Green Party leader visits innovative permeable paving business in Listowel

·11 min read

LISTOWEL – Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner toured the Waterloo, North Perth and Wellington area on Nov. 9 to visit local green businesses and call for more supports to kickstart a green recovery from COVID-19.

His first stop was a visit to Ecoraster, a low impact development permeable paving business in Listowel located in the BTE factory on Tremaine Avenue South.

Mike Coates, vice-president and general manager at Ecoraster, gave a tour of their production facilities before bringing Schreiner out to the parking lot, which has been finished with Ecoraster’s recycled plastic paving tiles for a discussion about the unique product.

“If we had any hurdles or obstacles in our industry it’s aesthetics,” said Coates. “Some people just find that the gravel is not what they are accustomed to. They are used to seeing the blacktop or asphalt.”

He said that the permeable, porous surface is not only a benefit environmentally, but there are also significant cost savings to it.

“You will retain all stormwater on-site,” said Coates. “There is no need for costly catch basins tying into the cities’ sewers and drainage systems. Most of our filtration systems … (are) overworked, it’s overtaxed… So this mitigates all the stormwater issues.”

The aggregate that has been used to fill the tiles creates no dust.

“There isn’t a dust storm and because it is an aggregate you don’t get anything that will germinate in it so you don’t have to worry about weeds,” said Coates.

Schreiner asked about the durability of the tiles compared to asphalt.

“It’s a lot better,” said Coates. “The warranty on the product is 20 years which is just unheard of in commercial settings for industrial concrete.”

The cost is cheaper than concrete but comparable to quality asphalt, but Coates said the durability of the tiles is better.

“We’ve got projects down in the ground over 28 years with no failures in the field in heavy industrial settings,” he said. “Everything from oil and gas access roads, the military uses it on forward operating bases around the world. It’s actually how the business started. All FOBs in Afghanistan and places like that, this is the product that was used.”

According to Coates, the product works great in equestrian settings. It has been used in the design of horse stalls and riding arenas.

“If you get rid of the mud you don’t have a disease like hoof rot,” he said. “The cost of one paddock is basically the cost of one vet bill.”

In the lot surrounding the production facility, the tiles allow for a very high rate of water infiltration.

“Over 2,000 inches per hour which is incredible… where does all the water go? It infiltrates in the ground as it should as Mother Nature intended,” said Coates.

He said the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has successfully tested the product across Toronto.

“It’s very durable with snowplowing which is very unique,” said Coates. “Everybody thinks – plastic? How could it be that durable?”

He credits the design and engineering of the tiles which happened in Germany almost 30 years ago.

Schreiner said he was thinking of flood mitigation for the TTC which he thinks would be a huge issue for them.

Ellise Gasner, founder and CEO of LID Permeable Paving Canada, said there was a project with the TTC where they have an asphalt parking area with an area of permeable paving.

“They used porous concrete and the porous concrete failed almost as soon as they installed it especially because of the cold weather,” she said. “They replaced it once and they weren’t going to replace it again and they used the Ecoraster blocks, so they designed the parking lot that all the runoff from the asphalt flows onto the Ecoraster and then into the base beneath and they’ve been very happy.”

“I’ve been thinking we’ve seen the photos of the subways in New York just being like water tunnels and thinking if they had your product they wouldn’t be like that,” said Schreiner. “More and more municipalities are coming in with stormwater runoff fees and things like that, so that I would guess this would help companies reduce their fees.”

Coates said it varies for each municipality but they are finding there more grants and rebates available for green initiatives which do help people to decide to use the tiles but it’s an uphill battle educating people about those opportunities. He held up one of the plastic paving tiles which looked to be about one square foot.

“This uses over 100 consumer shopping bags, grocery bags, something you see at the mall, Ziploc bags, a sandwich bag, bread bags, things like that,” said Coates. “That’s just that much less material going to our landfills.”

Ecoraster has three manufacturing facilities around the globe; one in Germany, one in Russia and the Listowel location.

“Germany has been doing this for almost 30 years,” said Coates. “It is a very well designed, good engineered product and it holds up. It does hold up. We’re not even sure of the lifespan of this product at this point. The cool thing is this is a recycled product as well. You can just put this right in your blue bin when you are done.”

Schreiner said that was going to be his next question, whether the tiles themselves were recyclable.

“It is totally,” said Coates. “Theoretically we could regrind it and use it again and make fresh products. The only thing we add to it is carbon black to make it UV stable. Just so it doesn’t wear down in the sun.”

Schreiner asked why Listowel was chosen as a manufacturing site.

Coates said the involvement with Ecoraster started in 2016 and the reasoning behind it was that BTE already had established expertise making plastic parts.

“It was a great marriage between the German product and BTE Assembly,” he said. “I mean they know plastics well and not all plastics are created equal… we’ve done tests with engineers, we’ve bent this product to a 90-degree angle, let it settle on a table and we’ve been at trade shows and asked them to tell us which piece we bent and they can’t. There are not many plastics on this planet you can do that with.”

“It’s a company here in Listowel who does the pelletizing then?” asked Schreiner.

