By 2050, it’s estimated there will be more plastic waste in the ocean [by weight] than fish. Perhaps, we should start listening to Mr. Fish.

At the 2017 Waste Management Executive Sustainability Forum a message was delivered by Mr. Jim Fish, CEO of Waste Management (WM), echoing his predecessor, Mr. David Steiner.   “The goal is to maximize resource value while minimizing and even eliminating environmental impact, so both our economy and our environment can thrive.”  In 2016 Mr. Steiner told the National Recycling Conference in New Orleans that coupling landfill gas-to-energy with recycling would provide the “biggest bang for the buck environmentally.”   Mr. Fish concurs, specifically points out that WM’s day-to-day operational technology continues to evolve and it will play an even larger role moving forward, both on the collection and disposal sides of WM’s business.   And as Mr. Steiner indicated last year, what’s most exciting to Mr. Fish continues to be what’s happening with the materials that cannot be recycled or composted.   “Today, environmentally safe landfills play an important role for materials that don’t have viable end markets.” Why is this?   Because today’s modern landfills continue to clear all the hurdles, they work, they’re scalable, they’re economical and there are policies and regulations in place to support and encourage the developments of next generation alternatives in this space.   In short, these facilities are pumping-out clean, inexpensive, renewable energy like no other option!

This is where achieving true Circularity comes into play and it’s what most technologies are striving for when it comes to last/best option in handling waste – Energy Recovery. WM spends a great deal of time and expense exploring best possible options. However, one of the major pillars of WM’s strategy is adhering to the price discipline that is Mr. Steiner’s legacy. “In a business where there is no price elasticity in demand, we must stay dedicated to that discipline” and with the current low energy prices, “nothing can compete with the low landfill pricing.” According to Mr. Fish, other options have cost-structures that are at least 3-10 times the cost of landfill air space.

WM remains dedicated to a “sustainable” recycling business. As they should, not only are they the biggest landfill company in North America, they’re also North America’s biggest recycler – by an even wider margin.   In fact, it’s one of WM highest returns on invested capital, a business they want to ensure survives and thrives in the future. But Mr. Fish points out that we are in unchartered waters, the changes in products and packaging that are coming into our homes are significantly different and so are the recyclables going out, considerably increasing contamination rates and reducing value. This has led WM to take a hard look at what recycling means in term of environmental benefits.

When it comes to packaging, Mr. Fish wants us to realize that we’re an “on-the-go” society. This is translating into copious amounts of plastic packaging, much of which simply cannot be recycled.   This “convenience rules” trend is going to continue, causing tension between the desire to ‘recycle it all’ and the limitations of equipment, human behavior and the customer’s tolerance for cost.   With a 6-7% growth in non-recyclable flexible packaging, a 15% growth in E-Commerce and a recycling stream that’s 30% lighter than it used to be, Mr. Fish recommends evaluating the objectives to make sure we’re targeting that which achieves the greatest return value.   He explains, “Environmental benefits of recycling look very different when approached from a greenhouse gas emission reduction perspective versus simply looking at how many pounds or kilograms of material are averted from landfills.” So this got Mr. Fish and the rest of WM thinking, “What‘s the right goal? Is it to keep chasing that last ton to recycle or is it to achieve the highest possible environmental benefit? For years, recycle tons has been the goal and in response to high recycling goals, we’ve seen some creative efforts to achieve these goals. Even when the environmental impacts might be questionable and the economics just made no sense. We now believe that recycling should not be the goal in and of itself, we need to be a lot more specific to ensure that we are achieving the environmental benefits we want to and think we can.”

Mr. Fish goes on to explain that when it comes to the management of organic waste (including packaging) the first priority is in trying to reduce the amount of material from making it this far down the value chain – of course.  However, when this waste is collected for recovery (including non-recycled plastics, even the ones that say “recycla-bull”) it becomes feedstock for a process and a new product, either compost or an energy product.   Anything not designed to comply with either option reduces the quality of this feedstock driving-up cost and threatening the entire process.

To achieve real success, Mr. Fish emphasizes the need to be actively engaged in the entire value chain of material and suggests that we make-up our minds about packaging when talking about organic waste. “Do we love it for preserving food or do we loath it for making waste? Should we ban it, tax it, recycle it, compost it, burn it or landfill it? What are the comparative environmental benefits and the costs?”

