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Diversified Service Meets Sustainable Solutions

A Green For Life (GFL) Environmental project to cap a gas-to-energy landfill is showcasing the combined power of diverse service areas and innovative waste management solutions.

The BioReactor landfill facility at Moose Creek, ON.

The pioneering project, led by the company’s Solid Waste Division and Infrastructure Group, saw four different GFL service areas—landfill disposal and diversion, organics processing and compost products, soil remediation, and civil infrastructure—pool their resources to install a cover, called a “cap”, on a landfill site at the company’s state-of-the-art BioReactor facility in Moose Creek, Ont. 

“For the first time, GFL has had the ability to combine all the operations that it has compiled over the last few years,” said Damian Rodriguez, GFL’s Vice-President of Soil Operations. “This project is essentially all being done in-house. We’re using our own recycled soil, compost, and our Civil Division to cap the landfill. All of this used to be done by outside parties.”

Providing complete start-to-finish solutions for the project without the need to hire external contractors, GFL’s “one-stop-shop” methodology has proven effective from both a cost and operations perspective—a benefit that can be passed on to clients.

“It’s completely changed the landscape of the way we do business, especially in the Greater Toronto Area,” said Rodriguez. “Now we’re able to put packages together to do the whole project, from the initial demolition and shoring, to the subsequent excavation, to the civil work that has to be done, and the treatment of the soil removed during the excavation – it’s all being done by GFL.”

In addition to smart use of resources, the project also highlights a number of innovative, environmentally-conscious waste management solutions at work. 

The project has used the company’s own organics processing and soil remediation facilities to recycle materials that would otherwise be destined for landfills. For waste that can’t be recycled, GFL has invested in the BioReactor, a specially-designed landfill that uses unique technology to turn gas into renewable energy.

Where traditional landfills pile waste high to contain as much as possible, the BioReactor is designed to decompose waste quickly and produce an optimal amount of landfill gas. Its shallow sections—called “cells”—allow waste to decompose quicker, and methane gas to be extracted faster and in greater volume. The gas is extracted via wells, processed and turned into fuel for four co-generation engines, which generate electricity and feed the Ontario Power grid.

The largest facility of its kind in Canada, the BioReactor offers an environmentally-responsible solution to landfill disposal, generating 4.5 megawatts of renewable energy per year—enough “green power” for 4,000 Ontario homes. The method also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by containing methane rather than releasing into the atmosphere. 

When a BioReactor cell is full—each one holds around 750 thousand tonnes of waste—it is ready to be capped. While traditional landfills are usually covered just with soil and clay, the cell’s cap is a metre and a half of soil topped by an impermeable rubber membrane liner, which keeps additional moisture out and methane in.

“The whole key is to have that waste decay as fast as possible,” said Brian King, Director at the Moose Creek facility. “We are installing wells and extracting gas six months after the cells are full and capped. Using this method, we are able to extract gas immediately as the waste decays, three times faster than a traditional landfill.” 

Brian King, Director of the Moose Creek facility.

With the rubber membrane liner in place, an additional soil cap is added on top to encourage grass to grow on the landfill site.

“Instead of using virgin topsoil, or stripping other lands for the topsoil, we’re reusing soil from our own bioremediation treatment facility,” explained Rodriguez. “We see soil as a resource – it’s not something that should be disregarded where we say “just send it to a landfill”. We have an opportunity to recycle soil, and send it back where it can be used by society.”

GFL’s bioremediation facilities collectively manage 2 million tonnes of soil per year. There, soil is screened for contaminant material such as fuel, concrete, wood and metal, and put through a natural bacteria treatment that removes the contaminants. Once treated, the soil is thoroughly tested and declared ready for reuse.

The soil is mixed with a high-quality compost that acts as a natural, moisture-retaining fertilizer, which will enhance grass growth on the soil cap when it is hydro-seeded. The compost is produced at GFL’s primary organic processing plant, housed alongside the BioReactor at Moose Creek. The facility processes up to 120,000 metric tonnes of organics annually, including residential and commercial food waste, leaf, and yard waste from across Ontario and Quebec. 

The fact that these materials end up on top of the landfill rather than in it is part of GFL’s mission to close the sustainability loop.  

“We’re taking things that were typically waste from other sources and turning them into viable products,” said King. “We’re really optimizing the capacities of GFL to make this a total in-house project, so we’re minimizing the use of external purchasing and resources.”  

With the exception of the soil testing, which is done by third parties, the seamless interaction of GFL’s service divisions have allowed the company to plan and execute every stage of the project. It also means that GFL can add landfill capping to the growing list of services it can offer clients. 

“What sets GFL apart from its competition is the integration of all of the different divisions that we have.” said Rodriguez. “When we go to a client now, it’s not a question of saying, “Can we manage your soil?”, we’re saying, “Can we manage your soil, excavation, demolition, shoring and foundations, your solid waste, your hazardous liquid industrial waste?”.

It’s not lip service,” said Rodriguez. “It’s actually what we’re doing.”

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