landfill gas to energy

A Look at the Largest Landfill Gas-To-Energy Project in Georgia

The three new plants, combined with Republic’s Hickory Ridge landfill operation, establish Republic and Mas Energy’s landfill gas-to-energy portfolio as the largest in Georgia.

Republic Services Inc. recently unveiled a new renewable energy project with partner Mas Energy LLC that will serve the Metro Atlanta area, generating 24.1 megawatts of electricity, or enough renewable energy to power 15,665 households.

“The energy will be supplied to Georgia Power for distribution throughout the local electric grid. In all likelihood, Georgia Power’s retail electric customers in Metro Atlanta will utilize the energy,” says Michael Hall, principal and chief development officer for Mas Energy based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Their agreement, which also includes partners Georgia Power, I Squared Capital, Crowder Construction Company and Nixon Energy, is for 20 years and will convert methane captured from three local landfills at gas-to-energy facilities in the cities of Buford, Griffin and Winder. Those landfills combined have an approximate daily volume of 7,000 tons.

The three plants, combined with Republic’s Hickory Ridge landfill operation, establish Republic and Mas Energy’s landfill gas-to-energy portfolio as the largest in Georgia,” says Michael Meuse, general manager for Republic Services in Atlanta, Ga.

Landfill gas-to-energy projects like these involve capturing methane, a byproduct of the normal decomposition of waste, from the subsurface and routing the methane to a series of engines. These engines convert the methane into electricity, which can be distributed to the local power grid.

“Methane is a greenhouse gas that is naturally produced as organic waste breaks down anaerobically in landfills,” says Meuse. “Methane gas is recovered by the gas collection systems. Gas wells are driven into the waste mass and powerful blowers are used to create a vacuum to draw out and pipe the gas to the energy plant.”

The system then converts the methane gas into a clean-burning fuel.

“The power generation facility utilizes internal combustion engines fueled by the collected and treated landfill gas to produce electricity, which is then delivered to Georgia Power’s transmission and distribution system,” says Hall.

The partnership was fueled by Georgia embracing renewable and clean energy projects within state lines.

“In 2006, Georgia’s Public Service Commission established the ‘QF Proxy Unit Methodology’, whereby qualifying facilities in the state of Georgia were eligible to enter into power purchase agreements (PPA) with Georgia Power that recognized the full value of renewable and clean energy to Georgia consumers,” says Hall. “Mas Energy secured its PPA in early 2014 and brought Republic Services a proposal to build plants at Republic’s Atlanta sites.”

Republic and Mas Energy had previously collaborated on a project at Republic’s now-closed Hickory Ridge landfill site.

“Based on that positive experience, the agreements were made between Mas Energy and Republic Services to develop the (recently announced) projects,” says Hall.

Meuse says that according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculations, energy produced from landfill gas-to-energy facilities will offset the equivalent of: carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from 127,795,779 gallons of gasoline; carbon sequestered by 930,919 acres of U.S. forests; and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from 6,090 railcars’ worth of coal burned.

“Projects such as these reduce reliance on non-renewable resources (coal and natural gas), reduce methane emissions from the site, and eliminate emissions from flares previously used for gas destruction,” he says.

Read original article in Waste 360 written by Megan Greenwalt @ http://beta.waste360.com/gas-energy/look-largest-landfill-gas-energy-project-georgia?utm_test=redirect&utm_referrer=

Sustainable Packaging: Are we wasting valuable energy vilifying landfills?

Biogas is a renewable energy source that exerts a very small carbon footprint and has proven to be an extremely viable resource. The cause is indisputable and the effect holds the key to significantly advancing sustainability in plastic packaging. The cause is a process in which living organisms, microbes, breakdown organic matter in the absence of oxygen (anaerobically). The effect is an immensely valuable alternative energy resource. Although the term for what causes this process cannot be labeled on any plastic packaging or product in the State of California, our ability to design plastic applications to biodegrade in anaerobic environments is the catalyst for advancing our efforts in how we handle plastic waste. To achieve circularity, recouping end-of-life value is imperative and our energy needs are paramount. Today, our most inexpensive disposal method returns one of our greatest needs and it’s already the single most common waste stream for plastics. With our ever growing energy requirements, is it wise to continue to overlook this valuable resource?

