Why We Oppose Incineration


Garbage disposal by incineration is just a landfill in the sky. Everything in your garbage including all the toxic items like batteries (mercury, cadmium, lead), chemical cleaners, paints etc. will end up in the ash (approx 30%) or the stack emissions (approx 70%) where the wind will spread it over the entire landscape.

Incineration does not destroy waste - it simply changes its form into something which will allow it to spread almost invisibly over hundreds, perhaps thousands, of square miles.

In addition, burning facilitates chemical reactions which will turn otherwise innocuous substance like plastics and rubber into dioxins and furans, some of the most toxic substances known - there is no safe level.

For a full inventory of the expected emissions from this facility click here.

These emissions will be spread over schoolyards, farms, lakes and rivers where they will be absorbed into the entire food chain.

Air pollution is the principal cause of asthma and a leading contributor to heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Even without the incinerator, Durham Region already has some of the highest levels of asthma in the province - Courtice has one of the most polluted airsheds in Ontario. (St. Mary's Cement is the main culprit at the moment.)

High temperature combustion also produces fine particulate matter, PM2.5, (smaller than 2.5 microns) which is becoming a major health concern. This is a major contributor to smog. PM2.5 also includes ultrafine particles referred to as nanoparticles. Until fairly recently these were unmeasurable but new research is finding connections to a wide range of serious illness.



In the fall of 2009, the cost of this facility was estimated at $272 million dollars - this number has not been updated since then.

Given the past history of almost every public project, what is the likelihood that the price is not higher today and will perhaps be double or triple by the time it is completed. There is a history in N. America and around the world of incinerator projects which have nearly bankrupted their communities.

The argument that this facility is going to produce power which will offset its cost is a red herring. The power it will produce will be a mere pittance compared with the Darlington nuclear plant next door. "Energy from Waste" is simply a marketing ploy to persuade unsuspecting municipalities that incineration is such a great idea - waste disposal AND power generation - TWO chickens in every pot.

Durham Region has thus far managed to defuse any backlash from the excessive cost by claiming that it 'really won't cost us anything'. That's because the Region has commited 100% of our federal gas tax rebate to this project for years to come. Of course other municipalities are spending this money on transit and public facilities. Durham Region will just have to do without these unless the Region decides to raise taxes to pay for them - but that won't have anything to do with the incinerator, - will it?

Operating cost is also a concern. The chart below is from a York Region Report to their council listing the various types of waste that they produce and the costs of handling them.

Erin Mahoney, Commissioner, Environmental Services
Report to York Region Council, December 16, 2010

Blue Box $24 - $40 per tonne
Source Separated Organics $154 - $253 per tonne
Leaf and Yard Waste $67 - $110 per tonne
Household Hazardous Waste and Other $604 - $991 per tonne
CEC diversion (Re-use-it type centre) $153 - $251 per tonne
Waste to Landfill $96 - $157 per tonne
Waste to Durham-York EFW $154 - $312 per tonne

The bottom line, the cost of disposal at the Durham incinerator is an estimate but you will note that it is the most expensive of all of the options, other than household hazardous waste which is specially handled and only in small quantities. Blue Box recycling is the least expensive.

Durham Region lost all financial credibility when it hosted a gala ground-breaking ceremony for the facility last August 17. They constructed an access road, built a parking lot and erected air-conditioned tents, all for invited guests only. The Toronto Star subsequently obtained the cost - $75,000 - through freedom-of-information. 

This shindig made MACLEAN’s magazine's January 2012, listing of “99 STUPID THINGS THE GOVERNMENT DID WITH YOUR MONEY”. Durham made the list at #21. Yea! for us.

The other cost to Durham Region is jobs. While there will be short term construction jobs, the guts of the facility is being imported from Germany and the USA. Once operating, the facility will only produce 33 permanent jobs. By comparison recycling would have produced closer to 300 jobs with all the economic spin-offs they would have created.


Everything that you put in your garbage required energy to produce it - some things much more than others. When you burn these items you can recover some of that energy in heat (which is converted to electricity) but generally far less than the original energy required to produce it. The difference is simply lost, and to make up for that loss, we have to burn more oil or coal (with the associated environmental degradation.) Click here for a chart that gives the energy required to produce a wide range of products and the energy that would be recovered by burning them.



The incinerator in Courtice is premised on Durham having just 60% diversion when it starts up in 2014 and that is what the Region is aiming for. Why? Because if we were diverting 70%, which a report from Golder Associates said we could achieve by then, there would not be enough residual garbage to fuel the burner. The chart below was extrapolated by DurhamCLEAR president, Doug Anderson, from numbers in the Business Case for the incinerator by Deloitte in 2008. It has been shown in various forms to Regional and local councils on a number of occasions.

(The chart above incorporates projected population increases for the Region. Note that dates have changed since the Business Case Report and the dates above don't match the implentation date for the incinerator.)

You will notice that the tonnage projected for this year is 106,568 which is within the range that the Region has committed to supply the burner. However, notice that if diversion were to increase to 70% by 2017, the tonnage is well below the 100,000 tonnes that the Region has committed to.

While we could achieve that 70% with relative ease, we won't because every decision about diversion will be driven, not by the desire to reduce waste, but by the contractual need to supply 100,000 tonnes to the incinerator.

