Who cares about incinerator ash?
Well, the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority for one. The authority hopes to launch a $13 million recycling project that would recover tiny bits of gold, silver, aluminum, copper and zinc from the 165,000 tons of ash from waste burned annually in incinerators in Lancaster and Harrisburg.
The project — one of the first in the United States — could mean the recovery of about 7,000 tons of ferrous and non-ferrous metals a year, netting perhaps $1.7 million for the authority.
It also would increase the county’s recycling rate and slightly increase available space in the Frey Farm Landfill in Manor Township.
Thousands of tons of valuable metals are being landfilled every year,” said James Warner, the authority’s chief executive officer.
“We like the project, we like the company and we like the advancements in technology.”
The enclosed ash-recycling facility would be built on about two acres of industrially zoned land at the authority’s Frey Farm Landfill near the Susquehanna River in Manor Township.
It would consist of three buildings containing an ash-drying area and a series of conveyors.
The authority board was recently given a presentation on the project which would use advanced metal recovery technology developed in Europe and just now being introduced in the U.S.
Under financial plans still being finalized, the authority would loan Inashco North America, a Dutch company, 80 percent of the money to build, operate and own the processing facility.
Inashco would recover and sell the metals. The authority would deliver the ash and be paid a fee per ton, as well as interest on the loan.
Ash left over from the metal-recovery process would be used as daily cover at the landfill, as it is now.
If approved by the board, the plant could be in operation by the fall of 2017, according to authority officials.
The project is a reversal of initial plans to put the ash-recycling facility at the authority’s Susquehanna Resource Management Complex incinerator in Harrisburg. Plans were to dig up old ash buried on the site to feed the precious metals recycling and to expand the landfill for disposal of ash from the incinerator.
But then the authority ran up against regulations that forbid buildings within 10,000 feet of an airport. Also, the ash from the Harrisburg landfill did not have enough recoverable metals to make the project worthwhile.
But the ash from both the Lancaster and Harrisburg incinerators when combined do have a recoverable amount of metals. So the decision was made to build the project in Lancaster County to handle both ash streams. The ash landfill in Harrisburg will remain buried.
“Not all ash is the same,” said Warner.
Ash from Harrisburg has been trucked to Lancaster County for more than two years. But the arrangement was to have been temporary. About 15 trucks a day are used to bring the ash to the Lancaster County landfill and that would continue.
On Feb. 23, a dump truck carrying incinerator ash from Harrisburg overturned on the new Columbia bypass and spilled its contents. The waste authority cleaned up the ash and there was no environmental impact, according to the authority.
Warner said currently there are no plans to bring other ash streams to the recycling facility, if built.
Incinerator ash is classified by Pennsylvania as a municipal solid waste. It is currently not permitted to be used in road construction, as ash is being used in some other states.
But the authority hopes road building will eventually become another favorable re-use of ash. Removal of metals from the ash would be one step in that direction.
Large ferrous metal items such as paint cans and window frames are currently captured with magnets and recycled from trash coming into the two waste-to-energy incinerators.
Manor Township officials have been briefed on the project by waste authority officials.