Speaking of California, did you know that Orange County just added another landfill gas-to-energy (LFGTE) project, making it the third LFGTE facility in this immediate region? At a tune of $60 million, this highly efficient and strictly regulated facility is not only estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 53,000 tons annually, but it will also generate roughly 160,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity. Collectively, the three LFGTE operations in this one region alone produce approximately 380,000 MWh of electricity annually, enough to power some 56,000 Southern California homes.

Apple, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, BMW, General Motors, Kimberly-Clark, Mars, UPS, Pepsi and many others have harnessed this valuable resource as an important part of their competitive strategy. The US EPA and the Departments of Agriculture and Energy recognized directed biogas as an emerging technology in a December 2015 report, touting that it “offers the nation a cost-effective and profitable solution to reducing emissions, diverting waste streams, and producing renewable energy.”

Today in the United States over 85% of all municipal solid waste is disposed of into landfills that are already converting landfill gas to green energy! This energy is used to power homes, manufacturing, businesses, schools, and government facilities. These are also the same landfills that are being used to dispose of the vast majority (over 90%) of all plastics used. Think about this; what if all of the plastics being disposed of into landfills were waste-to-energy compliant and would be converted into green/clean energy? We would instantly solve the vast majority of our plastic waste problem and help solve some of our energy shortage problem, all without the need to subsidize billions of dollars.

It is irrefutable that we have the ability/technology to accelerate the biodegradation process of plastics. The question now becomes, where should this process take place? In the New Plastics Economy, the objective is to harness innovations that can scale across the system, to re-define what’s possible and create conditions for a new economy. It’s about deriving greater “end-of-life” value through the infrastructures we already have in place. Today, one of our highest priorities is alternative energy. With the vast majority of plastic waste entering anaerobic environments that control and convert biogas into clean energy, we should probably stop ignoring the elephant in the room.

For more information, please contact ENSO Plastics.

Alameda and Palo Alto utilize landfill gas to energy.

Alameda and Palo Alto, CA, Use Landfill Gas as Reliable Source of Renewable Energy

One of California’s largest renewable energy projects, a landfill-gas-to-energy station at Republic Services‘ Ox Mountain Landfill in Half Moon Bay, has been generating renewable energy for the cities of Alameda and Palo Alto. The annual electricity generated by the Ox Mountain project prevents the release of 71,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. That is the equivalent of taking 11,800 cars off the road.

Alameda Municipal Power purchases 85 percent of its power from renewable energy resources. The Ox Mountain plant alone provides approximately 11 percent of the electricity consumed in the East Bay community. This new facility is one of four landfill-gas-to-energy resources presently powering Alameda. As a result more than 20 percent of Alameda’s power is being generated by landfill-gas-to-energy plants.

As a result of its utility’s power portfolio, Alameda ranks among the lowest in greenhouse gas emissions in California. Known as “The Greenest Little Utility in America,” environmental responsibility has been a major criterion in power resource selection and development by the utility since the 1980s. “The landfill-gas-to-energy project at Ox Mountain allows us to offer our customers another carbon-free source of power, and continue our quarter century commitment to renewable energy,” said Ann L. McCormick, P.E., President of the City of Alameda Public Utilities Board.

The nearby city of Palo Alto similarly had adopted goals of meeting 33 percent of its electric needs by 2015 with new qualifying renewable resources like the Ox Mountain Landfill. Palo Alto’s share of the project was projected to supply about 4 percent of the city’s electric needs. “Making use of this renewable energy resource reduces the amount of market power we have to purchase, which reduces the need for fossil fuel-powered electric generation in California,” said Peter Drekmeier, former Mayor of the City of Palo Alto. “By burning methane, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, this project has the added benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the landfill.”

Landfill gas is created when organic waste in landfills decomposes, producing methane–the primary ingredient in natural gas and a greenhouse gas. The landfill gas to energy plant captures the methane and turns it into electricity for use by residential and business customers. Converting landfill gas to energy prevents the release of greenhouse gases and creates electricity from a renewable, affordable source—reducing the need for power created from fossil fuels.

