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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

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=

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

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/

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!

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

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 & 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

    Is it time to rethink recycling?

    Updated by Amy Westervelt on February 13, 2016, 10:00 a.m. ET

    Originally published on Ensia.

    Criticize recycling and you may as well be using a fume-spewing chainsaw to chop down ancient redwoods, as far as most environmentalists are concerned. But recent research into the environmental costs and benefits and some tough-to-ignore market realities have even the most ardent of recycling fans questioning the current system.

    No one is saying that using old things to make new things is intrinsically a bad idea, but consensus is building around the idea that the system used today in the United States, on balance, benefits neither the economy nor the environment.

    In general, local governments take responsibility for recycling. The practice can deliver profits to city and county budgets when commodity prices are high for recycled goods, but it turns recycling into an unwanted cost when commodity markets dip. And recycling is not cheap. According to Bucknell University economist Thomas Kinnaman, the energy, labor, and machinery necessary to recycle materials is roughly double the amount needed to simply landfill those materials.

    Right now, that equation is being further thrown off by fluctuations in the commodity market. For example, the prices for recycled plastic have dropped dramatically, which has some governments, many of which have been selling their plastic recyclables for the past several years, rethinking their policies around the material now that they may have to pay for it to be recycled. It’s a decision being driven not by waste management goals or environmental concerns, but by economic reasons that could feasibly change in the next couple of years.

    Not only that, but in some cases recycling isn’t even what’s best for the environment.

    The solution, according to economists, activists, and many in the design community, is to get smarter about both the design and disposal of materials and shift responsibility away from local governments and into the hands of manufacturers.

    Material world

    Because most people dispose of used aluminum, paper, plastic, and glass in the same way — throw them into a bin and forget about them — it’s easy to think that all recycled materials are created equal. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Each material has a unique value, determined by the rarity of the virgin resource and the price the recycled material fetches on the commodity market. The recycling process for each also requires a different amount of water and energy and comes with a unique (and sometimes hefty) carbon footprint.

    All of this suggests it makes more sense to recycle some materials than others from an economic and environmental standpoint.

    A recent study by Kinnaman provides research to back up that assertion. Using Japan as his test case — because the country makes available all of its municipal cost data for recycling — Kinnaman evaluated the cost of recycling each material, the energy and emissions involved in recycling, and various benefits (including simply feeling good about doing something believed to have an environmental or social benefit). He came to the controversial conclusion that an optimal recycling rate in most countries would probably be around 10 percent of goods.

    But not just any 10 percent, Kinnaman cautions. To get the most benefit with the least cost, we should be recycling more of some items and less — or even none — of others. “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[s] of fiber,” he wrote in a follow-up piece in the Conversation. “Optimal recycling rates for these materials may be near 100% while optimal rates of recycling plastic and glass might be zero.”

    Kinnaman’s assertions about plastic and glass have to do with the cost and resources required to recycle those materials versus the cost and availability of virgin materials. But he’s not without his critics, particularly on the plastics front, given that he describes the environmental impact of making virgin plastic as “minimal,” a conclusion based more on the emissions and energy required to recycle plastic than the fact that the stuff persists in the environment forever. Still, Kinnaman’s point — that we need to be choosier about what we recycle — has resonated with environmentalists and waste management experts alike.

    The commodities conundrum

    Cardboard is among the materials for which recycling is most economically and environmentally beneficial.

    We may also need to find a way to decouple recycling from the commodities market. What’s happening with plastics right now is a good example of why. In the eastern US, to cite just one example, prices for recycled PET plastic fell from 20 cents a pound in 2014 to less than 10 cents a pound earlier this year, while recycled HDPE prices dipped from just under 40 cents a pound in 2014 to just over 30 cents per pound today.

    That’s thanks to a confluence of factors: Oil prices have dropped from US$120 in 2008 to less than US$35 a barrel today; growth in the Chinese recycled goods market dropped from its typical steady, double-digit annual growth to 7 percent in 2015; and the dollar is strong, which makes American recycled materials more expensive than their European or Canadian counterparts.