Mr. Fish went on to highlight the importance of managing food waste. The main objective here is to reduce food waste and fortunately plastic packaging plays a critical role in preserving our food. Plastic packaging is not food and it should not be expected to perform like food, which would defeat the purpose. Nor should this material be comingled with food waste disposal, elevating the risk of more waste-stream contamination. Besides, industrial composting standards (ASTM D6400) require 90% conversion to gas in 180 days, leaving no nutrient value and losing any ability to capture the gas. In my opinion, compostable standards for packaging, although well-intentioned, simply overshoot any return value.   To jeopardize the entire supply chain with inadequate product performance and stability for the least common means of disposal doesn’t make much sense to me. Instead, more focus should be on the primary means of disposal (anaerobic) and the proven asset that this environment offers, the recovery of clean renewable energy.

Nonetheless, Mr. Fish emphasized that we can attack both sides of this problem. “We are in the midst of rapid change, changing demographics, changing consumer behavior, change in purchasing habits and packaging innovations, all of which are having huge impacts on recycling and the waste industry. Our response needs to be sophisticated and strategic… And as we tackle sometimes competing needs, all of us, producers, retailers, regulators and others, must use data to make the right environmental and economic decisions… We have the data, let’s put it to use!”

The data provides a clear pathway to achieving our environmental goals. Packaging should have the highest value and minimize environmental impacts in its most common discard method– without compromising the package quality. For the vast majority of packaging this does not equate to recycling, instead the environmental and economical winner is conversion to energy in modern, environmentally safe landfills. This shift in creating science and data driven solutions, rather than basing actions on perception or environmental folklore, is vital in reaching WM’s goal to process this material to its highest worth, maximizing the resource value and eliminate the environmental impacts of packaging in a way that’s both good for the economy and our planet.  Although this message seemed to completely elude the panel of experts that followed, discussing the conundrums of complex packaging, I hope others will begin to take Mr. Fish’s advice before we’re all swimming in it.

Something might be missing in that sustainable packaging playbook.

As we embark on 2017 a number of companies have rolled-out their packaging sustainability initiatives. I have to wonder, what the heck are some of them doing?  Last I checked the major problem is still the environmental impact that plastic waste is having on our planet – right?  I assume so, considering the latest projections estimate more plastic waste in the oceans (by weight) than fish by 2050. Which is plausible since production is through the roof and expected to double in the next 20 years, while we continue to struggle with dismal recovery rates and an antiquated view of recycling.

You might have also noticed an increase in the demand for clean, renewable energy.  With the world needing to greatly increase energy supply in the future, especially cleanly-generated electricity, this has become a top prioritySo, with that being said, how is it that the major producers of single-use plastic packaging seem to be unable to truly define the most common means of disposal and the value that can be achieved by simply complying with this fact?  Instead, they continue to irrationally demonize an asset that sits right under their proverbial noses.

Let’s try this exercise together. Let’s say you’re one of the giant producers of plastic packaging (Unilever, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Nestle, Pepsico, Kraft) and I were to ask you, what’s the most common disposal method of the plastic packaging you produce?  The collective and honest answer, albeit extremely basic, is a landfill. However, before panic sets in over this fact, let’s take a moment to define this a little more accurately.  Because today, 85% of all municipal solid waste in the U.S. actually ends-up in well-managed and heavily regulated anaerobic environment that controls and converts biogas into clean renewable energy. This is a fact and these facilities are generating power for communities and businesses, providing heat for homes and fuel for vehicles.

Can we stop pretending that this is a mystery? Recognize the innovations around how we manage waste and see what’s happening today. GM harnesses landfill-gas-to-energy for its 2.08-million square-foot facility reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 5,000 tons a year!  Tammy Giroux, manager of government relations for GM said, “(It’s) good for the environment, good for business and good for the community.” Waste Management’s landfill-gas-to-energy facilities power the equivalent of 470,000 households, offsetting 2.5 million tons of coal and 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. At the 2016 Resource Recycling Conference in New Orleans, David Steiner (former CEO of Waste Management) specified, “When you combine state-of-the-art landfill gas-to-energy systems with best-in-class recycling…That’s where you get the biggest bang for the buck environmentally.”  So why aren’t these major producers of single-cycle packaging including energy recovery as part of the overall “recycling” efforts and ensuring performance compliance with this asset?