“The commissioning of this significant renewable energy resource for the people of California is another example of Republic’s commitment to the environment,” said Jeff Andrews, Senior Vice President West Region, Republic Services, Inc. “This is a larger plant in terms of renewable electricity production from landfill gas, and also represents the current best available technology for emissions controls, making it an extremely clean renewable energy source.”

Read the original message here: http://beginwiththebin.org/innovation/landfill-gas-renewable-energy

Recovery Cannot be Ignored in a Circular Economy :

Hierarchy

There’s about 78 million tons of plastic waste produced each year that is non-recyclable, non-reusable, already light-weighted and unavoidable. The next feasible option we have to “cycle” this material at its highest level possible is in energy recovery.  Fortunately, the vast majority of this material is already entering a waste-to-energy facility and there’s no need for infrastructure or behavioral changes. For this to happen, these applications simply need to be designed conducive for anaerobic environments.

The recovery of Landfill Gas-to-Energy provides predictable results and a better value proposition for single-cycle applications than any other disposal method we have available today.   As we embark on creating a “Circular Economy” we need to harness the resources available to us.  The idea is to recoup, or recover, the greatest value possible within a products life-cycle, including disposal.  The end-of-life problem we have with plastic waste remains and a single apparatus, that’s merely meant to extend life, is not enough.

A collaborative approach is vital, yet there are still some companies, even ones who’ve pledged their commitment to creating a circular economy, that scoff at the idea. Unwilling to design for disposal and dismissing the returns of alternative energy, they stay committed to a recurrent single strategy.  Is it because consumers won’t understand?  I doubt that, but using consumer comprehension as a litmus test in harnessing innovation, may not be the best idea.  Besides, as a consumer myself, I’d prefer an honest approach that provides intrinsic benefits, and less of my own involvement, to being misled that anything’s really being done at all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Recycle More? Or…Recycle Better?

Guest Blog by Susan Robinson, Senior Public Affairs Director for Waste Management

The other day, two colleagues from the waste and recycling world asked me to help settle a dispute. These two very smart people—one with a Ph.D.—were debating the composition of a plastic microwave tray and how it might be recycled…or not. Should they just toss it in the bin for the recycler to deal with? Municipal guidelines were unclear, but it felt wrong to just throw it in the trash. In the end, they tossed it into the single-stream recycling bin and hoped it would be recycled.

The episode left me wondering. If even we in the waste management world are so confused, what does this mean for the success of recycling in general?

Changing Habits, Changing Waste

Remember newspapers? Once common in American households, newspapers are increasingly a relic, as more and more of us read our news on computers or portable devices. The result? The United States generates a whopping 50 percent less newspaper than we did a decade ago, and 20 percent less paper overall. That’s a huge decrease for a ten-year stretch.

While paper use has declined, the use of plastics has exploded, with new resins and polymers allowing for new possibilities in packaging. Changing demographics—especially the large Baby Boomer and Millennial generations —mean that more consumers are choosing convenient, single-serve packages for meals and snacks.

At the same time, an emphasis on fresh, healthy, and convenient foods is driving a boom in plastic packaging, which can reduce food waste to the tune of preventing 1.7 pounds of food waste for each pound of plastics packaging. However, there is a loss of recyclability on the back end, after those packages have served their use. Today’s recycling materials recovery facilities were built to process approximately 80 percent fiber and 20 percent containers, not the 40/60 or 50/50 mix that we are seeing today. The new mix of inbound material is leading to increased processing costs.

Prevalence of Plastic in Packaging: Saving Grace or Problem Child?

Plastic packaging is both a boon to the environment and a challenge. It’s lightweight, great at protecting and preserving goods, and as a petroleum-based product, in the current global marketplace, it’s cheap. Flexible plastics packaging—also called “pouches”—offer new levels of convenience and freshness, especially in the food industry.

Plastics offer environmental benefits, too. When you look at the entire lifecycle of many types of plastic packaging, they require far fewer raw materials and less energy to manufacture than do other packaging alternatives. Over the years, as the use of plastics has grown in consumer goods and packaging—increasingly crowding out glass, metals, and some paper—society has reaped these benefits. Yet, if there is a downside to plastics, it’s that they have had a dampening effect on recycling quality.