    “The price drop has come at a time when a lot of cities have severe budget constraints anyway, so some communities are beginning to look more skeptically at recycling,” says Jerry Powell, a 46-year veteran of the recycling industry and longtime editor of the recycling industry trade publication Resource Recycling. “But three years ago, when we had record-high prices, they were expanding their recycling efforts.”

    Powell adds that changing technologies can also play a role in determining what does or does not make sense from a recycling standpoint. Recycled plastic, for example, was largely used in carpeting 15 years ago, but these days more of it is making its way back into beverage bottles.

    “Nestlé has really led the way on this — they knew they needed more recycled material and so they have invested in processing infrastructure and agreed to pay slightly more for recycled plastic,” Powell says. “Fifteen years ago there was zero recycled plastic going toward making new bottles. Now more is going into bottles because the technology has improved, we’re collecting more plastic, and consumers are more aware and are asking for more recycled content.”

    If not recycling, then what?

    Although recycling may not be an optimal fate for plastics, neither is landfilling. As a result, governments and businesses are looking into options such as reducing use and returning used materials to the source.

    That type of “closed loop” thinking is where solutions to today’s recycling woes tend to be focused. Extended producer responsibility, or EPR, laws for packaging would require manufacturers to take back the plastic, cardboard, and form-fitting foam their products come in, ideally with the purpose of recycling and reusing it in future packaging. Such policies essentially assign manufacturers the task of collecting and processing the recyclable packaging materials they produce.

    Companies can set up any sort of recycling system they want — they can continue to fund curbside pickup and pay a recycler to process the material, or they can switch to some sort of drop-off method and opt to do the recycling in house — the only stipulation being that they have some sort of a take-back and recycling program in place.

    EPR not only lets local governments off the hook for paying for recycling but also effectively divorces recyclable materials from the commodities market: Companies could opt to sell the recycled material they collect and generate, but they would also have another use for the materials (producing more packaging for their own stuff) should the commodities market crash.

    Currently, several European countries — including Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Ireland — have EPR laws, as do Australia and Japan. In Canada, the province of British Columbia has province-wide EPR laws, while Ontario EPR laws cover about 50 percent of disposable goods.

    Germany’s EPR laws for packaging have been in place the longest (since 1991) and offer the clearest picture of the impact these laws have on waste management. According to an in-depth case study of Germany’s EPR system conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the country’s EPR laws were credited with reducing the total volume of packaging produced in the country by more than 1 million metric tons (1.1 million tons) from 1992 to 1998 alone, representing a per capita reduction of 15 kilograms (33 pounds).

    “Significant design changes were made to reduce the amount of material used in packaging,” the report notes. “Container shapes and sizes were altered to reduce volume, and thin-walled films and containers were introduced.”

    The overall market showed a noticeable shift away from plastics as well, with a reduction in total volume from 40 to 27 percent. Germany is one of the European Union’s top recyclers, with 62 percent of all packaging being recycled.

    Efforts to pass EPR laws for packaging in 2013 in Minnesota, North Carolina, and Rhode Island met with opposition from the consumer packaged goods industry. But according to Matt Prindiville, executive director of the nonprofit Upstream (formerly the Product Policy Institute), which has long led the charge for packaging EPR laws in the US, the current commodities crash in recycling is making EPR more attractive to local governments.

    “The conditions for recycling in the US have only gotten worse,” Prindiville says. “Commodity markets have collapsed, and the revenue cities were used to getting to offset the cost of covering recycling have dried up. That’s driving the conditions for EPR.”

    The goal with EPR is to balance the needs of all stakeholders, from companies to recyclers to citizens. If implemented correctly, Prindiville says, it should actually benefit companies, not threaten them. “This is not a tax on your products, it’s about figuring out how to get stuff back and do something with it, and you figure out the financing yourself,” he says. “It is a market-based system.”

