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Landfill flare installed and operating in Squamish

The flare steers Squamish towards emissions-reduction goals.

The District of Squamish has installed and activated a landfill flare located at the Squamish Landfill.

The landfill flare will collect landfill gas through a network of eight vertical wells and five horizontal collectors that divert the gas to the flare where it is burned off. The project cost about $1.5 million, which was funded through federal grants and borrowing.

“Now that this new system has been activated, we expect to eventually see up to a 75% reduction in the landfill’s total greenhouse gas emissions resulting from methane,” said Mayor Karen Elliott in a news release.

Additionally, the project helps bring Squamish about 25% toward its emission-reduction goals for 2030, said Ian Picketts, manager of sustainability and climate change for the District.

Methane comes from landfill gas, which is largely created when organic waste — such as food scraps, food waste or wood waste — is put into landfills.

And, according to an audit completed by Tetra Tech in 2020, Squamish’s waste was comprised of about 29.8% organic material, which was largely considered food waste at 19.3% and wood waste at 8.2%. The audit estimated that over 60% of that food waste was “avoidable.”

Anthony Lau, associate professor at the University of British Columbia with expertise in organic waste recycling and composting, said in August that methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Though carbon dioxide is also a greenhouse gas, Lau added that “methane is 25 times stronger than CO2.” 

That potency is why we should steer clear of methane, said Jeff Wint, the outreach sustainability co-ordinator for the District of Squamish, in an interview about the landfill and flare project in July 2021.

“Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, which we want to avoid as much as possible,” he said.

What’s more, according to the federal government, landfills produce about 20% of Canada’s national methane emissions.

In an effort to slow the methane and other landfill emissions, the District voted in favour of installing a landfill flare in 2019.

Now that the project is complete, burning the methane with the landfill flare will help steer Squamish and the landfill toward carbon neutrality.

“When you burn [methane], it becomes CO2,” said Lau. “The next cycle, the plants will take up the CO2 again.”

However, landfill flares cannot collect all the landfill gas.

“You cannot collect all the natural gas that is generated or produced at the landfill,” said Lau. “My understanding is it’s impossible to have 100% landfill gas collected.”

The District estimates that the landfill flare will capture about 75% of the landfill gas and burn off about 96% of the captured gas, according to a news release. The District expects the collection system to capture about 90% at peak efficiency. 

The initial numbers are on par with the flare system at the Vancouver Landfill, which saw about 73.3% of landfill gas captured in 2020, a 3.3% increase from 2019. 

Burning off this gas is also not the only option after capturing landfill gas.

In 2020, the Vancouver Landfill used 28% of its capture to generate off-site electricity for sale to BC Hydro, heat for Village Farms’ greenhouses and a small portion was used to heat buildings at the landfill.

FortisBC and the City of Vancouver also came to an agreement in 2018 to upgrade the landfill to be able to convert landfill gas into renewable natural gas (RNG) for the FortisBC pipeline.

For now, the District will focus on monitoring the composition of landfill gas that is being released, said Shannon White, integrated solid waste specialist for the District. She said they will monitor for approximately “one to two years.”

Picketts said they will look into options to turn the gas into a renewable energy source after this monitoring period.