Please don’t tell me that the molecules that make-up my bag of chips are far too valuable to waste and that it would make more sense to collect, sort and process this material into a worthless commodity rather than ensuring its removed from the environment and converted into energy.  Or worse, jeopardize both product stability and performance (including the ability to recycle) to achieve performance compliance with the least common disposal method that offers no end-of-life value.

According to the Environmental Research and Education Foundation (EREF), consumers are generating 6 lbs. of waste per day. It would take heavy-handed regulations and stiff government subsidies to program consumers into becoming hyper-vigilant garbage sorters.  For the foreseeable future, the political atmosphere does not appear to be conducive for such tactics.  We need to be smarter about the options before us and increase the value that can be derived from our existing infrastructures.  When high recycling rates are touted around the world, they usually include waste-to-energy.  Yet, too many companies still manage to overlook this valuable resource, disregarding the intrinsic environmental and economic benefits that it offers.   Hopefully, as we set forth into a new era, more emphasis will be placed on using LCA’s and factual scientific data to address the sustainability challenges we face.

Landfill Gas-to-Energy Turning waste into energy.

ENGINEERING MARVELS
Advanced Disposal’s landfills are impressive engineering structures that offer proven protection to the natural environment while providing a vital service to governments, businesses and residents. They are managed and operated meticulously, providing a safe and cost-effective disposal option for community waste.

Advanced Disposal engineers and designs its facilities with the latest technology in the waste industry. We incorporate state-of-the-art systems that include: Bottom Liner Systems, Leachate Collection Systems and Gas Collection Systems for our municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills.

ENERGY CONSERVERS

Landfill gas collection systems are how modern landfills deal with gases created within the waste. The landfill gas that is collected contains approximately 50% methane and is either destroyed by combusting it in a flare or is diverted to an on-site treatment facility for the conversion of this gas to energy. The conversion of landfill gas to energy is an effective means of recycling and reusing this valuable resource.

Here’s how the process to convert this valuable resource to energy works: as landfill cells are filled with waste, methane gas, a byproduct of any decomposing material, is collected from within the waste through a system of vertical wells and pipelines and directed to a separate on-site treatment facility. The treated landfill gas is either pumped off site to a manufacturer near the landfill to supplement or replace their natural gas usage or is used to generate electricity right at the landfill that is delivered to the electrical grid.

Another benefit of the destruction or utilization of this landfill gas is that it prevents the raw methane in the gas from escaping into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. At some Advanced Disposal landfills, the installation of these collection systems to destroy the methane in the landfill gas is done on a voluntary basis, and thus, we receive credit for reducing the impact of this greenhouse gas on the environment. Advanced Disposal is a registered participant with the Climate Action Reserve and upon completion of a thorough verification process established by the Reserve, Advanced Disposal is awarded carbon offset credits that can be sold to other consumers or utilities that desire to offset their greenhouse gas generation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has endorsed landfill gas as an environmentally friendly energy resource that reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, such as coal and oil. Advanced Disposal is an active participant in landfill gas-to-energy projects at our MSW landfills and continues to look for smart solutions for solving our community’s needs.

To read the original article click here: http://www.advanceddisposal.com/for-mother-earth/education-zone/landfill-gas-to-energy.aspx

Is recycling the key to sustainability?

graphThe 2015 U.S. plastic bottle recycling rate posted a slight decrease of 0.6 percent compared with 2014, according to the figures released by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) in the 26th annual “National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report.” At the current and projected rate of production, a plateau like this should ring alarm bells!  The data clearly shows we are not going to recycle our way to a sustainable future.

As someone who’s actively engaged in the sustainable management of plastics, I pay close attention to companies that are managing our waste. These companies are on the frontlines of managing the recovery and disposal of solid and hazardous waste materials, which include landfills and recycling centers. I strongly believe that integrating the advice from these groups and working with them hand-in-hand should be an integral aspect to any sustainability program.