It’s extremely confusing for consumers to understand how to recycle plastics. For starters, there are all the numbers—1 through 7—each with their own, distinct chemical properties, uses, and recyclability. In addition, many manufacturers are including additives to color their packaging, resulting in low-grade plastics that can’t be recycled. So, for every plastic container that can conceivably be recycled—where facilities exist—there are scores that can’t.

So, what do the numbers mean? Here’s a sample consumer plastics recycling guide from Moore Recycling Associates.

Plastic Resin Codes

Is it any wonder that consumers are confused?

As we all know from experience, it can be mighty challenging indeed to determine how and where to properly recycle these materials. Many of us simply toss plastics into the recycling bin—and hope for the best.

Contamination of the Recycling Stream

The mixing of non-recyclable plastics into the recycling stream—called contamination—is a common occurrence. Types of low-grade plastics are not recyclable, while plastic bags are typically only recyclable by returning them to grocery or retail store for recycling (not curbside), so their presence increases contamination and the cost of recycling across the board. In most communities, an inbound ton of waste now has an average of 17 percent contamination, while some loads can contain as much as 50 percent non-recyclable material.

Lightweighting Adds to the Mix

Lightweighting—using lighter material for a product or reducing the weight of the material itself—is becoming a common practice, especially with water bottles made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate). With lightweighting, a typical water bottle now weighs about 37 percent less than it used to. Lightweighting has many benefits, like reducing the amount of plastics used and therefore produced, and helping to lower freight costs during transport of products. But lightweighting challenges the current economics of recycling.

For example, in the current recycling commodities market, recovered PET plastic feedstock is sold by weight, not volume. This means that we need to process 35,000 more bottles than we used to, in order to create one ton of PET feedstock. Using this formula, we would have to process 3.6 billion more water bottles each year to get the same weight of material that we sold a decade ago. Since our costs are currently based on volume and our revenue based on weight, lightweighting drives up our costs and dampens the long-term economic feasibility of recycling and recovery programs.

The Troubled Economics of Recycling

For the past several decades, our primary customer for many types of recyclables has been China, whose booming economy required an almost constant supply of raw materials. However, as China’s economic growth has slowed, they have started to limit the kinds of recyclable feedstock they will accept, shrinking the marketplace and reducing demand for this material.

At the same time, the strong U.S. dollar makes U.S. recyclables more expensive, and therefore less attractive, on the global market. Low oil prices also make virgin materials more attractive than feedstocks derived from recycled content. In other words, the market for plastic feedstocks is shrinking—just as the costs to create those feedstocks are rising (our next blog will talk more about this).

What Is the End Goal?

As a society, we used to think that if recycling is good, then more recycling is better. We made recycling convenient so we could collect more recyclables and achieve our weight-based goals. In the process of pushing for higher recycling weights, however, many have lost sight of the actual goal: to lessen the overall environmental impacts of the waste we produce. If we go back to this larger picture, we see that success doesn’t necessarily mean recycling large percentages of material based on the weight of the waste stream; rather, success means a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions or raw materials extraction. Recycling is one way to achieve this goal, but it is not the ultimate goal. As we all strive to achieve our overall environmental goals, recycling is just one tool in our toolbox.

The popular, newer, non-recyclable plastics test the very goals of recycling. No one wants to put more plastic in a landfill, but when you look at the true environmental impact of different plastic products and uses, the results might surprise you. For example, an EPA lifecycle study looked at different types of coffee packaging to see which consumed the most energy, emitted the most CO2 equivalent gas, and produced the most municipal solid waste. The researchers found that both the traditional recyclable steel can and the large plastic recyclable container performed worse than the non-recyclable flexible plastic pouch. The lightness and flexibility of the plastic meant such savings in transportation and efficiency that it had a smaller environmental footprint overall than did the recyclable materials.

So, Where Do We Go From Here?

Flexible plastics aren’t going anywhere, so consumer education is crucial to preventing contamination at recycling facilities. This is why recyclers and cities are devoting large amounts of resources to help people understand what’s recyclable—and what’s not. We will eventually figure out how to recycle flexible plastics. However, we also need to rethink what our goals really are—and how best to measure them. Is measuring recycling percentages based on weight the best way? Or is it time to find a new way to gauge our success?

