December 22, 2015 Blog

Recently the City of Montreal made international headlines when it announced controversial plans to dump eight billion litres of untreated sewage sludge into the St. Lawrence River so that it could repair a 30km long sewer pipe.

Objections to this decision were largely focused on the environmental and health impacts, which the City maintained would be “negligible.” While these are important concerns, many lost sight of a potentially more important story that goes to the heart of sustainability:

  • A potentially valuable resource was simply going to waste.

Unfortunately this isn’t an isolated case. Many major Canadian Cities continue to dump their raw sewage into waterways. Picturesque Victoria is a case in point. 129 million litres of untreated waste is piped directly into the marine waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca every day. The Pacific Ocean serves as the primary, active, agent for washing the material away. The City maintains that this method of disposing of liquid waste is highly effective, both economically and environmentally. Similarly, on the other side of the country, The City of Corner Brook spews about 20 million litres of wastewater into the Humber Arm.

Of course Canadian Cities aren’t the only ones in North America with room for improvement. During heavy rainfall events in New York City, raw sewage bypasses overloaded treatment plants. It’s estimated that “The City that never sleeps” dumps about 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted storm water directly into the New York Harbor every year. According to the New York Times, this is not a unique violation. “About 800 American cities use the same system”.

A report released by the Environment Integrity Project in December 2015 also claimed that the City of Baltimore dumped over 3350 million gallons of raw sewage into the Jones Falls waterway in 119 incidents over the last five years.

The fact is all of this wastewater has the potential to be an incredibly valuable resource; and there’s lots of it. Canadians alone generate a staggering three trillion litres of sewage annually. Exactly how much is that? A large tanker truck can carry about 30,000 litres. You would need roughly 300,000,000 tankers to transport that load.

What can we do with that material?

Properly treated it can be used to recover water and valuable nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Sending this rich organic material into our waterways or a landfill represents a huge lost opportunity to embrace advanced and sustainable, environmental practices.

It doesn’t end with organic material recovery. Wastewater can also be used to produce energy. Waste Water Energy Recovery is the process by which heat energy is transferred from or to waste water for heating or cooling applications. A recent study conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources in 2012 concluded that if 5 degrees Fahrenheit were removed from waste water flowing through the sewer pipes beneath the streets in New York City over the course of 1 year, $90,000,000 worth of energy could be recovered.

The good news is that we are seeing an increasing number of municipalities across Canada and around the World that are now looking at “waste” in a completely different light. In Ontario alone, dozens of municipalities including the City of Guelph, Town of St. Mary’s, Township of Wellington, City of Peterborough – to name a few –are utilizing award-winning, thermal hydrolysis technology from University of Waterloo spin-off, Lystek International Inc. to transform biosolids and organics into concentrated, nutrient-rich biofertilizers and/or biogas for “green energy”. A first major project is also currently under construction to do so in California as well.

These communities have embraced real, long-term sustainability in a significant way. More than a “feel good” concept or idealistic goal, they see sustainability as a responsibility that needs action now. A key concept embraced by these environmental leaders and Lystek is that “waste” should be viewed as an opportunity, not a problem; and something we all need to embrace for the long-term good of our planet.

We need to see “waste” as part of a long-term, sustainable cycle. Ultimately, growers, small communities and big cities alike are all dependent on the same thing; healthy soil. In this cycle of sustainability, Lystek acts as a bridge by connecting communities with growers. Rather than letting nutrient rich, organic material that has real long-term value go to waste, Lystek is providing safe, cost-effective resource recovery solutions rooted in sound science and research.

The Lystek system uses a proprietary, low cost, thermal hydrolysis process to increase biogas production for green energy, reduce overall volumes while eliminating pathogens and producing a stable, high-solid, low viscosity, dust-free biofertilizer product that is federally registered in Canada by the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) and recognized as Class A EQ by the US EPA. Therefore, the marketplace is willing to purchase it. This also means it can be a new source of revenue for entrepreneurial, environmentally concerned municipalities and other generators of organic “waste”. Another major benefit is that this same material can also be used as a safer, more cost effective carbon source in Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) systems.

The bottom line is this; forward looking generators interested in achieving real sustainability are seeing wastewater as an extremely valuable resource. Properly treated, it can be used to recover water, energy, and valuable nutrients. By adopting a zero waste policy, and embracing advanced solutions like Lystek, these materials can be safely returned to the soil, converted into “green” energy or utilized as an alternative carbon source.

The Lystek solution is one of the tools that helped the City of Toronto achieve a 99 percent diversion rate with its biosolids management program in 2014 – and it is one way we can all begin moving towards long term sustainability, today.