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Cambridge Bay in talks for garbage-burning incinerator

Cambridge Bay council has a burning desire to reduce the waste piling up at the community's landfill, and the answer might lie in adopting an incineration system used in Alaska.

Cambridge Bay Mayor Pamela Gross stands at the base of the signpost in Utqiagvik, Alaska, the northernmost city in the United States. Gross and senior administrative officer Marla Limousin visited Utqiagvik to learn more about the municipality's incineration system. photo courtesy of Marla Limousin

Mayor Pamela Gross said her hamlet is seeking an estimated cost to purchase an incinerator and to install a heat recovery system along with it. Discussions are underway with an American firm to design a solution for Cambridge Bay, and the cost is not yet known, she said.

"There's waste no matter where you go in this world and we'd like to curb our waste as it is right now," said Gross, who travelled to the Alaskan city of Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow, to learn more about the city's use of an incinerator in February. "We'd like to use that system here... I think anything would be better than a regular burn because chemicals are going all over the place when you're burning them in the open. This way it's contained and the energy from the burn can eventually go into a heat-recovery system."

In Utqiagvik, the city burns its garbage three times a week. The monthly average of 160 tons of solid waste is reduced to 56 tones of ash, lowering landfill volume by 65 per cent, according to Scott Danner, the city's director of public works. Batteries, electronics and products with oil or lead are not permitted to be burned, however.

The incinerator facility at Utqiagvik, Alaska, reduces landfill volume by 65 per cent, according to the city. Cambridge Bay's hamlet council is examining that model and may adopt it or something similar. photo courtesy of Marla Limousin

In an effort to keep smoke and odours from bothering the 4,400 residents, an 18-metre stack rises from the two incinerators, which are located outside of the city. As such, the incinerators are only designed to provide heat to the incineration facility itself, not any other buildings in the community.

Gross, who learned of the model in Utqiagvik through Polar Knowledge staff at the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, wants to take that a step further in Cambridge Bay.

"We'd like to burn the garbage and feed into something – that could be back into the (power) grid or the greenhouse or something of that nature," she said.

Utqiagvik's incineration system, in place since 1996, requires monthly and annual maintenance and the process of manually sorting trash to ensure prohibited products are kept out is "labour intensive," Danner acknowledged, but the payoff is a longer-lasting landfill.

Extending the life of the dump in Cambridge Bay is needed, Gross said.

"We're running out of area in our community. We're having to think about the future and trying to work on the pollution of plastics or things blowing from the dump into our ocean or lagoon... we have such strong winds sometimes," she said.

If the costs associated with the incineration and heat recovery systems are within an acceptable range, it wouldn't begin to roll out until 2020 at the earliest because it will be too late to get all of the equipment on the 2019 sealift, said Gross.

"It's a bit of a longer-term project," she said.

The project would have to meet design requirements of territorial and federal environmental regulators and the incinerator is equipped with pollution control devices, senior administrative officer Marla Limousin added.