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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.”

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