At Waste Management, we believe that it is time to change our collective thinking around this critical issue. As the waste stream is increasingly filled with more energy-efficient and lighter weight materials, it’s simply not sustainable to continue to set recycling goals that are unrealistic and fail to capture important environmental benefits like overall emissions reductions.

Perhaps the time has come to shift to a new metric: a “per capita disposal goal” that can better account for the full value of waste reduction. That’s to say, what if the focus weren’t just how much you recycle, but how much greenhouse gas you avoid? Instead of recycling for the sake of reaching a weight target, the goal would be to achieve the best overall result for the environment.

Such a measure, reflecting a lifecycle approach to managing materials, could go a long way toward accurately capturing the full picture of materials use, and send the right signal for truly sustainable materials management practices.

Additional comments by Danny Clark, President ENSO Plastics

This was a very informative blog by Susan Robinson.

The biggest issue that I see in the industry and with talking to sustainability managers and consultants across the board is that many of them have mistakenly fallen into the trap of going with the “flow” or “public think” about how to implement sustainability for the plastic materials used in products and product packaging. The knee jerk thought that we should recycle everything approach is based more on a feel good response and not on any science or data.

Its only after our first decade into the “green movement” that we are realizing the key to developing solutions that make sense is to use science and data to our approach to determining what will minimize our environmental impact.

ENSO Plastics is all about the science and data and LCA studies show that we can reduce our carbon footprint with plastics that are designed to be landfill biodegradable. Over 74% of all municipal solid waste is being disposed of into landfills that are already capturing the converting landfill gas to energy. The LCA studies of converting plastics into landfill gas that is then converted to energy reduces the carbon footprint significantly.

As a society we’ve seem to have been pushed into a direction of demonizing landfills while at the same time promoting the notation that recycling everything must be good for the planet. Some of us are just now realizing that the science and data do not support that environmental folklore approach. Its time we get out of our way and rethink the way we address our plastic waste because what we are doing now does not and will not work in the long-run.

Read the original blog here: http://mediaroom.wm.com/recycle-more-or-recycle-better/

Finding Circularity with Single Cycle Packaging

Let’s look at the issue of plastic waste and how we can use the circular economic model to resolve some of the problems that we face, that’s ultimately spilling into our environment.   Some 300 million tons of plastic is manufactured globally each year and “plastic packaging” accounts for about 78 million tons of it. That’s 172 billion pounds of non-reusable, non-recyclable and unequivocally unaccounted for plastic waste. This includes items such as flexible packaging, films, foamed material, small items, contaminated material, complex/multi-layer applications and anything colored, where recycling and reusability are practically non-existent.  These are single use, single cycle, applications.  Also, there’s unanimous agreement that the vast majority of all these applications are destined for a landfill. And these are not the demonized landfills from days gone by; I’m talking about today’s modern landfills that are now energy generating power plants.

This discussion is not for the consumer, this is for the difference makers, the sustainability managers, the leaders that can make a difference. They’re the companies that, according to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), are to be held accountable for the post-consumer aspect of its products and packaging. I’m talking about companies like Kraft, Coca-Cola, Nestle, PepsiCo, P&G, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg, Mars, Unilever and all the brands under them.

companies

We all know, or the data tells us, that this is the single most common disposal method of all this material. It should also be known that waste-to-energy has proven to be one of our greatest resources for alternative energy.   Whether it’s an anaerobic digester, a bioreactor or today’s modern landfills, most plastic packaging is ultimately ending-up in a unique anaerobic environment that is controlling and converting biogas into clean energy. Some of these companies utilize the energy from landfills, yet they haven’t put the pieces together to figure out that the very trash that their products produce could be the feedstock for the alternative energy resource they’re already harnessing. Too often, the end-of-life aspect is ignored or swept under the rug with theoretical contemplations about disposal methods that simply don’t exist and senseless confusion.

