When the Ontario Ministry of Energy implemented newer, more stringent environmental standards for Ontario businesses, Tonolli Canada recyclers had already brought its facility up to meet, and in some cases, exceed the expectations that make Ontario a global leader in environmental initiatives.
Tonolli Canada are the lone battery recyclers in Ontario, and service an area that covers the entire province, down to Boston and over to the Chicago area. Ross Atikinson, Tonolli Canada President, says “The curve is really changing all of the time, but we strive to stay ahead of it. We are instituting new equipment that makes us a state-of-the-art facility.”
Tonolli’s main product is recycled lead-acid batteries, typically car batteries. According to Atkinson, car batteries are the most recycled product in the world at 97 per cent recycle rate. In comparison, less than 15 per cent of household batteries are recycled.
Value in recyclables
The Tonolli facility is designed to take a lead acid battery and break it down into small, individual components such as lead and plastic, all of which are cleaned and returned to the manufacturer. The battery acid is also recycled or reused throughout the process.
Atkinson explains. “We recycle approximately 98 per cent of the battery, and that material is returned back to the manufacturer. We recycle almost all of Ontario’s lead acid batteries, including automotive, lift truck and back-up power system batteries.”
The commodity itself has value, as Atkinson points out. “We pay for the batteries that come through the door. We take about 5 million batteries a year and pay over 10 dollars a battery.” The batteries typically come by the truck load from professional collectors, on average 12 truckloads each day.
Taking care of the environment
The alternative? If the batteries are not properly recycled, they often go to landfills. One needs very little in way of an explanation to understand the acid and hazardous material in a landfill is not the ideal solution. Tonolli has the unique and challenging responsibility of properly dealing with these materials and keeping their negative impact on the environment to a minimum.
In an effort to live up to their responsibility, Tonolli has invested a great deal of time and money into maintaining stringent environmental standards. Atkinson speaks of an $8 million investment in safety improvements which includes a new $2 million indoor ventilation system. And there is more. “In the past 10 years, we have spent close to $20 million in expenditures for the environment and health and safety. In the past couple of years, these investments have significantly minimized our emissions.” In fact they have been reduced by over 50 per cent in the past decade.
Tonolli also put in a new million dollar refinery roof. The roof not only cut their energy use, but also included a provision for extensive light panels to provide workers with a brighter, energizing plant floor.
“My background is in environmental science,” says Atkinson. “I joined the team because environment and health and safety standards are so critical. They are at the top of our list, even prior to finances because, really, we cannot operate if they are not up to par.”
“From a regulatory point of view, the standards initiated from the Ministry of the Environment are always lowering. We are meeting new standards. It is a constant evolution for us. We are very confident that the process is something we will be very proud of. We will be able to show the ministry and the public the efforts we have put towards health and safety,” says Atkinson, continuing, “Because we will be meeting such a high standard, people in the world will want to see what we are doing here in Ontario.”
Atkinson articulates the main objective in the short-term is to ensure Tonolli stays well within all new standards, which was the impetus for the remodelling of the facility.
The company is benefiting from a recent economic injection stemming from their being purchased by a private Canadian group. Says Atkinson, “I think they have a lot of interest in continuing to upgrade the facility as well, so there has been a lot of impetus both from the government, and us personally. And the new purchasers had a lot of foresight to make sure the facility was world class.”