Say No to Liberty

Let's develop our own solution to dealing with our sludge in our own time - and not to an uninvited, unproven company's deadline.

By Julia Kollek
Published May 17, 2010

The old saying where there's muck, there's money has never been more true. So you'll forgive me if we talk dirty for a moment - because it's important that residents understand what's going on with our sewage.

Right now our waste is processed at our treatment plants and the residue sludge is spread on farm fields, something civilizations have been doing since they began cultivating crops.

And while there are debates on the possible associated risks, there are no plans to change the laws around this practice before 2016.

Liberty Energy is a California-based company that arrived in our city in 2004 and began an aggressive lobbying campaign. Liberty is offering to burn our sludge and produce energy, which in itself may not be a bad idea. But there are serious flaws in all this - and here's an overview of the deal:

  1. Liberty has no operating plant anywhere

  2. Toronto has turned down a deal with Liberty & the company now needs to look further afield to truck sludge further out than it's original 60 mile radius to make its proposition viable

  3. Our contract with them would commit us for the next 30 years

  4. As a city, we would be committed to investing money in building Liberty's plant here in Hamilton - we might as well invest in our own!

The bigger issue is that our city is committed to a fair process of putting projects out to tender. So why is council spending time considering the merits of Liberty's proposal - if no other company has been considered?

The other problem lies with the technology Liberty intends to use to "make energy". Sludge is too wet to use directly as fuel: Liberty will need to import wood to dry it out.

Residents in Minnesota know all about the technology Liberty intends to use. The sludge incinerator there is polluting their air with heavy metals such as mercury from the waste wood it burns, which includes pressure-treated lumber.

Let's develop our own solution to dealing with our sludge in our own time - and not to an uninvited, unproven company's deadline.

Julia Kollek lives in Dundas and considers herself one of our city's environmental guardians. For more info visit


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By d.knox (registered) | Posted May 17, 2010 at 21:02:55

But wait, this sounds like just the sort of initiative that the city of Hamilton gets behind. We get shafted and let someone else pollute our environment at the same time. It's a win-lose situation, just like we like.

I do wish we'd stop calling it sludge. It's so sanitary. It's fecal matter. We could call it fecalizer when it's used as fertilizer. Sludge just hides it behind the relatively clean shroud of mud. I guess if it's energy we could call it fecalgizer. Just say no to sludge.

Comment edited by d.knox on 2010-05-17 20:03:25

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2010 at 21:20:17

My father has trucked loads of sludge for years. I've gone with him (before the company decided they didn't want passengers in the trucks) to see the process.

Don't get too grossed out.. we all contribute to making it, and there's various ways of treating it to make it usable for a variety of things.

You might not want to know some of the things it's currently used for... or the fields that reclaimed biosolids are already ending up on near you.

If not for all the other crap (no pun intended) we put in our sewer system, it would be usable for even more things than it currently is.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2010 at 22:38:29

(to clarify, I'm not saying its use is a great thing and that it should be continued without question.. But if one's going to argue against a new application of sludge, be aware of all the ways its currently used - and if there's already heavy metal concerns and the like from that, perhaps its more useful to direct one's energy against that).

Comment edited by Meredith on 2010-05-17 21:38:42

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By recycle (anonymous) | Posted May 18, 2010 at 00:34:19

it really is sad that we don't yet have a sewer system capable of collecting our liquid waste in a way that renders it useful in some way as an end product. currently we just flush everything down the drain and hope we don't see it again the way we used to (and some people and industries still do) with solid waste.

imagine a system, like our current solid waste recycling system, that kept the useful components of our liquid waste stream separate so that it could be re used in some useful and relatively inexpensive way. it wouldn't be technically difficult, all it would require is three or four sets of pipes leaving buidings instead of the one or two now used. that and some awareness of what happens to the stuff we put down our drains and why we should think twice. as we have learned with garbage, NOTHING just goes away forever.

imagine a system that kept sewage, black water as it is called in the trades i believe, separate from everything else, and i mean everything including harsh chemical cleaners. just the toilet water basically. then you would have another set of pipes for the grey water, that is water used for washing things mostly. then another set of pipes for rainwater. and then, and this is a big one, we provide separate hook ups to a completely different commercial industrial sewer system that should be rather expensive to use, AND incentives for companies to not hook up to this system and deal with their effluent in house or seriously reduce their production of effluent.

right now no one has any incentive to not flush whatever they feel like down the drain. there isn't much awareness about what happens to all the stuff we "wash away" this could be the next big front that needs to be examined.

just as we are working on solving the long term land fill problem by reducing the amount we land fill through recycling reducing and reusing, we need to deal with the sludge problem by the same logic. reuse water through grey water systems or simply watering plants or the lawn with bath or dish water. reduce the consumption of water AND reduce the amount of chemicals we throw down the drain. and recycle the components of our waste water stream by keeping everything usable separate.

it sounds like a big challenge but look at the progress we have made with solid waste. we are almost back to where our grandparents started out in the time way back when when there wasn't a garbage day.

the end.

