The Comox Valley’s new landfill is located near Cumberland. File photo by Scott Strasser.

Debate continues on Waste-to-Energy technology in Comox Valley, Campbell River

The decision whether or not to implement Waste-to-Energy technologies in the Comox Valley and Strathcona regional districts took a tentative step forward last week.

The Comox Strathcona Waste Management service’s Waste-to-Energy select committee passed several motions at its April 5 meeting in Courtenay.

Waste-to-Energy (WTE) is the process of converting solid waste into energy sources, including electricity, fuel, or heat. Also referred to as “advanced recycling,” WTE technology aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with large-scale waste management.

Read More: CVRD considers Waste-to-Energy technology

The WTE select committee was struck last year to investigate the feasibility of implementing such solutions into the Comox Strathcona Waste Management (CSWM) service.

After two hours of presentations, discussion, and questions on Thursday, the committee passed a series of motions that will go to the next CSWM board meeting on April 19.

The motions included inviting representatives from two WTE companies being considered — Sustane Technologies and Netherlands-based Waste Treatment Technologies — to present at a future board meeting.

The committee also passed a motion to invite Ministry of Environment reps to clarify provincial regulations and definitions related to WTE and waste management. (The ministry had notified the CSWM to focus on improving its current diversion programs before pursuing WTE solutions. The province wants the CSWM to divert 70 per cent of waste from landfills. The CSWM currently diverts about 48 per cent).

Read More: Plenty more waste in Comox Valley and Campbell River landfills could be diverted – audit

Another motion passed by the committee included having CSWM staff monitor Sustane Technologies’ impending WTE operation in Nova Scotia for up to one year. While the system is not yet in operation on the East Coast, the company claims it can convert garbage into biofuel and has done so in Spain for eight years.

The WTE issue has divided elected representatives and regional district staff.

Read More: Waste-to-Energy select committee rejects staff recommendation

Last November, the select committee rejected a staff recommendation to put WTE on hold and re-visit the issue in 2022, when the CSWM’s 10-year Solid Waste Management Plan is up for review. Consultants hired by the CSWM presented a report that found implementing WTE would be substantially more expensive than the status quo of sending waste to the new engineered landfill near Cumberland.

The Comox Valley Waste Management Centre was only built last year and started receiving waste in August. The Solid Waste Management Plan would have to be amended and updated to accommodate new WTE technologies.

Read More: New engineered landfill open for business

But CVRD Area B director Rod Nichol — the select committee chair and an outspoken proponent of WTE — disagreed that the issue should be put aside. At the April 5 meeting, Nichol talked about the high cost of continuing to send waste to the landfill.

WTE select committee chair Rod Nichol.

“[The landfill’s] lifespan is six or seven years. It cost us $10 million to dig that,” he said. “And I’m not talking what it will cost to close it. We’re going to use it up in six or seven years. That’s costing us $139,000 per month.”

Nichol added that if successful, WTE technology would extend the landfill’s lifespan and provide a greener way to handle solid waste.

“If we wait until 2023 when Campbell River’s landfill closes, by then we’re digging another hole, and we’re going to be putting twice the amount of trash into that hole,” he said. “So it’s not $140,000 a month — it’s going to be $280,000 per month to continue doing what we’re doing.”

Another outspoken committee member who criticized the status quo was Campbell River director Charlie Cornfield, who called landfills “17th-century thinking.”

Campbell River director Charlie Cornfield

“I just think there’s a better way to do things,” said Cornfield.

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