    Burning — and better

    Meanwhile, according to a 2012 report from the nonprofit As You Sow foundation, some $11.4 billion worth of valuable PET, aluminum, and other potentially useful packaging materials are being landfilled each year. A more recent report, published this year by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation, finds that 95 percent of the value of plastic packaging material alone, worth $80 billion to $120 billion annually, is lost to the economy.

    While Kinnaman makes the case that landfilling those materials doesn’t cost as much as once thought, it’s hard not to see those materials as wasted if they’re just sitting in a hole in the ground. Plus, the MacArthur Foundation report points out that plastic packaging generates negative externalities for companies, such as potential reputational and regulatory risks, valued conservatively by the United Nations Environment Programme at $40 billion.

    “Given projected growth in consumption, in a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20% of total oil production, and 15% of the annual carbon budget,” the news release accompanying the MacArthur Foundation report states.

    That’s precisely why some countries — Sweden, for example — have come back around to the idea of incinerating garbage now that technology has evolved to reduce emissions from incinerators. Thirty-two garbage incinerators in Sweden now produce heat for 810,000 households and electricity for 250,000 homes.

    The US plastics industry has been pushing for a similar strategy for dealing with plastic waste — particularly the latest class of thinner, lightweight plastics that don’t fit into existing recycling streams — but critics note that burning plastic still emits toxic chemicals. Instead, Prindiville says he’d like to see the US work toward building a circular economy, as many European countries are trying to do. “Forward-looking CEOs are really drilling down and questioning what is the role of these materials? What’s the role of packaging? And how do we ensure a cradle-to-cradle loop instead of wasting resources?” he says.

    Bridgett Luther, founder of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, says that while legislation might help, it’s when companies also see the value in these materials that things will really change.

    To that end, some companies have already created their own take-back programs, motivated by innovation and market forces rather than regulation. Luther points to the carpet industry as an example, with companies such as Shaw Floors and Interface routinely taking their carpet back to recycle it into new carpet. In the beverage industry, Coca-Cola made a commitment to use 25 percent recycled plastic in its bottles by 2015, a number it had to downgrade due to high cost and short supply of recycled material. Walmart is in a similar situation, currently struggling to find the supply to meet its goal of using 3 billion pounds (1 billion kilograms) of recycled plastic in packaging by 2020.

    “That material is as good as virgin,” Luther says. “There’s a lot of interesting innovation that could happen and could happen very quickly if groups of industry got together and said, ‘We’re going to come up with our own take-back program.’”

    The ultimate solution, according to Prindiville, the MacArthur Foundation team, and Luther, is better design of products and packaging further upstream to plan better for end of life and avoid the waste issue altogether. “You can regulate all day long but it’s easier to incentivize,” Luther says. “And much more interesting.”

    Read the quoted article here: http://www.vox.com/2016/2/13/10972986/recycling

    A final thought, by Danny Clark – President ENSO Plastics:

    Its confusing and sometimes funny to think about the efforts we humans go through trying to solve the problems of the world. The solutions usually range from the simple to the extremely complex. What I find amusing is how many so called “professionals” push for the extremely complex and costly solutions that require legislation and subsidies to make work, when in the end many of the simplest solutions work much better.

    How long do we continue to debate the issue of how to handle our waste, and how many billions more do we have to spend before the realities of the “recycle everything” religion comes to the fact and science based conclusion that we should be making our materials integrate into the existing waste environments that we have today.

    Today, the majority of our trash is already being disposed of into landfills. Over 74% of municipal solid waste is disposed of into landfills that convert landfill gas to green energy. These are already the facts, no need to spend more money, no need to educate, no need to do anything different other than making our plastics fit into these environments.

    ENSO RESTORE is a additive that is added into standard plastics to make them landfill biodegradable as well as recyclable. If all plastics were enhanced with ENSO RESTORE we would address nearly 100% of our plastic waste issue. Imagine that for a moment!