For example, at the recent 2016 Resource Recycling Conference in New Orleans, CEO of Waste Management, David Steiner, specifically pointed out that in order to achieve the “biggest bang for the buck” environmentally, coupling recycling with landfill gas-to-energy offers the greatest return value. This is the “environmental” recommendation from David Steiner, not a shareholder perspective. And Waste Management should know, they are after all the ones actually doing all the work in collecting, processing and managing the vast majority of the our waste.

His shareholder perspective is profitability, as it should be.   In a recent interview with Bloomberg, David Steiner explains that when you look at the various commodities that are recycled, there are some that are profitable. Those are primarily fiber (paper) and metals. Once you start moving into organics (plastics) and glass, they become less profitable (and in most cases over the past few years, they have lost money). In places like California they’ll do things to subsidize those types of materials to ensure Waste Management makes a profit, and then people can recycle those materials… Elsewhere, this does not work economically and understandably so. However, Waste Management will do what the municipality wants, just not at the expense of its bottom-line.   They’ll be happy to recycle everything; it’s only a matter of how much you want to pay for it. But buyers beware if the commodity prices do not cover the processing costs, recycling becomes an exercise in futility.

Nonetheless, if the municipalities are willing to pay (increase taxes) for this exercise, Waste Management will be happy to oblige. They will “recycle” it, collect it, sort it and they will process it. For Waste Management, processing costs and a little profit are baked into the contract. If there’s no market, no problem for Waste Management, this material will end up disposed into a form that is not recycling.

Recently at K 2016, Patrick Thomas, chairman of the European trade group Plastics Europe, said that “every tonne of plastic that goes to landfill is a waste. It is too valuable a resource to go that way.” Really, if it needs to be subsidized by the government (tax payer money), what value is he referring to and is it sustainable?

Where exactly is the value? Last year the average bale price of recycled bottles fell by 31%, meaning that the bottles were less valuable last year than the year before. Couple this with oil prices dropping by 47% and the result is a compounded decrease in the “value” of recycled plastics.

Today, 80 million tons of non-reusable/non-recyclable plastic packaging is produced annually. This volume is expected to double in 20 years. If this 80 million tons were simply designed to comply with the primary disposal method (a.k.a. modern landfills), this material could provide enough energy to power 30 million homes for a year!

Nearly 50 years has passed since the launch of the first universal recycling symbol, today only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling. When additional value losses in sorting and reprocessing are factored in, only 5% of material value is retained for a subsequent use. Meanwhile, in a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish [by weight].  What are we doing?

There’s a pervasive attitude that we must recycle everything at all costs, this is not sustainable by any definition. Plastics, unlike aluminum, can only be recycled 3-4 times; eventually it will find its way into our waste streams and into our environment.   Although recycling does provide us the option to extend the life of some plastics, it is not an ‘end-of-life’ solution. We cannot recycle our way out of the environmental waste problem plastics are causing. If companies continue to ignore performance compliance with todays’ primary means of disposal, facilities that actively control and convert biogas into clean alternative energy (intrinsic return value), progress will remain stagnate. The science and data validate David Steiner’s recommendation; including landfill gas-to-energy provides an environmental and economic value higher than any other option.  We can take the advice or not, Waste Management will come out ahead either way, but will we?

Power Packed Plastic Packaging

image-landfill-gasplant

ENSO’s technology provides a value investment in sustainable packaging. Our material is added to standard resins (including biopolymers) at a 1% load rate during the manufacturing process, just like a colorant. There are no changes in processing parameters or any performance characteristics. However, it ensures proper performance compliance within our anaerobic waste environments. Anaerobic digesters, bioreactors and today’s modern landfills continue to be the single-most common disposal method of plastic packaging and all contribute to the energy revolution that is upon us.  Within these active infrastructures we have an opportunity to reduce environmental plastic waste and recoup end-of-life value.

Waste-to-Energy (WtE) is an active and growing resource, available throughout the developing world. In the U.S. alone, ENSO’s technology provides an immediate 85% capture rate to reduce greenhouse gases and over 75% conversion of biogas into clean alternative energy. The returns are significant, measurable and applicable to greenhouse gas initiatives, energy recovery efforts and the environmental waste problem.  Plus, it provides intrinsic value for consumers as well. With both world and U.S. energy demand expected to increase in the future, America’s energy resources will only grow in importance. Ensuring today’s plastics will be tomorrow’s energy is inseparable from America’s larger prospects for improved economic growth, job creation, security and quality of life.

