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Turning Our Waste From Flushable to Fuel

Albany, NY, is one of a growing number of cities burning sewage leftovers for energy. Could Toronto follow suit?

We really are full of crap. And that’s a good thing. Because the matter you so effortlessly flush down the tubes each day can be an excellent source of renewable energy.

Since March 2013, North Wastewater Treatment Plant near Albany, New York, has been burning the sludge leftover from sewage treatment.

See, everything we city-dwellers flush down the toilet and wash down the sink or shower ends up at wastewater treatment plants. There, solid waste is filtered out of this foul tide, before the water is disinfected and sent out into nature.

In Albany, the remaining solid waste, called biosolids, are dried, then burned, and the resulting gas is used to generate power. The plant estimates it generates about 75 per cent of the energy it uses, saving taxpayers about $400,000 per year.

And Albany is not the only city interested in this. Chicago’s sewage treatment agency has pledged to produce all its own energy by 2023, using the same process. And we’ve gotten as far as burning biosolids in Toronto, but not as far as recovering energy from it.

Each year Toronto’s wastewater system produces about 195,000 tonnes of biosolids which is dealt with by the Ashbridges Bay plant and the Highland Creek plant in Scarborough. And incineration and energy production are already part of Toronto’s biosolids plan.

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