“Yes, EFS-plastics Inc. does that and they make pellets for the garbage bag industry,” said Coates.

Schreiner asked what the biggest barrier is marketing the plastic paving tiles.

“One would be the asphalt and the concrete industry, you know it’s a very big established old boys’ club that’s difficult to get market penetration into,” said Coates. “The asphalt industry can make a very substandard product.”

He also said the product is new and innovative in North America, even though it has been in the European market for 30 years.

“We’ve only got a really good start at this for the past seven years,” said Coates. “So it’s perception. It’s a new concept. It’s a new design and it’s just a new way of thinking.”

Schreiner asked if government procurement would help as proof of concept that it works.

“If the government would procure this around various public facilities would that help?” he asked.

“Great question,” said Coates. “So we are in the parliament buildings.”

“In Rideau Hall,” added Gasner.

“We’re working also with Parks Canada right now throughout the Banff area,” said Coates. “Alberta Parks and Parks Canada are looking for this for trailheads, equestrian trails, camping sites.”

Schreiner suggested that the paving tiles would work well in conservation authority parking lots to avoid erosion and still have permeability.

This reminded Coates of another positive point about the product. It reduces the need for both salt and sand in the winter.

“That’s an important one,” said Schreiner. “Tell us about that.”

Coates pointed out that because the parking lots, roads and pathways built with the paving tiles are porous, there is no pooling of water and therefore no need to salt.

“George Brown College saved $2 per square foot per season,” he said. “With their square footage it was hundreds of thousands of dollars… You don’t need to sand it because sanding it will turn it into a slurry and make it impermeable and we don’t want that.”

“So it’s perfect for the north,” said Schreiner.

Coates said it’s very unique because most products will hold up in warmer climates but not in cold climates.

“Wow,” exclaimed Schreiner. “Eliminate stormwater runoff, eliminate the need for salt and it lasts longer.”

“And no maintenance, no potholes, no rutting, no cracking,” added Coates.

Schreiner asked if it was easy to install and uninstall on job sites if it’s just for temporary use.

Coates said it was because you don’t need any special equipment or training.

“You can install this at over 1,000 square feet per hour, per person,” he said. “It comes preassembled with 12 pieces and you just lay it down and it clicks together like Lego.”

Schreiner asked, “So you guys aren’t even responsible for the assembly then – do other people do the assembly?”

“Saugeen rail trail is a great example too, (Gasner) and I started a project in Port Elgin, Kincardine with the help of Bruce Nuclear and their funding,” said Coates. “We are now rejuvenating all the trails on the railway lines with this product so now it’s a nice safe dry permeable pathway to walk on.”

Schreiner said his office has made use of the product at the entrances and he has been interested in visiting the Ecoraster plant.

“I think of all the flood risk, particularly in places like Toronto,” he said. “Even in Guelph now, we’re starting to have neighbourhoods like the Exhibition Park area getting increasing flooding and it’s not even by a river. The water has no place to go… In some respects we shouldn’t build any more parking lots that are not permeable.”

Coates said some big corporations are starting to use the tiles for their parking lots.

“Wal-Mart is doing various tests in lots,” he said. “We’ve been in talks with Amazon for the new fulfilment centres – they are going up at a crazy rate. So that does help. Automotive dealerships are digging this product. They like the fact that there is no dust… it’s great for overflow parking and commercial settings.”

Schreiner asked about farms in the area that want a permeable surface.

Coates said they have been designing stalls in dairy barns.

“We’ve done a number of studies with those and we’re finding around the 15-month area is when it will pay for all the waste material,” he said. “The animals like to kick down until it feels something solid and they are replacing that sand daily. This will give you a porous surface that everything passes through, all organic matter as well.

“It keeps the odour down, it keeps the disease down.”

Schreiner said he thinks it’s a great opportunity to take plastic, recycle it and put it into a product that helps people mitigate and adapt to climate change.

“We know that one of the biggest risks in Ontario is flooding and having permeable pavement is a huge benefit to reducing flood risk,” he said.

Schreiner met with a company that is taking single-use PPE and pelletizing it into similar kinds of pellets to be reused.

“So Ontario companies are delivering good environmental solutions and creating jobs in the process,” he said. “So I’m going to continue to keep pushing climate solutions that also create made in Ontario jobs. I brought forward a private member’s bill, the Carbon Budget Accountability Act, that would establish a carbon budget for Ontario in the same way we have a fiscal budget that the government presents every year.

“Let’s have a carbon budget that the government presents every year that tracks how we are reducing climate pollution and holds the government accountable on that… We have to hold the government accountable now, not targets that are 20 or 30 years down the road, and quite frankly when you look at the trillions of dollars that are being invested in green economy solutions around the world, we want to attract that investment in Ontario and we’re not going to do it if we don’t have a government that’s committed to crushing climate pollution.”

Schreiner’s other stops on the tour were 3Gen Organics, a regenerative agriculture family farm in Wallenstein, and Zero Waste Bulk, Waterloo’s first zero-waste grocery store.

Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner

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