Peace Regional Waste Management Company general manager Art Sawatzky stands in front of the machine that helps convert mixed waste into useable energy. This project currently converts 2.5 tonnes of mixed waste in an eight-hour day into useable energy. Emily Plihal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Peace Regional Waste Management Company is leading the region in renewable energy with the initiation of a pilot project that will divert waste from the landfill by converting it into energy.

The company is hoping to utilize up to 95 per cent of the waste from the landfill in a waste to energy system that will recover energy from items thrown away, converting the waste into heat and electricity.

PRWMC general manager Art Sawatzky says the PRWMC Waste to Energy project will leave very little solid waste in the landfill at the end of the process.

“Up to 92 per cent of the waste our region produces is suitable for W2E processing,” he says.

“In contrast to our existing 30 per cent landfill diversion target, we anticipate that we could realistically meet a 95 per cent diversion target and generate sustainable energy by making W2E part of our waste management system.”

Sawatzky says the current landfill and transfer stations were owned or leased by Northern Sunrise County (NSC) and the Eco Centre land was owned by the Town of Peace River and the Eco Centre building was owned by NSC. He says when the Membership Agreement lapsed in Nov. 2012, all East Peace Regional Landfill Authority assets were turned over to the PRWMC. Company shares are held by the three member municipalities and governed by a board of directors from the three communities.

PRWMC serves an area of 21, 875 square km with a population of 8,422 residents. He explains funding for the company is acquired through tipping fees, service sales, and sales of recyclable materials.

He adds the project could have a very large and positive impact on the region.

“The success of this project in our community represents a reduction of over 16,000 tons of methane gas annually,” he explains.

“This project speaks of the leadership in our region as we look to reduce the harmful impacts of landfill pollution while cleanly converting this overlooked source of energy into something sustainable. This good news story is one of leadership, innovation, environmental stewardship, and renewable energy.”

Sawatzky explains the project was initially considered because the board of directors are a group of seven forward thinking individuals who encouraged him to look for better ways to manage waste from the communities. He explains PRWMC’s visions statement is, ‘We are a leader in the delivery of environmentally responsible waste management programs and services’, and that is exactly what the board expects of its team.

“They have proven that they are serious about our vision by allowing us to build this pilot project and prove that we can convert energy from waste from our communities,” says Sawatzky.

“We are evaluating the benefits of adding a micro gasification W2E process to our waste management system. The pilot will be used to ensure that the process works as expected in the context of our region and will be expanded to a full facility with renewable power generation if the pilot is deemed to be successful. It has proven to be successful and now we are moving towards the next step, which will be to expand to process all the waste that we receive.”

The PRWMC Waste to Energy Pilot Program was started in December 2021, with a pilot project cost of $1.8 million. The program currently processes 2.5 tonnes of mixed waste in an eight-hour day. Sawatzky explains during the winter months, the facility creates enough heat for a three 500 square foot building.

The project is located at the East Peace Regional Landfill, approximately 15 minutes southeast of Peace River.

“According to Statistics Canada, residential waste per capita in Alberta continues to grow despite a significant push to reduce, reuse and recycle,” he explains.

“The question of what to do with our waste has become a pressing problem for communities around the world. Landfills bury the problem, but they don’t solve the problem.”

Sawatzky says that each landfill cell costs about $1 million to build, and when that waste decomposes it creates methane gas with 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

“Landfills are unsustainable, both environmentally and economically,” he says. “We need a better way of dealing with our waste.”

He says the benefits to residents, beyond the reduction in environmental impact, is helping to keep the tipping fees at the landfill reasonable, creating employment for residents, and showcasing the innovative and environmental consciousness of the community’s leaders.

He adds perhaps most notably that this project could divert and process all the waste, essentially abolishing the need for landfills.

PRWMC hopes to not only continue its current project, but they are currently applying for funds to help it grow. The micro gasification system is expandable, and Sawatzky says that if other communities are interested the PRWMC Board would be happy to discuss options with them.

He brings up the ever popular three “Rs” taught to school aged children to encourage sustainability, ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’, but he says there is a fourth ‘R’ that has the potential to be the biggest. He says that’s Recovery.

“There is an incredible amount of energy in the material we discard and this project allows us to recover that energy and make it useful to us in the form of electricity and heat,” he explains.

“You might remember the laws of thermodynamics from high school science. The first law of thermodynamics, or the law of conservation of energy, states that energy can’t be created or destroyed, it can only be converted to another form.”

Sawatzky explains that is what the waste to energy project is doing, the project is releasing and harnessing energy trapped in waste by converting it to gas, heat, and power.

“The laws of thermodynamics are the foundation of many trailblazing scientists’ work, Albert Einstein is just one example,” he says.

“Recovering energy from waste is just the latest world-changing application of these natural principles.”

He explains that PRWMC is in a unique position with a corporate structure that allows allocation of funds to research and development. The board, he explains, is innovative and forward-thinking individuals who encourage Sawatzky and his team to investigate alternatives to waste management strategies.

He adds that the majority of municipalities operate landfills at a deficit, making it impossible to take on a project like the Waste to Energy Pilot Project.

“Waste Management in Alberta is a community of its own with many great networking opportunities,” Sawatzky says.

“They know of this project, and they are watching with great interest. They know the benefits and if it works here it should work for them.”

Sawatzky is hopefully when colleagues in other regions see the project’s success, they will embrace the technology and build waste to energy facilities across the province, country, and elsewhere.

“Burying waste that contains energy is no longer the best option,” he explains. “It would be pretty cool to say it all started here, wouldn’t it?”

He says PRWMC is determined to do this project in the most environmentally responsible way, which is a large reason they started with a pilot project instead of going ahead with a full operation in the offset.

“The pilot allowed us to do many tests and observations on a smaller scale to prove that we are doing the right thing,” he says.

“For example, we spent a great deal of money on emissions testing. Alberta has no emission limits or criteria of their own because this is new here, but we are far below the limits of British Columbia, California, and Europe.”

Sawatzky says interested individuals can follow along with the pilot project at the PRWMC website at www.prwmc .ca/pilot.

Emily Plihal Local Journalism Initiative Reporter – South Peace News – southpeacenews.com

By Emily Plihal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter