'Please help us stop this and save Brampton's future': PCs promise grant to waste incinerator company that wants to quadruple its heavily polluting operation
Feature Image Emerald Energy From Waste

'Please help us stop this and save Brampton's future': PCs promise grant to waste incinerator company that wants to quadruple its heavily polluting operation

The owners of a massive incineration facility in Brampton, Emerald Energy From Waste Inc., have made a proposal to the PC government to more than quadruple its capacity making it the largest such facility in Canada and one of the largest in North America. 

It has not yet been approved but Doug Ford’s government has promised a nearly $3-million grant to experiment with making hydrogen from burning garbage at the facility.

Julian Russell, an engineer and volunteer with Sierra Club Peel, told The Pointer the proposed process is very carbon intensive.

According to the UK Environment Agency, burning one tonne of municipal solid waste can release between 0.7 and 1.7 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, depending on the makeup of the waste. The Energy Justice Network determined that burning garbage produces 2.5 times the amount of carbon to produce the same amount of energy as a coal-fired power plant. 

In its own reports, Emerald estimates the redevelopment and expansion of the facility would result in the release of 900,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year — approximately nine percent of Peel’s overall emissions, more than Pearson International Airport. The company estimates that 40 percent of the waste it receives is from biogenic sources (organics, wood and paper) and another large portion is plastics.

“Burning plastics is effectively burning fossil fuels, since nearly all plastics are made from oil and gas,” a consortium of environmental groups wrote in a letter to Joe Lyng, General Manager of Emerald, on April 1. “Waste to energy is fossil energy.”

Emerald is proposing the incinerator expansion as a solution to the growing waste problem. Ontario is rapidly running out of landfill space, with estimates suggesting existing operations will reach capacity in nine years, if not sooner. Reducing the amount of waste we create in the first place is a key to reducing the carbon footprint of our garbage.

Former Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk noted the province has increased the amount of waste diverted from landfills from 19 percent in 2002 to 29 percent in 2020, but overall total volume of generated waste increased seven percent between 2016 and 2020.

Annually, more than two billion metric tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) are created globally and this will increase by approximately 70 percent by 2050. Single use waste has become increasingly common from the coffee cups we use every morning, to water bottles, straws and the increasing amount of packaging needed for e-commerce purchases. 

“This is just to remind everyone that what is in our garbage is mostly not garbage,” Emily Alfred, senior waste campaigner at the Toronto Environmental Alliance, said. “Most of what's in the average garbage bag is recyclable, compostable, or even hazardous materials. Less than 40 percent is typically actually garbage.”


 Individual households and businesses are responsible for properly sorting their waste.



In working toward a more sustainable economy, the Region of Peel has set the target of diverting 75 percent of waste from landfills by 2034. This rerouted waste will be reused in some form or recycled in any way possible. As of 2023 the Region had a divergence rate of 50 percent, 23 percent of which was food waste from the green bin program and other organic materials. In 2022, the Region collected 68,800 tonnes of green bin items which were subsequently turned into compost. 

The Region is faring far better than the Province in meeting its waste reduction targets, thanks in part to more detailed policies and procedures. In 2004, the Ontario government set a goal of a 60 percent waste diversion rate by 2008. It fell well short. As of 2018 (the most recent data available), the diversion rate in Ontario was 29 percent, not quite half the goal, ten years after the target date.

The Province has since set three interim goals: a 30 percent diversion rate by 2020, 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. The PCs have included incineration as an option to meet its waste divergence targets. 

At full expansion, the Emerald incinerator will have the capacity to burn one-third of Ontario’s waste.

Incineration does not eliminate the need for landfills. The environmental study review produced by Emerald determined that post incineration, more than one-third of the total weight of the material burned still exists as ash which is then sent to landfills. Not only are the toxic pollutants released into the air through the process of incineration itself, but also from the landfill where pollutants make their way into the soil and waterways.

Transferring toxins from air to land does not equate to “no emissions”, Liz Benneian, Founder of the Ontario Zero Waste Coalition, said. 

Under provincial legislation, the incinerator expansion proposal is only required to undergo a streamlined assessment that is completed by the owners — Emerald — themself.

Alfred says there is little oversight of such an assessment and Emerald's did not consider multiple pathways for toxins to enter ecosystems, it only looked at pollution in the air surrounding the facility. 

“Dioxins and furans and mercury, which are emitted by the Emerald facility, accumulate in soil, plants and animals,” she explained. Mercury also bioaccumulates up the food chain, entering various organic matter, including fish, that humans eat. 

There is no safe level of mercury exposure for humans, yet concentration levels for the neighbourhoods included in Emerald’s human health risk study indicate the incinerator is the main source of mercury air pollution, with an estimated ten-fold increase in mercury emissions after phase-one of the redevelopment and expansion. Once phase-three of the expansion is complete, the study estimates mercury levels will be as much as 47 times the background levels. Exposure to mercury can damage the nervous system, kidneys, liver and immune system.


