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Nanaimo company creates clean aggregates from contaminated soil

GRT reclaims 95 per cent of waste soil for reuse in construction
Dee Woods, GRT communications director, holds a small sample of product reclaimed from the company’s massive washing machine that separates contaminants from soil trucked to the Duke Point site. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

A Nanaimo-based soil reclamation company is practising some rock-solid recycling.

GRT opened its resource regeneration plant at Duke Point in 2021 where it recycles contaminated soils that would otherwise be dumped into landfills, producing clean clay and gravel for landscaping, construction and even capping landfills.

The company’s reclamation technology can deal with industrial-level contaminants such as hydrocarbons and heavy metals from gas stations, industrial sites, construction projects and dredging from harbours. The company can also clear contamination from water, created by high turbidity from seasonal rainfall or from groundwater accumulated at work sites where dirt has been heavily disturbed, according to GRT’s website.

Dee Woods, company communications director, said prior to setting up at Duke Point, GRT’s cleaning plant operated from a barge.

“We were able to process projects on a mobile basis, so you could just tug the barge to wherever, process the material – mainly dredge – but this is our first and only, for the moment, permanent facility,” she said.

GRT has processed more than 100,000 tonnes of material, most of which would have otherwise been trucked to landfills, since the Duke Point site opened. Soils trucked to the site are picked up by a large loader machine and dropped into a hopper that feeds a massive soil washer.

“When [the loader operator] drops that material into the hopper, the washing and sorting process begins … The large material gets separated first, the big rocks and oversized stuff … and then the rest of the material goes through the subsequent process,” Woods said. “So, it’s just getting washed and agitated, just like a [clothes] washing machine.”

A combination of chemicals and filtration frees the contaminants from the soil and clumps those together for disposal, then sorts the cleaned material into different sizes, from rock to medium-size gravels, pea gravel, sand and clay.

Extracted contaminants are further treated on site and then sent to be landfilled. Water used in the cleaning operation is cleaned in the site’s water treatment plant and reused.

“So all that material – in different steps of the plant – comes out clean and all that material can be reused in the construction industry instead of being mined new from a quarry,” Woods said.

She said the process diverts about 95 per cent of material from being landfilled.

“The one thing that we can’t do is hazardous waste,” Woods said. “Anything that’s over the threshold for hazardous waste, we are not permitted to receive that … It’s industrial level and below that we can take, but we have no problem filling the plant with that type of material because it’s all around.”

While much of GRT’s work diverts material from landfills, the cap on the Nanaimo Regional Landfill on Cedar Road is made from GRT reclaimed materials.

READ ALSO: RDN getting to work on $3-million project to permanently close part of landfill

According to Ben Routledge, RDN manager of solid waste services, the washed clay product from GRT is ideal for temporary and final landfill closure projects because it creates a barrier that helps block precipitation from entering the landfill. About 35 per cent of the recent closure project at the landfill was done with GRT-recovered material.

Woods said the plant also provides savings for developers’ disposal costs. GRT’s tipping fees are the same as those for a landfill near Campbell River that accepts contaminated soil and the much shorter haul to Duke Point saves on fuel costs.

GRT is looking for ways to tweak its technology. In January it was one of 14 B.C. companies to receive a portion of $2 million from the B.C. fast pilot program through Innovate B.C. and the National Research Council of Canada industrial research assistance program, which helps companies to get pilot tech projects started and potentially provide new jobs across the province.

“The B.C. fast pilot program allows GRT to advance its research and development regarding coal-laden soils – a key concern in the Nanaimo region,” said Peter Reid, CEO, in a Innovate B.C. press release. “Our project intends to demonstrate a new method for removing coal from soil that will allow both the coal and the soil to be beneficially reused. If successful, this innovation will result in lower environmental costs for regional development, enabling the creation of more housing and additional jobs for the local community.”

GRT, which says it is one of just three soil reclamation companies in North America, is looking to expand to the Lower Mainland.

“Obviously, the market there is way, way bigger, the opportunity is way bigger,” Woods said. “Something like this is definitely needed over there because a lot of those landfills … are running out of space.”

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GRT aggregates were used as a component of cap covering the closed portion of the Regional District of Nanaimo’s regional landfill in Cedar. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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