Yet, nearly all 50 states include landfill gas-to-energy as part of their green energy portfolios. It’s recognized by the United Nations, the EPA, as well as dozens of Fortune 500 companies and government organizations that all utilize energy from landfills.  However, the dots just aren’t being connected.   I recently asked the Director of Sustainability for one of these 10 companies about this topic and they honestly said that they’ve never heard of such a thing and can’t imagine that we’ll ever get our energy from slowly decomposing waste. Yet, three years ago this same company won top honors by the EPA as one of the largest on-site green power generators because of its use of Landfill Gas-to-Energy (LGE) to power its manufacturing facilities! Seriously, why the disconnect between what companies are doing and what companies should and could be doing to think more circular? Imagine if you will, this same company implementing landfill biodegradable packaging and then using the energy from landfill gas.  This is true circular economy thinking, especially when energy needs will increase 50% in the next couple decades.  Without requiring any change to the infrastructures in place today and without modifying consumer behavior, these single use applications can be designed to cycle at a higher level.

I’ve heard the idea that plastics should be made NOT to biodegrade in a landfill because one day we might want to mine for this material. This is completely asinine and assumes that we’ll have a need to mine for this material within the next couple hundred years.  The reason being, plastic will eventually biodegrade, we just won’t be able to capture the gases produced if we wait too long. Instead, if these applications were designed to biodegrade within the managed timeframe of these anaerobic environments, for every million pounds of plastic waste that enters a LGE facility, it offers the equivalence of over 422,000 pounds of coal, 52,000 gallons of gasoline and more than 1100 barrels of oil, which is used to power homes and factories, as well as fueling vehicles!

The technology is readily available to make most any polymer application anaerobically biodegradable, or commonly referred to as Landfill Biodegradable.   The technology does not change any processing parameters, there’s no change in any performance characteristics, and it’s not expensive. In fact, for about the price of a Tall Cappuccino, tens of thousands of Starbucks Coffee cups can be designed to biodegrade in a landfill.   These multi-layer applications are not being reused or recycled, but they are going to a landfill. So what gives, is it because of the misguided concept that landfills are bad? Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the integral role of this disposal method that rely so heavily on; a lot has changed since the 80’s. In fact, you could say that we’re now diverting 75% of all MSW away from landfills, because the type of landfills that are being vilified are becoming obsolete – quickly.

A single loop system for handling our plastic waste is impractical, circularity does not mean singularity, there’s too much at stake, too much potential, and the infrastructure is already in place so there’s no need to implement Cass Sunstein’s “nudging” tactics to change consumer behavior. Besides, the fact that none of this material can/will be recycled is not because of consumer behavior, its feasibility and market demand, and it’s just not there. A company wanting to take accountability for its packaging needs to answer one candid question: What is the common disposal method of the application? Then, do what can be done to take advantage of this fact and understand the value in having our waste integrate into our waste infrastructures instead of working against it. The facts, the science and all the data, prove that there’s an enormous opportunity being overlooked.  I believe the circular economic model can work for plastics, but not if it’s simply a rebranding of the last 40+ years of rhetoric.

Landfill Power: Turning Gas into Energy

Paul Pabor, VP of Renewable Energy with Waste Management explains how they turn landfill gas into energy.

One source of renewable energy comes from landfills. Waste Management generates enough energy from its landfills to power over 400,000 homes (equivalent to 7,000,000 barrels of oil). Through a process called “landfill-gas-to-energy”, they are ensuring that the waste they collect does not necessarily go to waste.

Did you know that Waste Management produces more energy than the entire solar industry in the US.

How does the landfill gas to energy circle work? Biodegradable materials are disposed of into landfills which then biodegradable creating landfill gas which is captured and collected and sent to generators to provide energy for communities nearby.

Depending on where you live, when you turn on a light switch, that energy could be coming from the biodegradable materials thrown away into a landfill. Your plastics enhanced with ENSO RESTORE landfill biodegradable additive also biodegrade within the landfill and contribute to the landfill gas to energy circle.

From apple to light-bulb and now plastics to energy. Landfill gas-to-energy is some really Back to the Future kind of stuff. Its time we expand the way we think about energy!

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Are we recycling too much of our trash?

Thomas Kinnaman – Professor of Economics, Bucknell University

A recent credible study suggests the amount of waste Americans dispose in landfills each year is over twice what the EPA had been estimating.

Although this news may not surprise the country’s disposal facilities (who already knew the quantity of waste they take in), the study may strike an old nerve for many Americans – that our society generates too much garbage. The answer, we have been repeatedly told, is to recycle our waste. In fact, plans for zero waste or 100% recycling have been hatched in places including Berkeley, California and Indianapolis, Indiana.

