Garbage to Burn


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Image by: Peter Holst
Incinerating our solid 
waste to produce electricity would seem to be a 
win-win: solve the 
landfill crisis while 
producing energy at the same time. However, 
even proponents admit 
it’s not that simple.

A pink, foamy kids’ chair, the kind of cheap prize won at a carnival ball-toss, stands out in the sea of plastic, cardboard and other unidentifiable refuse in the cavernous garbage pit at the Burnaby incinerator.

A giant grappler crane reaches down, scoops up a metal mittful of the stuff and drops it in a chute that leads to one of three furnaces, where 1,150-degree-Celsius heat reduces it to ash, gas and incombustible metal rubble.

The crane operator goes for another load, then another. Employees work in two-hour shifts around the clock at this station, feeding three furnaces and keeping the middle of the pit clear so trucks can keep tipping. The plant runs at capacity 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Ken Carrusca, an engineer in Metro Vancouver’s policy and planning department, looks out on the mountain of trash below. “Once it gets here, this is fuel,” he says. “And this is a power plant.” According to Metro Vancouver, the Burnaby facility incinerates 280,000 tonnes of waste a year, or just over 20 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s total, and produces 16.7 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 16,700 homes.

The regional government’s draft management plan indicates a major shift in waste management planning, shifting from reliance on landfilling to incineration, and Covanta, a New Jersey-based company with stakes in B.C., is well positioned to take advantage of expansion opportunities.


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