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Rough ride for Lafarge’s retreaded tire-burning plan

The Lafarge plan to burn 30 per cent of the one million tires Nova Scotians scrap every year at its cement plant doesn't seem to fall in line with the province's past recycling practices.
Environment Minister Iain Rankin talks to reporters last week about the plan to burn tires at the Lafarge Brookfield cement plant. (INGRID BULMER / Local Xpress)

Beth McNeill and her extended family have been dealing tires in the Elmsdale area for more than half a century.

She’s always thought that the extra “tax” charged on tires at Don McNeill’s Service Centre was intended as a recycling fee.

“It’s a tire tax, that’s what we call it,” McNeill said. “It’s $4.50 for the average tire, bigger tires are more.

“It’s not like we’re trying to hide it from anyone; it’s very clear on every invoice that it is a tire tax. When people ask, to me it’s a tire tax for the handling of the (used) tires, for them picking them up and taking them to be recycled.”

McNeill has heard about Lafarge Brookfield’s proposed pilot project to burn in its cement kiln 30 per cent of the tires Nova Scotians discard every year.

“I know that may happen. That’s totally against what the whole purpose of recycling is for, I believe. I don’t know what the studies are saying or what the Environment people are saying.”

The Environment Department has said it’s OK and so has Divert Nova Scotia, the not-for-profit corporation that is responsible for diverting all of the province’s used tires away from the landfill.

“The ($4.50 per tire) fee is a levy to divert tires from landfills,” Environment Minister Iain Rankin said last week. “It’s Divert Nova Scotia that has that fee. That fee will continue to go to divert tires from landfills for tire-derived aggregate and tire-derived fuel.”

Divert Nova Scotia boasts on its website that it has for 20 years “worked to foster a culture of recycling” in the province.

Jeff MacCallum, the chief executive officer of Divert, does not think that burning tires is a departure from that claim.

He said in an email interview that the corporation’s primary goal of diverting waste from landfills is fulfilled whether the tires are burned in a kiln or sent along to Halifax C&D to be shredded and recycled into tire-derived aggregate.

“We are always looking for new and innovative approaches to waste diversion,” said MacCallum, chairman of the Canadian Association of Tire Recycling Agencies. “Both solutions — tire-derived fuel and tire-derived aggregate — demonstrate environmental and economical sustainability, and both have been proven operational in other jurisdictions, including those with some of the strictest emissions standards in the world. Diverse markets are crucial to a sustainable and stable used tire management program.”

With that in mind, Divert issued requests for proposals and accepted a bid from Lafarge in February to take 30 per cent of the province’s scrap tires. C&D, which shreds the tires and uses the aggregate for highway construction, retaining walls, drainage, foundation backfilling and other products, had been the recipient of nearly all used Nova Scotia tires in the past.

“Nova Scotia has always prided itself on being on the forefront of recycling and it’s proven that recycling cannot compete with burning,” said C&D vice-president Mike Chassie.

“Recycling tires costs more. You handle the material more, it doesn’t just go up in a flash, disappear in a 1,600-degree Celsius burner. Having said that, this is an industry that creates jobs and it creates a recycled resource material that can be used to replace traditional aggregates and save taxpayers and contractors money. It’s beneficial to everyone.”

MacCallum said Divert has to reach a balance between ecology and economy.

“Tire-derived fuel is energy recovery in the hierarchy of waste recycling, and diverts used tires from landfill,” he said. “Tire-derived aggregate ranks higher environmentally, but economically it has a greater cost. Divert Nova Scotia’s primary goal is to divert waste from landfill in a sustainable manner, balancing both the environment and the economy. TDF (tire-derived fuel) is used in several provinces as a market to diversify, and five provinces send all or part of their used tires to TDF.”

The economic reality of used tires is that Divert pays C&D $200 per tonne to take the tires. It will pay Lafarge $105 per tonne. Divert also pays to have the scrap tires picked up from McNeill’s and other service stations and delivered to C&D and Lafarge and any other private company that might have been successful in bidding for the tires. Divert holds in reserve the remainder of the approximate $450 per tonne it picks up from the $4.50 new tire disposal fee.

Robert Cumming, environment director for Lafarge Canada, said the tires will account for about 15 per cent of the kiln’s fuel and will replace some of the coal burned at the plant.

“They are getting paid money to burn a fuel whereas every other business in this province has to pay money for a fuel,” Chassie said. “We’re looking at a huge subsidy.”

The subsidy, paid for by the consumer through the $4.50 per tire fee when buying a new tire, will amount to about $315,000 a year for Lafarge.

That is in addition to the money the company will save from replacing some of the coal it has to purchase for kiln fuel.

“That kind of information is trade confidential,” Cumming said of the company’s potential coal savings. “Our competitors read the papers, too.”

Cumming said the company is spending “a couple of million dollars” to get the 52-year-old plant ready for the one-year pilot project that Lafarge is confident will turn into a permanent arrangement.

The upgrade costs lead some like Chassie and Mark Butler of the Ecology Action Centre to believe the permanent arrangement is a done deal.

“This is Phase 1, this is not a pilot,” Butler said of the pilot project that got a green light from Rankin two weeks ago.

Cumming and MacCallum wanted to debunk the idea that the pilot and its extension must have already been foregone conclusions when the company bid for tires over a five-year period without having any Environment Department approvals.

“Our bid was conditional on getting the permits and all the approvals,” Cumming said. “The contract that was issued was conditional on us getting the permits.”

MacCallum said if either of the two companies — Divert or C&D — are not able to honour their contract to accept used tires, Divert would review its options and seek to secure new markets.

“The contract to utilize used tires for fuel is contingent on Lafarge obtaining approvals from Nova Scotia Environment. The proponent has to meet Nova Scotia Environment’s standards and guidelines. We only operate with partners who meet or exceed all regulatory requirements.”

MacCallum said using two contractors instead of one makes good sense.

"From a program sustainability standpoint, a single market is not a good situation," he said. "Over the last seven years, the tire-derived aggregate market experienced fairly significant challenges at times. TDA is more costly than other alternatives — gravel, for example — and it is dependent on market acceptance. In the year prior to issuing the RFP, 90 per cent of TDA was used on projects owned by the proponent (C&D) to avoid stockpiling, as end markets were limited. We needed to diversify to reduce risk to the program. We were hoping for multiple viable options, and contracted with the two proponents who submitted proposals and met the criteria and standards of the RFP."

The Lafarge pilot project requires a temporary industrial approval from the Environment Department before it can go ahead, but despite assurances from Cumming of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, a 30 per cent reduction in carbon emissions for every tonne of coal replaced and stringent monitoring oversight, residents who live nearby remain unconvinced.

“We have a right to clean air,” said Lydia Sorflaten,who lives about a half-kilometre from the plant and who was part of the citizens group that successfully fought a similar Lafarge proposal 10 years ago.

“It is not right to put our health and environment at risk.”