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By MaureenReilly (registered) | Posted May 18, 2010 at 02:40:36

Unfortunately, the author of this article does not understand the facts. The technology proposed by Liberty Energy is cleaner than the incinerator proposed by the Citz of Hamilton, since the Hamilton proposal fails to meet the Province of Ontario standards for incinerator air emissions.

Second mistake- the author is wrong about Minnesota. The sewage sludge incinerator in Minnesota is in St Pauls at the city sewage treatment plant and does not burn only uses sludge. And since there is mercury in sludge the St Paul plant scrubs the emissions and collects the mercury so that it is NOT emitted to the environment. This makes this kind of incineration far cleaner than Hamilton land applied sludge - where all the mercury is put into the atmosphere.

Third - Liberty will not be burning treated wood, only clean wood waste.

Fourth ' the wood does not have to be 'imported' since Hamilton has plenty of clean waste wood.

Fifth - no civilizations have not been spreading urban sewage sludge on crops since the dawn of agriculture. Sewage sludge is the unpredictable mixture of industrial and domestic sewage complete with toxic metals, industrial detergents, hospital, laboratory, and pharmaceutical waste. Nothing like the ancient human dung she is referring to. In general the big city sludges in Ontario only started to be used on farm fields after 1996.

The environmental assessment shows that land application of Hamilton sewage sludge must stop. It is both too toxic and too expensive to continue to put this contaminated sludge on Ontario farmfields. Using sludge for renewable energy is the way that the best most livable cities in the world manage their sludge - come and visit the plants that provide electricity and heating and airconditioning to the major capitals of Europe. (ie see Vienna, Copenhagen)

Environmentalists should tell the truth. Any good environmentalist should know that putting industrial waste on the food chain is not the right way forward.

Maureen Reilly Sludge Watch

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By Slidgeroo (anonymous) | Posted May 18, 2010 at 07:12:17

That Kolleck would even dare try to get elected to council is a disgrace...with attitudes like this you should crawl back into your hole!

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 18, 2010 at 21:11:59

"Unfortunately, the author of this article does not understand the facts. The technology proposed by Liberty Energy is cleaner than the incinerator proposed by the Citz of Hamilton, since the Hamilton proposal fails to meet the Province of Ontario standards for incinerator air emissions." Does not understand the facts, is the real issue that clouds this issue.

There is also a plant in BC that meets all the above criteria... form my perspective it's the only intelligent move...

"Using sludge for renewable energy is the way that the best most livable cities in the world manage their sludge - come and visit the plants that provide electricity and heating and air conditioning to the major capitals of Europe. (ie see Vienna, Copenhagen)"

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By NIMBY (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 21:36:58

Liberty is proposing a REGIONAL incinerator to treat the biosolids of 2,800,000 people of Ontario, that is 21% of the population of Ontario.The Liberty incinerator is SEVEN times larger than the proposed CITY incinerator. The Liberty proposal requires 20,000 trucks per year to deliver biosolids to its incinerator. The CITY incinerator requires ZERO trucks per year as the biosolids will be transported directly from the biosolids dewatering phase to the CITY incinerator by a conveyor system.


-poor CITY image "stool city"
- SEVEN times the air emissions
- 20,000 additional trucks entering the CITY
- REGIONAL incinerator

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 20, 2010 at 08:43:25

I would support Liberty's incinerator plan if:

  1. The exhaust is net cleaner than the ambient air; and
  2. All the sludge comes in by barge and/or rail, not transport truck.

The current plan falls short on point #1 and fails spectacularly on point #2.

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By Donald J. Lester (anonymous) | Posted May 20, 2010 at 11:01:39

NIMBY, " This City does not have the skill to manage what they have...I mean it takes three month to get a permit to wipe your ass....Now this is a myth

"The CITY incinerator requires ZERO trucks per year as the bio-solids will be transported directly from the bio-solids de-watering phase to the CITY incinerator by a conveyor system."

