It’s not everyday you get a tour of an incinerator by the most popular man in the world. A few days ago, Margaret and I were shown around the Burnaby Incinerator (officially known as the Metro Vancouver Waste-to-Energy Facility) by a gentleman named Helmut.
Helmut is the most popular man in the world, or so you would be given to think if you spent any time with him at the incinerator.
We arrived at the incinerator, which is located near the Fraser River, southeast of Vancouver, and were immediately introduced to Helmut. Our hero is a short man with a short mustache. He has an accent that truly must be described as quaint and German.
Helmut began explaining the history of the incinerator and how it works and what it does, speaking with a familiarity that clearly demonstrated he had done this quite a few times before.
At this point we still were dwelling in darkness, unaware of the awesome presence in which we were standing (and sitting: the incinerator has a beautiful conference room with big black chairs and a giant diagram of how they burn things).
Once he had finished his explanation of the incinerator, he showed us to our hardhats, ear plugs, orange reflecto-vests and we ventured out.
Helmut took us around the outside of the incinerator, the way the trucks go. Every single truck that passed us slowed down to toot its horn at Helmut and call out to him.
We we got around to the back, we entered an elevator and rode up to the sixth floor. Here was where two workers operated the large grapples that loaded garbage from the bunker into the chutes for burning.
As soon as Helmut poked his little hardhat covered head into the room, the operator left his grapple and beamed at us. Helmut produced a King-Size Reese Cup and handed it to the man. Helmut is a man who lets his actions speak for him.
After basking in Helmut’s glow, the operator got around to showing us how he would lift huge loads of garbage from the bunker and dump them into chutes that feed the garbage onto grates where it is burned. The garbage bunker is massive. Looking down from six stories up, you can see the two grapple claws plunge down forty or fifty feet to gather huge loads of garbage for feeding the chutes.
Next Helmut led us to the control room, lower down in the incinerator. Here, we were greeted with a rush of cheers when Helmut entered. The four or five workers in the control room gathered around him like teenage girls would flock to the star of a boy-band. Helmut flipped them each Werthers caramels and bite-size Snickers.
They have a lot of data in the control room. They can see how hot the incinerator is burning (usually around 1000 degrees Celsius), the chemical make-up of the flue-gasses in real-time and as averaged samples, among many other things.
Helmut led us deeper into the incinerator. The few workers we passed all greeted Helmut eagerly and received sugary spoils.
When Helmut led us out of the incinerator, we all stopped in the parking lot to crane our necks up at the red and white striped smoke stack. After a moment of reverential silence, Helmut handed us each a Werthers and said, “For me, incineration is the solution to garbage.”