The Lafarge cement plant in Brookfield.
©Joey Smith/Truro Daily News
Residents, stakeholders and many citizens have reacted with disbelief and concern to the provincial government decision to allow Lafarge to burn tires for fuel at its Brookfield plant.
The approval by Nova Scotia Environment in June is provoking scrutiny of the roles of Divert NS, Lafarge and Dalhousie University in the decision.
Here’s why there shouldn’t be further approvals to burn tires for fuel.
1. Old facility: The Brookfield plant is old and more prone to failure. It lacks effective pollution-control equipment, i.e., a baghouse that would better protect residents from harmful emissions such as fine particulates.
2. Kiln upsets: The more waste streams injected into a cement kiln, the more unstable the combustion process. The plant might currently be burning up to five fuel sources. Lafarge is proposing to burn whole tires — more destabilizing and more likely to cause kiln upsets than shredded tires. During kiln upsets, more toxic emissions are released into the air.
3. Research: A life-cycle assessment would assess greenhouse gas emissions and other impacts of a particular activity. Based on responses provided to EAC, neither Nova Scotia Environment nor Divert NS has conducted a life-cycle assessment or literature review of LCAs comparing emissions of burning vs. recycling. Studies elsewhere are mixed, but at least one shows burning tires could increase provincial CO2 emissions.
4. Science: The government is keen to point out this decision is based on science, yet it has not provided any science to back up its decision other than the 2015 Dal engineering study.
5 . Dal study: The 2015 study produced by the Dalhousie engineering department is not peer-reviewed and contains no input from other relevant disciplines such as toxicology, sustainability, public health. It does not consider the age of the plant, absence of a baghouse, the number of kiln upsets and overall safety record, yet appears to have played a major role in the government’s decision.
6. Recycling hierarchy: There is a globally accepted waste diversion hierarchy with reduce at the top and fuel diversion at the bottom. Recycling is about fuel diversion.
7. Job creation: Recycling creates more jobs than fuel diversion. Lafarge says burning tires will create two to three long-term jobs. The recycling company employs 11 people in tire recycling.
8. Pilot project: Lafarge says this is a one-year pilot. But media reports say it is spending up to $2 million on plant retrofits. Such investments make it harder to reverse approvals.
9. Dirty petcoke: Lafarge burns petcoke, a residue of petroleum refining. It is the dirtiest, least climate-friendly fossil fuel and consequently cheap. If Lafarge is committed to reducing GHG emissions, it could start by removing petcoke as a fuel.
10. Other jurisdictions: Some jurisdictions burn tires, others don’t. Ontario, following an environmental tribunal ruling, banned tire-burning in favour of recycling. Public health officials testified about the risks burning tires would pose to residents.
11. Poor process: The decision to burn tires was set in motion by Divert NS, an unelected, unaccountable body, and approved through a project-level environmental assessment few Nova Scotians knew about.
12. Divert’s motivation: Divert NS’s apparent interest is cost reduction and diversifying its “customer base.” They shouldn’t be the primary drivers of our recycling program.
13. We pay Lafarge: The approval acts as a subsidy for Lafarge. Nova Scotians pay a recycling fee of $4.50 per tire. Lafarge will be paid $1.05 per tire. Many Nova Scotians are not happy subsidizing a process that creates fewer jobs than recycling and is environmentally contentious.
14. Solid waste strategy: In 2014, the province launched public consultations on a new solid waste strategy. It has not produced a new strategy and a decision on burning tires or other materials for energy should not be made until it does.
15. We rejected tire burning: In 2007, the government had a similar request from Lafarge and appointed a panel to assess burning vs. recycling, recognizing that burning tires would be a major policy shift. The panel recommended recycling. Today the market for recycled tires is more robust than in 2007 and the plant is 10 years older.
The government is trying to ram this decision through, post-election, in mid-summer. Instead, the environment minister and premier should have a conversation with Nova Scotians before issuing any further approvals to Lafarge.
Mark Butler is policy director at the Ecology Action Centre.