But is more recycling always better than less recycling? Is it conceivable that society can recycle too much? What does the research say about the costs and benefits of recycling?

Unfortunately, not much is available. We may sense that more recycling is better than less recycling, but we really do not know. Our recycling habits developed not in the wake of a scientific understanding of these matters but perhaps, as John Tierney describes in his recent New York Times piece, on a leap of faith.

Last year, I coauthored a research study to estimate society’s optimal recycling rate. Results surprised us – society’s best recycling rate is only 10%. And only specific recyclable materials should be included in that 10%. What drives these results?

The literature on recycling

First, dozens of published economic studies from across the globe estimate that landfills depress neighboring property values, although this negative impact appears to diminish for small landfills. Second, a growing number of published life cycle analyses suggest that mining raw materials is damaging to the natural environment, and manufacturing goods with recycled materials rather than their virgin counterparts can be beneficial to the environment. But the magnitude of these benefits varies across materials.

Finally, the economics literature suggests recycling requires more economic resources than simple waste disposal. The value of the extra energy, labor and machinery necessary to prepare materials for recycling can double the value of those resources needed to dispose the material in the landfill.

Our study made the first known attempt to combine these various costs and benefits into one analysis to estimate what recycling rate is best. Our conclusion was that recycling up to 10% appears to reduce social costs, but any recycling over 10% costs the environment and the economy more than it helps. The environment and economy suffer as we transport some recycled materials to destinations as far afield as China.

It’s generally cheaper to send household garbage to a landfill than to recycle because there are lower processing costs.

These provocative results certainly require confirmation from future independent and objective research before broad policy goals can be adjusted. Also, many of the benefit and costs associated with waste disposal and recycling vary across regions of the country and world, and thus optimal recycling rates may also vary. For example, we used municipal cost data from Japan for this study because the United States and most European countries do not keep such data.

But if these results hold for other developed countries, then society should collectively rethink how to approach recycling.

Detailing the costs of waste and recycling

This paper identified several factors that help justify possible reductions in the recycling rate.

First, the environmental damages associated with both modern landfills and incineration plants turn out to be less than traditionally imagined. These facilities certainly depress neighboring property values – on average each ton of waste deposited in a landfill or incinerated is found to reduce property values by about US$4.

But modern disposal facilities in most developed countries are required to abide by strict environmental standards, and air and water pollutants such as methane and carbon generated by these facilities (and the carbon monoxide and consumption from the trucks transporting waste to these facilities) appear less than previously expected. These environmental standards have increased disposal costs (tipping fees) paid by waste generators by as much as $50 per ton, but the remaining external costs have fallen to roughly $5 per ton disposed. Thus, collectively waste disposal facilities generate just $9 per ton in external costs borne by society ($4 from depressed property values plus $5 from remaining air and water pollutants). Economists had once imagined external costs of $67 per ton to as much as $280 per ton.

But because these costs do not appear on the balance sheet of the disposal facility, the assessment of a corrective tax of $9 per ton disposed is necessary for disposal facilities to consider these costs when making decisions. Once this tax is in place, then laws requiring municipalities to recycling can be lifted.

Municipal programs have greatly expanded recycling in the US.

Second, recycling is rather costly to municipal governments. The cost for New York City to process one ton of materials for recycling markets is about $300 more than the cost of simply taking that same material to the landfill, according to the recent New York Times article. In many cases, the travel itinerary for recycled materials, which increasingly includes final destinations in developing countries, exceeds by large margins the distance that garbage is transported.

Third, we found the primary benefits of recycling accrue not from saving landfill space but from generating materials that, when used in production, are less costly to the environmental than mining those materials from the earth. Our study concludes that using an average ton of certain recycled materials in the place of a ton of virgin materials generates environmental spillover benefits of as much as $400 per ton.

By the way, this monetary estimate (and all dollar estimates associated with environmental considerations) is calculated using two processes. First, the life cycle analysis identifies the physical quantity of carbon, sulfur, nitrates and other pollutants associated with the entire life cycle of waste and recycling systems. Second, the economics literature has developed per-dollar estimates of the impact each unit of pollutant costs society. Each ton of carbon, for example, has been estimated to generate $25 of damage to the natural environment.