Moreover this City does not have the skills to mediated for it's own stadium...including can any one tell me, What ever this City has said, about anything, when was the last time it met it's deadline or stayed within it's budget....I rest my case....Amen

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By NIMBY (anonymous) | Posted May 20, 2010 at 16:48:52


Process is simple; the dewatered biosolids are transported to the fluidized bed incinerator by a conveyor system within the Woodward WWTP.

For clarification; refer to the CIty website and review the following presentation:

" City of Hamilton Class Environmental Assessment Phases 3 & 4 Woodward Avenue WWTP Biosolids Management Public Information Centre June 22,2009 Presentation Page 13 Overall biosolids processing strategy ....."

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 21, 2010 at 12:44:37

I'm awed at how much some people on here know about incinerators and sewage sludge. Good on ya.

What Liberty is proposing (with their sickeningly slick PR campaign) has some merit. This is the 21st century, not the stone age. Through techniques like gassification we can "burn" things much more cleanly and efficiently than any traditional incinerator. There are very simple models (which can be built with very simple materials, and burn woodgas (what's given off when you make charcoal) with charcoal from earlier cycles. And there are microwave plasma gassifiers which can reduce virtually anything to component elements. There are even relatively simple Instructables for converting your car to woodgas. On some scale, this technology would make a very pleasant alternative to fossil fuels.

However, like all biofuels, it has one problem. It puts carbon back into the atmosphere. If we want to actually beat Climate Change, we need to be sequestering carbon, not just cycling it back into the atmosphere. Taking the vast amount of carbon which is sequestered for us (even if our economic system classifies it as waste) and burning it is a vast step backward. Our soils, especially agricultural ones, are literally dying out because the amount of organic and inorganic carbon in them is being exhausted, not to mention the nitrogen and other crucial elements which could be provided by manure. Restoring a healthy level of carbon in soils has the potential for cutting somewhere near 100ppm of CO2 out of the atmosphere, globally, not to mention what it would do for sustainable food production. And that's one of only thousands of uses for sequestered carbon, from the desk I'm writing this on to the paper on which it will eventually be printed. There are much more valuable uses for these materials than simply burning them.

Sewage sludge, though, does need to stop being spread on farmland immediately. The whole system is faulty, operating on a scale which it is nowhere near capable of handling effectively. Combining sewage inflows (storm sewers, human wastes etc) only makes it many times more difficult to clean the eventual outflow. If a composting toilet that feeds a biogas stove for around $10 in bricks, there is no reason we should still be using essentially Roman-era technology in the 21st century. Neighbourhood-scale systems using greenhouses and advanced bioremediation (reed-beds, fish and algae) could provide productive, clean and beautiful sewage treatment facilities which produce clean water and fertilizer locally.

What the average person puts out, daily, down the toilet, plus their food scraps, and a decent chunk of carbon-bearing yard waste, would be more than sufficient to grow all the food we need, nitrogen-wise. Even our urine is steeped in the stuff (and should be diluted seven or ten to one for use as fertilizer). Wouldn't this be a nice alternative to farmers going broke trying to buy NPK mix?

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By Rene Gauthier (anonymous) | Posted May 22, 2010 at 05:16:44

Off topic: Good luck in the elections Julia. I saw that you entered the race against Russ Powers.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted May 26, 2010 at 13:14:22

I don't know what to think of this situation. There seems to be pros and cons to both sides (or am I just reading the propaganda from both sides???).

I do know I don't want trucks of sludge coming in to the city... period. If the Liberty plan requires this I don't support it.

I have heard the Liberty site is preferable to the city's proposed site but I'm not sure... anyone have any insight on that part of the debate?

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By NIMBY (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2010 at 00:38:02

The Liberty proposal requires importing 300,000 wet tonnes of biosolids per year by truck to be incinerated at 675 Strathearne Avenue just north of Burlington Street.
The City proposal will use a conveyor system to transfer 53,000 wet tonnes of biosolids per year produced at the Woodward WWTP to an incinerator located at the Woodward WWTP. The Woodward WWTP is located on the east side of Woodward Avenue north of Brampton Street.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted May 27, 2010 at 09:49:04

The Liberty proposal requires importing 300,000 wet tonnes of biosolids per year by truck - NIMBY

Ya, no thanks.

Some rough numbers to put this in perspective:

300,000 tonnes a year


~820 tonnes a day

Standard 18 wheeler load capacity is ~21 tonnes

So that is an additional 39 trucks (hauling sewage) coming in to our city every single day of the year.

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By TheTruth (anonymous) | Posted June 25, 2010 at 19:19:32

Maureen Reilly = Liberty's shill

Please don't pay any attention to her.

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