For less than the average price fluctuation of raw material, pennies on the dollar, ENSO can put real power in your packaging. It is the most efficient way, both economically and environmentally, to elevate the end-of-life value through energy recovery.  Get it out of the environment and into the grid, join the energy revolution!

To learn more, please contact ENSO Plastics.

Renewable Energy: GM Plant Using Landfill Gas to Produce 54% of Its Electricity

A General Motors (GM) assembly plant based in Lake Orion, Mich., is ranked as the eighth largest user of green power generated onsite in the United States among the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership (GPP) partners. Over half of the automaker’s plant is powered by methane captured from a nearby landfill.

Orion Assembly, where GM’s Chevrolet Bolt EV is built, saves $1 million a year by using renewable energy. The plant also is home to a 350-kilowatt solar array that sends energy back to the grid.

The EPA launched the GPP in 2001 to increase the use of renewable electricity in the U.S. It is a voluntary program that encourages organizations to use green power as a way to reduce the environmental impacts associated with conventional electricity use, according to the EPA website.

Waste360 recently sat down with Rob Threlkeld, global manager of renewable energy for General Motors based in Detroit, Mich., to discuss the company’s use of renewable energy.

Waste360: What is the process or technology used to capture the methane?

Rob Threlkeld: Landfill gas wells are installed in the landfill to capture the methane. A vacuum pulls the gas from the well through a pipe system. The gas is compressed and dried and sent to GM Orion Assembly to generate electricity. The compressed landfill gas is burned in on site generators to make electricity.

Waste360: How much energy is created and how is it used?

Rob Threlkeld: Orion Assembly generates up to 8 megawatts of electricity from landfill gas and that electricity powers the plant. Orion is producing 54 percent of its own electricity instead of buying it from a utility.

Waste360: Which landfills does the methane come from and what are their histories?

Rob Threlkeld: The landfill gas used at Orion Assembly comes from two nearby landfills, Eagle Valley, which is owned by Waste Management, and Oakland Heights Landfill, which is owned by Republic Services.

We’ve been pulling landfill gas from both landfills since 2002 to generate steam for heating and cooling. We’ve since reduced steam loads to the plant by improving the facility’s energy efficiency. In 2014, we started producing electricity from landfill gas on site. Fifty-four percent of the site’s electricity consumption comes from landfill gas. Both landfills are still open.

Waste360: Why did GM decide to become an Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership Partner?

Rob Threlkeld: We decided to become an EPA Green Power Partner to help show our leadership position in the renewable energy space and demonstrate the benefits of using renewable energy, including reduced energy costs and reduced CO2 emissions.

Waste360: How does the program benefit GM?

Rob Threlkeld: The GPP provides a third party stamp of our leadership in the renewable energy space to address climate change and reduce energy costs. We’re also eager to promote the use of renewable energy and make the case that other corporations, big and small, can use it, too. Being a Green Power Partner also provides tools and resources like communications assets, trainings and opportunities to connect with other partners.

Waste360: How many other GM plants use renewable energy?

Rob Threlkeld: Twenty-eight facilities use some form of renewable energy. Several sites, like Orion Assembly and Fort Wayne Assembly, source multiple types of renewable energy. Both of these facilities use landfill gas for electricity and host solar arrays. Combined, our facilities promote the use of 106 megawatts of renewable energy globally.

GM is a member of the Buyers Renewables Center and the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance. These organizations aim to accelerate corporate renewable energy procurement to help address climate change. As a member of these groups, we can share best practices in renewable energy procurement with others who are looking to scale up.

Megan Greenwalt | Aug 02, 2016

Read the original article http://www.waste360.com/gas-energy/gm-plant-using-landfill-gas-produce-54-its-electricity?utm_test=redirect&utm_referrer

Turning trash into energy makes good business sense

Many people probably don’t think their local landfills are more than a final resting place for waste. But companies like Apple and General Motors are using them as a source of renewable energy that reduces their costs and impact on the environment.

On average, Americans throw away five pounds of trash per person per day. Despite widespread efforts to encourage recycling and reuse, a Yale University research team found Americans only recycle about 21.4% of their waste. The resultant constant supply of decomposing trash makes landfills the third-largest human-created source of methane emissions in the US.

