May 25, 2023
Every year, on a per capita basis, Canadians dispose of nearly 700 kilograms of waste, be it plastic, food, or other garbage (in Saskatchewan, that number was 744 kilograms per capita in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available).
While this may not seem like much, it all adds up to more than 30 million tonnes of waste per year, and the lion’s share of that waste ends up going to a landfill — or worse, littering our communities.
And with a growing population, both in Canada and globally, annual waste generation is expected to increase by up to 73 per cent by 2050. “The way it’s done now, it’s a linear economy,” said Randall Johnson, owner of Shellbrook’s TJ Disposals. “All your resources get manufactured, get consumed and used, and 91 per cent goes to waste. Less than 9 per cent gets recycled.”
All this waste is costly, and dealing with it can be a challenge. Indeed, according to the World Bank, effective waste management strategies can eat up between 20 and 50 per cent of municipal budgets. And when landfills inevitably need to be expanded or decommissioned,
the costs can be more than municipalities can bear without significant grant funding.
Apart from the dollars and cents of it, there are also the environmental concerns associated with landfills. ue to the increasing regionaliation of waste management in the province, Saskatchewan was home to 120 landfills as of 2022 a sharp decline from the approximately 500 municipal landfills the province had in 2015). “Lots of landfills are in places they shouldn’t be. You’re going to get lots of leaching through the soil,” Johnson said, noting that another major environmental concern is so-called “forever chemicals” like PFAS and PFOS.
“If these things get incinerated, all that stuff just goes into the atmosphere. It’s starting to show up big time all over the world, down into our water and food systems.”
But what if it didn’t have to be this way?
What if all municipal waste could be recycled?
That if unsightly landfills could be eliminated?
Up until a few months ago, Johnson would have thought this was impossible, like something straight out of a science fiction movie. But after learning of the Florida-based company Carbotura, and its Recyclotron technology, he believes it can be done.
“I want to get past all the skepticism,” Johnson said. “I’ve done quite a few presentations, and the biggest comment is, ‘This is too good to be true.’ But it is true.”
Carbotura’s Recyclotron is a modular unit that is scalable to handle anywhere from 25 tonnes to 10,000 tonnes of waste per day. The units use industrial multiphase microwave reactors, with both thermal and non-thermal microwave plasma reactors, to disintegrate and convert waste into reusable materials, including fuels, electricity, minerals like graphite and graphene, and much more.
Aside from live munitions and radioactive waste, the Recyclotron can process just about everything, from plastics, to tires, to wind turbine blades and solar panels, to hazardous waste, without the need for materials to be sorted or combusted. Additionally, Recyclotron systems are self-powered by gas turbine generators and equipped with a microwave plasma reactor to process exhaust gasses, creating a “Zero-emissions, Zero-waste” process.
“Everything goes back to a manufacturer already partially processed and can be reused. Everything is 100 per cent recyclable,” Johnson said. “We can take our garbage and make fuel out of it, instead of pumping any more out of the ground. Plus, all the energy we’ve been burying for the last 100 years in our landfills can all be mined and reused.”
Recyclotron units require minimal infrastructure, with a typical “entry level” facility capable of processing 500 tonnes per day requiring about 30,000 square feet of floor space and 25 feet of overhead clearance, as well as storage space for incoming waste and outgoing materials. But because of Saskatchewan’s large area and sparse population, Carbotura
is willing to scale down units to 25 tonnes per day.
What’s more, Johnson says Carbotura supplies all the equipment and maintenance for Recyclotrons, and asks only for a 30-year contract guaranteeing a certain capacity of waste from its clients.
Like traditional garbage and recycling services charge a tipping fee, there’s also a cost of $65-$100 per tonne of waste. However, all waste is baled and tracked to its originator via QR code, allowing these costs to be rebated back to clients through carbon credits and material sales.
With Carbotura having finalied its funding at the end of 2022, the focus for this year will be on making believers out of the rest of the world, and beginning deployment. Johnson will play a key role in this by giving presentations to potential clients across western Canada, including municipalities in the area.
In Saskatchewan, to manage the waste produced daily and eliminate the province’s existing landfills over time, Johnson says the investment on Carbotura’s part will be in the neighbourhood of $2.3 billion. This investment, Johnson adds, will create economic spin-offs for the province, as much of the equipment can be manufactured in Saskatchewan, and feeders and handlers will be required to work at Recyclotron facilities (which will most likely be
setup at existing landfills to boost efficiency. It will also mean the elimination of landfill fees, which Johnson says account for about half of his business costs.
Of course, none of this can happen overnight. Once contracts are finalied, it will take between nine and 18 months for systems to get up and running. And based on his preliminary calculations, it will take at least 70 years to completely clean up the province’s existing landfills.
Despite the long road ahead, Johnson is excited for what’s to come.
“We’re here to untrash the planet,” he said.