The first 4 columns of the chart show what would happen if we achieved a very modest increase of 1% diversion per year (We've been averaging about 2.5% per year for the last 20 years). At that rate we would be at 90% diversion by the projected end of the incinerator life. But we won't be able to do that because that will only leave 45,000 tonnes of waste for the incinerator. The 2nd last column shows the maximum diversion we can have and still leave 100,000 tonnes to burn.

The world has woken up to the fact that we simply can't be as wasteful as we have been for the past several decades. Many jurisdictions, including Ontario, are moving toward 'Extended Producer Responsibility' in which producers will be responsible for the end-of-life disposal of their products. As many manufacturers have already embraced, these used and obsolete items have far greater value recycled into their component parts than discarded in landfill or an incinerator. The end-game here is that these manufacturers will be wanting their products returned (which is probably what the regulations will say) while Durham Region wants to throw them into the fire.



Advocates of incineration usually try to frame the argument as an alternative to messy and dangerous landfills. What they fail to tell you is that 30% of what comes out of an incinerator is ash and that needs to be disposed of. Usually it goes to landfill.

Incinerator manufacturers try to promote the use of ash as a raw material for such things as road construction and there are cases where this has been done. However, it remains controversial as the bottom ash is not always as innocuous as they would like us to believe and hazardous chemicals have been found in the runoffs.

The fly ash which is collected from the baghose (about 5% of the weight of the original waste) is always highly toxic and needs to be stabilized in cement before it even leaves the incinerator. It needs to be disposed of in special landfill for toxic waste.



The only things that will burn in the incinerator are the ones that contain carbon (paper, plastics, organics, etc.) and when you burn carbon you produce carbon dioxide which is the principal greenhouse gas. Burning a tonne of garbage will produce approximately an equivalent tonne of carbon dioxide. In comparison, recycling processes will produce a small amount of greenhouse gases, but far less than either incineration or landfill.



If so many people oppose this, then why doesn't the public will prevail?

In a nutsell, the process was stacked against us. The Environmental Assessment (EA) process sets out that the proponent (the Region) gets to investigate the options. But the powers-that-be at the Region had already decided that they wanted "thermal technology" which is a somewhat less specific and certainly fancier word for incineration.

The Region hired consultants to 'make it happen'. It needs to be understood that consultants are rarely hired to be consulted - they are hired to use their expertise to put the positive aspects of a project upfront and visible and to bury the bad stuff.

To 'make it happen' the consultants set up the Terms of Reference (approved by Regional Council and the Ministry of the Environment) of the EA to specifically exclude consideration of aggressive diversion as an alternative.

Early on they did a 'public opinion survey' on attitudes to "energy-from-waste" which to most people was a completely new term. Incineration and 'burning garbage' were never mentioned, never explained. Not surprisingly, the survey showed strong support for "energy-from-waste", and this spurious result has been used ever since to 'prove' that the public was behind incineration.

Council was given thousands of pages of information which none of them would have been capable of reading even if they were so inclined. The clear message from the consultants to Council was "Trust us - we've done all the research, we know what's best." In reality they were burying damaging data in appendices, and the 'executive summaries' only reflected the positive.

When opponents of the incinerator pointed these things out and asked pointed questions they were either stonewalled or confronted with bafflegab.

There was always a contingent of Regional councillors who could see what was going on and could see that the process was slanted but they never constituted a majority on any of the key votes. A substantial number of councillors were just going along for the ride, never questioning anything.

For their efforts the consultants were well rewarded - approximately $12-15 million - of your money.

2010 Municipal Election

While the Region had originally planned on having shovels in the ground well before the 2010 municipal election, that didn't happen. Their original EA submission was full of errors and omissions and had to be rewritten. Even after it was finally submitted , there was an inordinate delay, and then the Minister of the Environment was replaced.

The events around the 2010 election were enough to shake anybody's faith in our democratic system. Many of us worked for and contributed to candidates who specifically stated their opposition to incineration and a number of such new faces were elected. In addition some of the most stubborn supporters of incineration were defeated. On election night, Oct. 25, it looked like we were very close to victory.


November 19, 2010 - The Minister announces his approval of the Environmental Assessment with conditions.

November 25 - Regional Chair, Roger Anderson, signs the Project Agreement with Covanta in full knowledge that he is acting on the authority of a Council which has just been repudiated by the electorate.

December 10 - Swearing in and first meeting of the new Council

Most significantly, between the election and the swearing in, some of those new councillors had already repudiated the people who got them elected and were now backing the incinerator, most notably, Clarington's new mayor, Adrian Foster and Regional Councillor Willie Woo.



Throughout the EA process there was the expectation and hope that the Ministry would be the honest broker and that they would reject the flawed assumptions and conclusions put forward by the Region's consultants. Through hundreds of letters and many meetings, that hope gradually died.

It became apparent that either the Ministry lacked the technical staff to properly review the data, or if they had such staff (as they claimed) they were simply not inclined to do a proper review. In the early stages of the EA review, questions to the Ministry were routinely referred back to the same consultants who, of course, gave the same inadequate answers.

Our disappointment with the Ministry keeps getting reinforced. In the more recent process leading the a Certificate of Approval (CofA), the Ministry has approved significant variations from the EA even though the law clearly states that that the Cof A must comply with tthe EA.

When Ontario's Environmental Commissioner concluded a few years ago that the EA process was broken, he was so right.