Methane as a greenhouse gas is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2). Unregulated and untreated, it can lead to smog, contribute to global warming and even cause health problems. But there’s a silver lining: generating energy from methane offers benefits like improved air quality and reduced expenses and waste.

To that end, a landfill gas energy project captures 60% to 90% percent of methane generated in the dump. It also avoids the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels that would have been used otherwise.

Trashy transformation

Here’s how that food wrapper or hole-filled sock you threw away turns into electricity.

1 After nearly a year of sitting in a landfill, bacteria begin to break down the waste and generate methane as a natural byproduct.

2 As sections of the landfill are filled, they are capped and closed off to additional garbage. Methane collection wells are added.

3 Methane is collected in wells or trenches that are connected to piping. A vacuum or blower system pulls the gas through the pipes to a collection head, which sends the gas to a treatment system.

4 The warm landfill gas cools as it travels through the collection system. The gas is treated to remove water condensation as well as particulates and other impurities, keeping the system clear so that energy recovery is not disrupted.

5 The methane passes through another filter where it is compressed.

6 The gas is then piped to a plant where electricity is generated, powering the facility’s engines or turbines which generate the power.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 0.67 megawatts of electricity is produced for every 1m tons of solid municipal waste. Landfill gas helps to manufacture items we use every day – such as aluminum, electronics and vehicles. Landfill gas can also be sent to a boiler to generate steam for a building’s heating and cooling system.

Companies benefit while helping the planet

GM invested in electrical generation equipment in 2013 to convert landfill gas to energy, making it the first automaker in North America to invest capital to create its own electricity. The equipment at GM’s Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Orion, Michigan, assembly plants together generate more than 14 megawatts of electricity from landfill gas. This helps the company avoid producing more than 89,000 metric tons of CO2 per year – equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 18,542 passenger vehicles.

It’s a strong business case: GM saves several million dollars annually at these facilities. It also acts as a long-term hedge against volatile energy prices. Both plants rank on the EPA’s Green Power Partner list of top onsite generators of green power.

Apple recently secured an agreement with North Carolina to build a facility that generates electricity from landfill gas. Although all of Apple’s US operations are completely powered by renewable energy, the project supports the company’s new subsidiary, which sells surplus power generated by its solar farms to other companies.

Landfill gas projects are on the rise. Their number increased by 300% since 1995 in the US, according to the EPA. Today, 648 operational projects create 2,099 megawatts of energy. An additional 400 candidate landfills have the potential to support such projects.

The EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) provides assistance for companies that are thinking about adding landfill gas to their renewable energy portfolios. EPA LMOP connects businesses, agencies, organizations and governments to experts.

“EPA applauds organizations’ demonstrated use of green power as a means to reduce their own carbon footprint,” said James Critchfield, manager of EPA’s Green Power Partnership. “Organizations are increasingly realizing meaningful environmental and economic benefits, particularly when they engage with new renewable energy projects.”

With so many active projects found in the US and around the world, the use of landfill gas as a resource is expected to grow. Germany, the world’s top producer, generated enough electricity this way to power 3.5m homes in 2009. Methane may also be purified to create the liquefied or compressed natural gas that powers many garbage trucks and city buses.

“Capturing landfill gas for energy makes sense from a business perspective, but the biggest benefit is to the environment,” says Rob Threlkeld, GM’s global manager of renewable energy. “If we can capture a greenhouse gas and prevent it from entering the atmosphere while generating a cost savings, that’s a win all around.”

Read the full original article found on theguardian website: https://www.theguardian.com/general-motors-partner-zone/2016/sep/07/trash-landfill-generate-energy-methane-greenhouse-gas

Orange County is packing power in Landfill Gas-to-Energy

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Do it for the OC! Can you imagine the concentration of plastic packaging that’s accumulated in Orange County alone?   Beyond standard recycling, did you know that Orange County has installed four Landfill Gas-to-Energy facilities? The most recent $60 million dollar investment will power 18,500 homes. Altogether, the four facilities will produce 400,000 megawatts of electricity per year, enough to power more than 50,000 homes. These projects are turning our waste into clean energy all over the country and right now they’re the single-most common disposal environment of plastic waste. Ensuring energy recovery in packaging design offers the greatest value in full-scale recycling. Get it out of the environment and into the grid, make today’s waste, tomorrow’s energy!  Design for disposal.

