Environmental groups are deeply concerned about plans for a significant expansion of a private waste incinerator just west of Canada’s most populated city. The facility's owner, Emerald Energy From Waste, has revealed its intention to more than quadruple its capacity to incinerate garbage from households and businesses.
The existing facility in Brampton, 40 kilometres west of Toronto, was established in 1992 and currently processes up to 500 tonnes of waste daily. The incinerator generates a continuous production of 10 megawatts (MW) of energy. In contrast, the proposed redevelopment aims to process up to 2,500 tonnes of waste daily and produce a substantial increase in energy output of up to 100 MW.
According to Environmental Defence, under Ontario regulations, projects of this nature no longer require a full environmental assessment. Instead, Emerald Energy From Waste conducts its own assessment and consultations and submits its documentation for approval without external oversight. This process is raising worries about potential risks to the environment and public health, the group said.
“Waste incinerators spew out toxic air pollution,” said Ashley Wallis, associate director at Environmental Defence, in a statement shared with Canada’s National Observer. “Even today, the existing Emerald incinerator is one of the biggest industrial sources of nitrogen dioxide emissions in Brampton, a community already overburdened with air pollution from industrial and transportation emissions. Trucking in over four times more garbage to burn will certainly not make things better.”
The group is urging a full individual environmental assessment of Emerald's proposal, providing the public with the opportunity to review plans and request additional information on the project's operations and community impacts.
“Incinerators are the most expensive and toxic way to deal with waste,” said Emily Alfred, senior waste campaigner at the Toronto Environmental Alliance. “They are dirty and greedy, constantly needing a source of waste for years on end to cover their massive cost. This works against efforts to reduce waste.”
Alfred said there are better waste solutions that cost less, create jobs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “More than half of the typical bag of garbage in Ontario is recyclable or compostable material. Burning this material is terrible for the environment and for the health of local residents,” she added.
In 2020, the Ontario government enacted a rule that amends the Environmental Assessment Act, granting local municipal councils authority to approve or reject new landfills located up to 3.5 kilometres outside their municipal boundaries. But these rules only apply to new landfills and not expansions.
In response, Emerald Energy From Waste stated it is thoroughly assessing the potential impact of the proposal on air emissions. It says it is using sophisticated computer models approved by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks to ensure compliance with provincial air quality standards.
The group is urging a full individual environmental assessment of Emerald's proposal, providing the public with the opportunity to review plans and request additional information on the project's operations and community impacts. #WasteIncinerator
The company says it is conducting a human health impact assessment in and around the site to evaluate broader effects beyond emissions. Results of these studies are expected to be presented at a fourth open house scheduled for Dec. 11.
“We shared the scope for all our studies at the beginning of the EA process with both the experts and the public and all the studies are being evaluated by government experts trained to review these types of studies,” said Joseph P. Lyng, general manager at Emerald Energy From Waste. “We are also sharing the results of the studies with the public and would be pleased to discuss any questions that arise from either the government experts or the community.”
Lyng argued Emerald’s incineration process handles materials that are not recyclable and are destined for landfill disposal. The proposed expansion is a modern, efficient way to handle waste in urban areas and return value to the community in the form of energy, Lyng added.
The company acknowledges the site emits nitrogen dioxides (NOx), a common occurrence with any combustion technology. However, it asserts these emissions fully comply with the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks’ emission standards. Therefore, while the facility does emit NOx, the company maintains it does not have a negative impact on the community's air quality, said Lyng.
Despite these assurances, environmental groups remain skeptical, calling for greater transparency through a full individual environmental assessment.
“People in Brampton have the right to know about a harmful, polluting expansion project happening in their own backyards,” said Wallis. “It used to be automatic for a proposal like this to have a full environmental assessment. There is no ethical reason not to do one this time.”
Last week, in a bid to strengthen environmental protections, the Ontario government introduced new regulatory measures under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) targeting landfill owners who breach environmental laws.
According to Ontario’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, changes to the EPA will empower enforcement officials to impose significant fines on offenders without taking them to court. The penalties will vary, with less severe violations incurring a daily fine of $1,000, escalating to $100,000 per day for the most serious infractions.
Waste management is a critical issue, with some cities in Ontario struggling to find alternative ways to dispose of garbage as landfills are expected to reach capacity in the coming decade. In June, Toronto city council voted to delay — though not dismiss — the possibility of burning trash and sending it to incinerator facilities that generate energy from waste. The decision was put off until further studies on the environmental standards of these facilities are done.
The city disposes of approximately 450,000 tonnes of garbage per year at Green Lane Landfill in Southwold, Ont., roughly 200 kilometres west of the city. Based on that amount of waste, Green Lane is expected to reach capacity by 2034-35.
Canada’s National Observer reached out to both Ontario's Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks and the City of Brampton for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.
This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.