Targeted recycling

But the substantial environmental benefits outlined above of using recycled materials in production vary substantially across materials. Aluminum and other metals are environmentally costly to mine and prepare for production. Paper, too, is costly to manufacture from raw sources. But glass and plastic appear relatively easy on the environment when manufactured from raw materials.

These differences are vital. Although the optimal overall recycling rate may be only 10%, the composition of that 10% should contain primarily aluminum, other metals and some forms of paper, notably cardboard and other source of fiber. Optimal recycling rates for these materials may be near 100% while optimal rates of recycling plastic and glass might be zero. To encourage this outcome, a substantial subsidy offered only on those materials whose life cycles generate positive environmental benefits should be applied.

In the end, the economy and the environment, speaking in one unified voice, may wish for society to reduce the overall quantity of waste recycled. Perhaps recycling efforts need to surgically focus on only those specific materials that really matter to the economy and the environment. Other materials can be simply disposed of in modern facilities.

Read original article at: https://theconversation.com/are-we-recycling-too-much-of-our-trash-48724

Energy from landfill gas

Energy from Landfill Gas

Begin with the Bin – Be smart with your recycling and garbage.

As landfill waste decomposes, it produces methane and other gases. More than 75 percent of this gas is available for use as “green” energy. Landfill gas can be used to generate electricity, or it can be piped directly to a nearby manufacturing plant, school, government building and other facility for heating and cooling.

Trash, buried beneath a layer of soil, decomposes and produces gas. Landfill operators place collection wells that act like straws throughout a landfill to draw out the methane gas. The gas is then piped to a compression and filtering unit beside the landfill. Technicians make sure that the gas is filtered properly before it is sent to its end user. The entire process is carefully managed to prevent odors and leakage of waste material.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as of July 2014, there are 636 operational projects in 48 states generating nearly 2,000 megawatts of electricity per year and delivering enough renewable energy to power nearly 1.1 million homes and heat over 700,000 homes. It is worth noting that the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that landfill gas recovery directly reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA estimates that using methane as renewable energy instead of oil and gas has the annual environmental and energy benefits equivalent to:

  • The greenhouse gas emissions from more than 33 million passenger cars
  • Or eliminating carbon dioxide emissions from over 11.6 billion gallons of gasoline consumed
  • Or sequestering carbon from over 22.1 million acres of pine or fir forests.
  • Higher energy prices have helped these activities become one of the fastest growing segments of our industry. As of July 2013, EPA estimates that about 440 additional landfills currently are candidates for landfill-gas-to-energy projects, with the potential to produce enough electricity to power 500,000 homes. And continued innovation will allow us to expand the use of landfill gas for energy. One example is a “bioreactor”: a landfill where liquids are added to the waste and re-circulated to make the trash decompose faster and speeds the production of landfill gas. This is not a hypothetical technology – this is happening now.

    Download our new Landfill Gas Renewable Energy Fact Sheet.

    Read the original Begin with the Bin article here: http://beginwiththebin.org/innovation/landfill-gas-renewable-energy

    Landfill Gas to Energy

    Landfill Gas & Renewable Energy

    Begin with the bin – Be smart with your recycling and garbage.

    Imagine a future where communities are powered by the trash they throw away – that future is here. Through innovation and leadership from members of the National Waste & Recycling Association and others associated with the solid waste industry, our waste can now be tapped as a source of renewable and sustainable energy. This happens primarily through two technologies: landfill-gas-to-energy projects and waste-to-energy facilities.

    According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, the solid waste industry currently produces nearly half of America’s renewable energy. Energy produced from waste and other forms of biomass matches almost the combined energy outputs of the solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and wind power industries.

    The use of landfill-gas-to-energy and waste-to-energy enhances our national security by reducing our reliance on foreign energy. These activities also help reduce emissions that cause climate change, because landfill-gas-to-energy projects involve capturing methane (a greenhouse gas), while waste-to-energy activities displace fossil fuel sources and lower landfill methane emissions by diverting waste from landfills.

    Our members are dedicated to advancing processes and technologies to help meet some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century, making our country a better place to live and work for current and future generations.

    Original article found on Begin with the Bin – Be smart with your recycling and garbage website: http://beginwiththebin.org/innovation/landfill-gas-renewable-energy