Layton and Garbage
Getting rid of Toronto’s garbage will cost the city a whole lot more than it pays right now…unless it embraces a new, and quite imaginative proposal that’s being pushed by City Councillor Jack Layton.
No one knows exactly how much more the annual bill could be, because bidders are still sharpening their pencils, and no decisions have been made on the disposal method to be used. But my guess is that it would be at least $100 million more a year.
The beauty of what Layton is behind is the city could earn money that would offset some of its costs. And it could reduce greenhouse gases produced in Toronto by about 6 per cent — a big portion of the 20 per cent reduction below 1990 levels that the city is aiming for by 2005.
Layton is urging fellow councillors to support the use of methane digesters to dispose of biodegradable garbage. That would create six different sources of revenue for the city:
- The digesters would produce methane which the city could sell to Enwave District Energy Ltd. (the former Toronto District Heating Corp.).
- The digesters would also produce compost, as an end byproduct, and it could be sold to landscapers.
- Enwave could use the methane as fuel to generate electricity which it could sell in the downtown business area. As half-owner of Enwave, the city would share in the profits.
- Burning the methane to create electricity would produce heat, which Enwave could sell to downtown businesses through the cooler months of the year Enwave already distributes heat through the downtown core, so its infrastructure is already in place. Again the city would share in profits.
- During summers, Enwave could use the heat generated in producing electricity to create cooling for downtown buildings. The cooling would be produced by absorption chillers which convert heat to cooling in much the same way that a propane refrigerator does. The city, as half-owner of Enwave, would once again share in profits.
- If the city built digesters with sufficient capacity, it could accept garbage from industrial, commercial, and institutional groups and charge them tipping fees. The city currently does this at its Keele Valley landfill site, and uses the income to offset the cost of collecting and disposing of residential garbage.
Officials at Enwave are attracted to the proposal because it would give them a secure supply of methane which would be free of the price fluctuations that bedevil the oil and gas industry. (Conventional natural gas is about 95 per cent methane.)
Buyers of electricity, heating, and cooling from Enwave would be attracted because it would earn them environmental credits, which they could sell or trade. (Electricity from coal-burning generating stations would be displaced, and methane emissions from landfill sites would be eliminated. Methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.)
No one will want digesters on the central waterfront, where Enwave has its plant, since that would mean running trucks through the downtown area. The problem is Enwave will need methane at its plant, because that’s where it will need the heat it’ll get from generating electricity.
The solution will be to pipe the methane from digesters to the waterfront — and that can be done more easily than you’d think. There are decommissioned gas lines that can be used, and existing utility tunnels. And where these don’t exist, new lines can be laid. The cost shouldn’t exceed $25 million.
If the city puts its garbage in landfills owned by others, it will have to pay tipping fees — which it doesn’t do now because it owns the Keele Valley site. And it will have no revenue from industrial, commercial, and institutional groups to offset its costs. That translates into mammoth extra costs to the city.
What Layton is suggesting is hugely attractive. Any landfill arrangements the city makes to replace the Keele Valley site should be temporary, and aimed solely at tiding the city over until it can get methane digesters up and running.