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Which is cheaper, dumping or recycling project waste?

Ian Harvey
Which is cheaper, dumping or recycling project waste?

If he could get his hands on more waste drywall, John Pahulje thinks he could more than double his company’s output of recycled gypsum.

Unfortunately, he says, too much of it bypasses New West Gypsum Recycling’s Oakville, Ont. plant and heads to landfills in both Ontario and the U.S.

New West is no neophyte in the gypsum recycling space. It boasts of recycling more than five million metric tonnes of wet and dry board, processing it into gypsum powder and shipping it to a nearby CertainTeed plant for remanufacturing into new board.

"There was legislation on this going way back to the previous government around 2000 which was supposed to set out ways of dealing with this kind of waste," says Pahulje, New West vice-president. "The reality is we’re competing against landfill sites and much of our feedstock goes south to the U.S."

It’s as much a battle of economics as it is expediency.

"The posted fee is $57.50 a tonne which let’s say is negotiable but we’re not a sorting plant," he says. "We accept drywall waste that’s been separated at other transfer stations. We also have a lot of scrappers supplying us and the guys doing clean up after drywall installation."

Drywall from demolition and renovation doesn’t all get recycled because much of it is thrown in with general waste, he notes.

"The problem is all the regulations which makes it very hard. For the most part we’d like government to stay out of the way and let us work."

Gerard Quenneville

Biomass-Recycle

"If it’s demolition, not deconstruction, we can’t take it unless it’s been cleaned of nails and contaminants," he says. "Gypsum isn’t really worth a whole lot of money so our business model is that we get our revenue from the tipping fee. Drywall is heavy and costs a lot of money to move it around. This isn’t electronic circuit boards."

Part of the problem is that there’s no incentive for contractors to separate out their waste. Other than metals, asphalt and concrete and masonry (which has a ready scrap market), wood, drywall and insulation is costly to separate and recycle.

Even in the relatively high value waste sector large players have entered the market in Ontario and then pulled out because they couldn’t secure a steady waste stream.

"Commodity prices dropped and they couldn’t compete with landfills either," says Pahulje.

New West operates across Canada, the U.S, and Europe and says other jurisdictions are helping level the playing field.

"B.C. has an all-out ban on gypsum in landfill," he says. "It would help here in Ontario."

Gerard Quenneville, president of Biomass-Recycle, shares Pahulje’s frustrations. His company has been operating in the Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City triangle since 2006, taking scrap woods and processing it into fuel pellets at their Quebec plant.

"We take everything from waste to renovation wood," he says. "If it’s already been processed we’ll pay for it, if not we charge."

Quenneville, a professional engineer by background, has designed and fabricated wood processing machines since mid-1990 to create wood pellets for energy, horticultural mulch, particle boards and compost. Biomass currently focused on mulch and wood pellets, he says, the latter for industrial application though they are interested in the consumer market.

"The problem is all the regulations which makes it very hard," he says. "For the most part we’d like government to stay out of the way and let us work."

Remanufacturing wood into particle board is difficult because it is not as cost competitive with virgin products.

"The process is really labour intensive," Quenneville explained. "If there’s one thing government could do to help is ban wood from landfill."

He says Biomass has succeeded in pulling logs buried for 60 years in landfill and reusing them.

"If you really want to drive the wood recycling industry, you also need to look at co-generation," he says.

Shortening the pipeline between processing and consumption with a value add result is a business case which will drive investors and interest, he insists.

"You can separate out the wood which can be reused but the wood you can’t use you should be able to burn," he says. "The waste industry runs on logic. You can’t cheat the market. Reality always comes back to bite you."

Insulation is another building product which is under recycled or remanufactured, says Jay Nordenstrom, executive director of the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association Canada (NAIMA Canada).

In Europe manufacturers have made strides to make new insulation products with 80 per cent recycled glass and in separating and sending interior and exterior insulation panels and ceiling tiles to plants to be ground up for reprocessing. The same progress is not happening in North America, especially Canada, Nordenstrom says.

Manufacturers are recycling materials like blast furnace slag and looking for ways to divert other materials from the waste stream but it hasn’t taken off yet.

"There are lots of hoops to jump through before we can get those products back into production and ensure performance," he says. "We need to meet quality assurance standards and it is being discussed on the U.S. side where they are much closer."

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