we just want to have it for consideration for our budget process.”

Cody added that he’s not sure how much the project would cost, which is one of the reasons he’s asking for an official report. He also said he’d like to see the city partner with as many other communities as possible.

“We certainly don’t want to do it alone if we can help it,” he explained. “We do need partners. There’s not doubt about that. Any time you can take on a partner to do anything at all, you’re way, way better off.”

The report will be ready for consideration at the 2020 budget meetings this November.

Edwards doesn’t want city left behind

Landfill concerns also convinced Coun. Blake Edwards to bring forward his proposal at Monday’s meeting.

His motion calls for city administrators to investigate purchasing the technology required to convert plastics into diesel fuel.

The idea is spreading across North America thanks to a Utah-based company called Renewlogy, which is trying to get operations going in Arizona and Nova Scotia.  The company claims it can help cities lower their landfill costs, while also decreasing their carbon footprint and generating revenue from the sale of diesel.

The website for their Nova Scotia project estimates they can divert roughly 6-million pounds of plastic annually with their technology. The project is due to start before the end of the year.

“I was waiting to see when we should push forward with this idea, just to see how they make out,” Edwards said after Monday’s meeting. “But, I don’t want to be left in the dust. I don’t want another city like Saskatoon to jump on it or anything like that. Let’s get ahead of the game, if it’s feasible.”

Edwards said it’s unlikely Canadians are going to stop using plastics, so the city has to find ways to reuse them. He’s concerned too few plastics are being recycled, and instead ending up in the city landfill.

“We all know that our landfill is expensive,” he said during the meeting. “(We’re) creating more pods … not every year, but it’s coming quicker and quicker that we have to make new pods. Anything that we can do that can save that is going to be a positive.”

Edwards added that he got the idea from local residents, who suggested he look at into the technology.

In 2016, Environment and Climate Change Canada issued a report that showed just nine per cent of plastics are recycled.

It costs the City of Prince Albert roughly $3.4-million per year to operate the landfill. That works out to about $300 per household.