The Top 10 and Not a 1?

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This diagram represents the top ten producers of plastic packaging. The vast majority of the plastic applications that are produced by these brands become waste. All the film packaging, pouches, diapers, detergents, hygiene products, wrappers, coffee bags, food containers and much more, that’s produced by these 10 companies accounts for an astonishing amount of the plastic waste that is certainly not being reused or recycled in any meaningful way.

We hear a lot that environmental pollution is a consumer problem. We get told how to prepare our waste for recycling. “Put this here and put that there. No! Not that, this. Well, sometimes that, but probably not. Maybe, use water and wash it out. No wait – water..? Take it here or actually take it someplace over there.  Otherwise, it may need to be shipped somewhere..?”  And when you stop to take a look at the results of all this effort, you’re left wondering, are you kidding me, is all this even environmental? Enough already!

News Flash: In the last 50 years, we’ve invested heavily in how we manage waste and the infrastructures we utilize. They’re very impressive works of innovation and they’re regulated for environmental efficiency at the highest level. In fact, today 85% of all U.S. municipal solid waste ends-up in an environment that converts biogas into clean energy, generating a valuable alternative resource for our growing energy needs. Some of these companies are actually using the same means to power their own manufacturing facilities! Yet, accountability for this aspect in packaging design is scarce. How is this being overlooked?

We’re now dealing with decades of plastic waste that’s been left in our environment; we see the devastating repercussions and the projected damage it will cause. Plastic production has surged to 311 million tons and is expected to double in 20 years. Currently, plastic packaging accounts for nearly a third of the total volume of plastics used, and unlikely to be recycled. By ignoring the single most common disposal method of this material, valuable energy is being wasted and continues to compound the environmental problem.

If these 10 companies took one simple step to ensure packaging design for disposal compliance, the impact would provide tremendous and measurable value, for company and community. Getting plastics out of our environment and into the grid falls on the shoulders of producers not consumers.

Ensuring energy recovery should be paramount in packaging design, it’s the only opportunity to recoup value and it should be the top consideration in packaging sustainability initiatives. It’s the missing link to creating circularity; it’s recycling at its highest peak. With an immediate 85% capture rate at the fingertips of corporate sustainability leaders, what are you waiting for?

“People, Planet, Profit” – It’s not a triple bottom line.

Sustainability is a driving factor for many companies, however understanding how to measure and achieve sustainability has proven to be extremely complex. In 1994 John Elkington coined the phrase “people, planet, profit” at SustainAbility. This concept of the triple bottom line is now found in nearly all discussions of corporate sustainability. And while the newly commissioned sustainability executive will proudly tout their implementation of “people, planet, profit; I can’t help but feel they are missing the real solution.

The triple bottom line follows the belief that a business should account for and take inventory of environmental impacts and social impacts while maximizing financial gains. Inherently there is a constant struggle to justify the financial costs of environmentally sustainable solutions, and improving the community comes at a price as well. Inevitably all sustainability managers find themselves with ideas and solutions to improve people and planet, but without justification to implement these solutions because of the impact on profit.

The problem is that we need a fundamental shift in the understanding of the purpose of business and what “people, planet, profit” really means. Only then can these three aspects work together seamlessly.

Some believe the purpose of business is to make money – profit. The butcher makes money selling meat, the chef makes money cooking meals and the builder makes money buying houses. While each of these businesses could make a profit, this is not the purpose of business. If consumers don’t want meat, cooked meals or new homes, those businesses will never survive. The only way a business remains is if it provides a value to the community.

Obviously these are simplistic examples, but the overall perspective is the same. The purpose of business is to provide value. Value to the people, value to the planet.

Profit on the other hand is not a value provided. Profit is what you get in exchange.
In a truly sustainable business, “people, planet, profit” is not a triple bottom line – it is a math equation and it looks like this:

People + Planet = Profit

The profit is an inherent result of providing value to the people, value to the planet. In a sustainable business, profit should never exceed value, nor should it be less.

Perhaps the solution to the bottom line is simply creating a balance between the value you provide to people and planet, and the value you receive in return as profit?