 Highways, gridlock and a heavy industrial presence all contribute to poor air quality in Brampton.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)


Background concentrations of other pollutants are already high in the area due to the presence of industry and highway corridors. Within a 10-kilometre radius lies the Emerald incineration facility, as well as a medical waste facility, gas plant and many other industrial buildings. On top of the industrial pollutants, the southwest area of Brampton is also dissected by Highway 410 and 407 and includes Pearson International Airport. A 2019 study from the University of Toronto Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research found that up to 250 metres away from a highway or major roadway, levels of air pollutants can still be up to double normal concentrations. 

Research from Health Canada shows that poor air quality as a result of traffic pollution is associated with asthma and other respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer. The Canadian Medical Association attributes 21,000 premature deaths each year in Canada due to air pollution, an occurrence that is much more likely in closer proximity to highway corridors.

The environmental study review shows the background concentration for dioxins and furans — toxic chemicals that are identified through air quality studies — is already nearly 84 percent of the Ontario Ambient Air Quality Criteria, meaning that by phase three of the proposed expansion, the surrounding air quality would surpass levels deemed safe in Ontario.

The review only analyzed these levels during normal operating conditions, which concerns Alfred because actual emissions would be much higher. Studies have shown that in upset conditions, emissions can be as much as 1,000 times higher than in normal conditions.

The Region of Peel has requested that Emerald ensure their air quality testing is completed at maximum capacity, during start-ups, after shutdowns and during regular operations. While Emerald noted in a response that “typically we have 13 units shut downs per year”, no data has been provided for how this will impact the concentration of pollutants, and this is only for the pollutants that are monitored. 

On June 19, representatives from Brampton and Toronto Environmental Alliance, as well as the Ontario Zero Waste Coalition and Sierra Club Peel, showed up to Brampton Council to request that elected members support them in their call to have the PC government initiate a full scale environmental assessment for the project. 

“You council members have the connections to get the relevant ministries to take the appropriate actions for all Brampton locals,” Amisha Moorjani, a small business owner and a board member with the Brampton Environmental Alliance, said.

“Brampton youth already face too many barriers to being healthy and successful,” Russell, with the Sierra Club, added. “Why should breathing in dirty air be one of them?”

Councillor Rod Power sympathized with the groups.

“We’re looking at a marginalized population that’s already experiencing health inequities and we don’t need to make that worse.” 


The Emerald incinerator is located in a heavy industrial area of Brampton.



The Region of Peel has already cancelled its contract with Emerald, so all the pollutants from the proposed redevelopment and expansion would come from waste produced outside the Region.

Moorjani told The Pointer she remembers growing up in India. In the mornings she would wake to the noxious smells of burning plastics and rubber, as poorer residents burned anything they could get their hands on for light and heat.

“I don’t want to go back,” she said. “I came to Canada for a reason.”

Moorjani said the giant facility would not be “tucked away out of sight” because advocates will make sure all local residents know what is being proposed for their backyard. 

The letter sent to Emerald from the environmental organizations said the company did not perform its due diligence to provide notice to the surrounding community about the proposed expansion. Residents who have been living in Bramalea for years, even newcomers, have a general understanding of the industry in the area, but the expansion, which was first proposed in 2021, has only recently garnered public attention.  

The letter says that while the company may have followed technical requirements for notice, it did not report any outreach to residents whose first language is not English, including recent immigrants. Providing communications in other languages is crucial to ensure equitable public engagement in Peel. 

About 80 percent of Brampton’s population identify as members of a visible minority group.

Critics routinely point to environmental racism which sees cities and neighbourhoods with higher populations of racialized residents stuck with many of the worst polluting projects, while areas that are predominantly white have far fewer polluting operations in their backyard.

“I understand that the area around the incinerator has been designated for intensification and if the Emerald expansion precedes it will put hundreds of thousands more of your citizens and members of neighbouring communities at risk,” Benneian said.

The PC government has forecasted that Brampton will have about one million residents by 2051, as many newcomers continue to settle in the rapidly growing city right next to Pearson International Airport.

Steven Kirby with the Toronto Environmental Alliance commented that he attended one of Emerald’s open houses, and was the only community member. This prompted questions from council as to whether Brampton residents are not aware that the massive expansion of one of the largest waste incinerators could happen in their backyard.

Moorjani pushed back, telling council members that Bramptonians know the dangers of having these polluting industries around them, they just don’t know what they can do about it. 

Deputy Mayor Harkirat Singh agreed, stating that as a logistics hub, Brampton needs to pay careful attention to its air pollution. 

“It’s important that we really take sustainability seriously here,” Singh, who has supported numerous environmentally harmful decisions such as the move to back the 413 Highway, claimed. He put forward a motion to refer the delegations back to staff to prepare a report on what Brampton could do about the proposed incinerator expansion. He also encouraged the delegates to attend Regional council to push for support at the upper tier municipality as well. 

“Please help us stop this and save Brampton’s future,” Russell told the local elected officials sitting in front of her. 



Email: [email protected]

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