Nova Scotia

From trash to treasure: this Nova Scotia company wants the world to rethink garbage

A company in Chester, N.S., takes waste from a community landfill and turns it into biomass pellets and diesel fuel.

Sustane Technologies says it can divert 90 per cent waste from municipal landfills

N.S. company turning trash into fuel

3 years ago
Duration 4:10
Sustane Technologies Inc. in Chester, N.S., takes waste from a community landfill and turns it into biomass pellets and diesel fuel.

A company in Chester, N.S., says it is turning trash into treasure and someday it hopes to mine community landfills around the world.

Sustane Technologies Inc. is housed in an unassuming warehouse — right next to the community's landfill. The two approaches to managing the growing problem of household waste could not be more stark.

The landfill grows and grows, and some of its contents will remain there intact for centuries. But Sustane Technologies claims it can transform that waste into biomass pellets and diesel fuel, and then recycle much of what is left over.

The company said it can divert 90 per cent of waste from landfills into better options.

The company's CEO, Peter Vinall, has 35 years of experience working in the pulp and paper industry. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

"We can reduce the cost of living with landfills and we can eliminate the environmental liability of landfills," said CEO Peter Vinall.

Vinall has 35 years of experience working in the pulp and paper industry. He partnered with Spanish inventor Javier De La Fuente and local businessman Robert Richardson to pioneer a more sustainable solution to solid waste management.

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The process

First, the facility shreds bags of household waste. Then it's put through 15 stages of separation and cleaning, including a series of magnets that remove all the metals that can be recycled. Finally, it uses a process called pyrolysis, which heats whatever is leftover to separate the material without burning it.

Sustane Technologies use various means, including steam, to separate the waste. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

"That's the difference. This is a process that has no combustion," said Vinall. "When you burn plastic, you get reactions that create pollutants that are bad. We make clean products with very limited impact on the environment and a tremendous benefit."

Pyrolysis is not new, but Sustane has a patented proprietary process for its combination of cleaning and cooking technology. That lets it turn the plastics back into diesel oil, which is then used to create all of the energy required to run the plant.

The biomass is turned into pellets that are sold as an industrial heat source. Vinall said the process takes about two-and-a-half hours.

"In Canada, somewhere between 30 and 50 per cent of everything that comes out of the household is recycled. We can take the other 50 to 70 per cent and turn it into valuable, clean products, with very limited impact on the environment and a tremendous benefit," said Vinall.

The debate

Earlier this year, Ottawa announced it will ban six single-use plastics by the end of 2021, including grocery checkout bags, straws, and plastic cutlery. Nova Scotia has already banned plastic bags.

Marla Macleod is with the Ecology Action Centre. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Marla Macleod works at Halifax's Ecology Action Centre. She said we need to reduce our use of plastic in the first place, rather than focus on finding ways to get rid of it after we use it.

"We need to start thinking more systematically about the problems we're creating as a society. So this (Sustane Technologies' facility) is a way to fix plastics we've already produced. It is a Band-Aid over that," she said.

"I would be worried that we would be creating infrastructure that perpetuates our consumption and our throwaway culture."

Vinall and the staff at Sustane Technologies agree with much of what she said. 

This facility in Chester is Sustane Technology's commercial prototype. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

"I have sympathy for that view, because I would argue that there is too much plastic in society. I think there's a role for regulation to improve that," he said.

"But you just can't turn that faucet off right away. We're going to turn it into a product that gets another life and has an opportunity to replace fossil fuels in the ground, because that's the right thing to do."

The demand

Some estimates put the amount of garbage produced by Canadians at 30 million tonnes a year, much of which ends up in methane-oozing landfills. 

Sustane Technologies argues that trash is a source of energy that is ripe for the taking. The company claims one of its facilities can process 70,000 tonnes of garbage a year, which would lead to an annual reduction in greenhouse gases equivalent to removing 40,000 cars from the roads.

The company is working to recycle diesel fuel, turning it back into plastic. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

In 2016, Sustane Technologies signed an agreement with the District of the Municipality of Chester to use their garbage supply. Its Chester plant, the only one in Nova Scotia, is running at about 70 per cent capacity. It has received funding from government agencies, including the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and employs a couple dozen people.

The company is developing similar projects in other parts of the world. It wants to build, own, and operate the facilities in exchange for the municipality's stream of garbage.

'We think there's a model in the future where we can go to communities and say, we'll take your waste. And we'll also start to take away that liability of the landfill by mining it and pulling it back out and making valuable products," Vinall said.


Tom Murphy is co-host of CBC Nova Scotia's supper hour news program and correspondent for The National. He also hosts Land and Sea and is brother to Bob.