The Capital Regional District voted Wednesday to further explore the idea of burning biosolids — essentially, poop pellets — for energy as it tries to find a solution to ongoing concerns about waste disposal on the South Island.
The problem arose after Greater Victoria’s new Residuals Treatment Facility was built at Hartland Landfill, when it was discovered that biosolid pellets produced from waste were too big to use as fuel at Lafarge, a Richmond cement manufacturing plant, as originally planned.
Instead, waste was redirected to the landfill itself, sparking concern among environmental groups that the biosolids could spread as far as 10 kilometres from where they were buried.
Steps were taken to produce more acceptable biosolids for the cement plant, but there are still annual plant shutdowns for around four to six weeks per year where biosolids are still used as biocover, or topsoil, at the landfill.
“During the first year of operation, consistent delivery of Class A biosolids to Lafarge under the Beneficial Use Strategy has been challenging,” reads a CRD staff report presented at a board meeting Wednesday. “While staff have addressed a number of logistical issues pertaining to biosolids delivery, Lafarge has been unable to receive product consistently due to a number of unplanned shut-downs.”
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Groups like the Peninsula Biosolids Coalition have pressured the CRD to reserve that decision, claiming that biosolids contain toxic substances like heavy metals, prescription drugs and other contaminants that could potentially spread to the nearby Saanich Inlet.
The environmental groups have been lobbying the CRD to look at either burying the biosolids, or gasification — burning the pellets for energy — as a potential fallback.
The idea was brought up again at the CRD board meeting Wednesday, with councillors voting to take next steps for two pilot programs that will evaluate “thermal destruction technologies” to manage biosolids in the long-term.
Options for thermal processing include gasification as well as pyrolysis, “the decomposition of organic waste with low oxygen and a high temperature to create heat and combustible liquid.”
Three vendors have been asked to conduct studies that will help inform long-term biosolids management in early 2023, the CRD said. The public will also be asked to weigh in on the planning process ahead of the submission of a final plan to the province in 2024.
“We need to look at our waste as an energy source as opposed to something we bury. The CRD is committed to exploring diverse and innovative solutions for the beneficial use of both liquid and solid waste in our region,” said CRD Board Chair Colin Plant in a statement.
“The results from this important research will be invaluable in helping the Board make decisions about the long-term management of these resources in the future.”
In regards to the pilot, staff will be asked to return to the CRD’s Environmental Services Committee in June to report back on costs and resources related to a potential biosolids burning option.