, Salem, MA

November 15, 2013

Rising from the ashes

Peabody plant will turn incinerated trash into usable metal


---- — It’s wedged between Route 1 and Farm Avenue in Peabody and only looks like the end result of a global cataclysm, with little to see but acres of lifeless gray stone and ash. But the former city landfill actually contains buried treasure, and the two companies currently digging it out believe their process will be a boon for the environment.

Yesterday, Covanta Tartech unveiled its new plant, which has already begun what they say is a unique process for separating all sorts of metal — steel, aluminum, brass and copper — from the mounds of ash created in the process of incinerating trash.

Covanta, which runs dozens of waste-to-energy sites, owns this section of the landfill, and the company has long been working there to recover metals hidden in the ash from incinerators in Haverhill and other areas. This new process will allow them to be even more efficient.

What’s more, they can now go back in time, so to speak, reclaiming ash that was long ago discarded at the Peabody landfill and adding it into the mix.

All this is possible thanks to a process created and pioneered by Tartech, a German company. The details of how it all works are trade secrets, but magnetism and vibrations, not heat, to help separate the metals from the ash.

The metal produced is sold by weight on the scrap-metal market. “Thousand of tons” are expected to be recovered, according to the two companies. That’s an environmental win, they say, because it takes far less energy to recoup and reuse this metal than to dig it out of the ground and separate the ore. For that matter, the process is ongoing without any government subsidies, said Covanta’s Jill Stueck.

“I’m thrilled we’re the first city in North America to have this device,” Mayor Ted Bettencourt said yesterday during a tour of the site, as bits of blackened steel began dropping from the end of a nearby conveyor belt. “I’m impressed with this site. The technology is amazing.”

The mayor called the operation “a valuable community asset.”

Peabody state Rep. Leah Cole expressed excitement at having groundbreaking technology coming “right here to Peabody.”

The project began with an announcement 18 months ago. The sprawling machinery was shipped from Germany in 56 containers weighing a combined 663 tons, and then assembled, piece by piece, in Peabody.

Covanta officials praised city officials for helping to make this happen.

“It’s good for the environment,” said chief operating officer Seth Myones. “It’s good for business and a home run for everyone.” He listed benefits, including the ability to use metals “again and again,” jobs created and the possibility of saving space in landfills by removing the metals.

How much space could be saved in landfills?

“We’re still in the early stages of figuring that out,” said Covanta managing director Anthony Dell’Anno.

Bettencourt said that he was told the ash could be reduced by as much as 30 percent. He said he doesn’t expect ash piles to be a problem.

Alexander Graf von Kalckreuth, representing Tartech, said, “We’re one step further to creating an economy that preserves all its precious resources.”

On a lighter note, he had to be summoned back to the podium to explain that Tartech’s prefix is based on German words (trennen, aufschileben, ruckgewinnen) meaning separate, shatter and recycle — which begin with the letters T, A and R.

“So, it has nothing to do with tar,” he said.

Alan Burke can be reached at