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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

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!

    It’s NOT Magic; It’s Science!

    Some of the fondest memories that I have of my childhood include the magic of the holidays. As a child believing that a mystical being would surprisingly arrive at your home to leave gifts and candy was amazing. I mean really, what could be better than finding an Easter basket filled with candy, or waking up to find money left under your pillow in exchange for a lost tooth, or the mother of them all, waking up on Christmas morning to find a room filled with toys and candy.

    As an adult thinking back on those days I find it simply amazing that so many people were in on keeping that magic alive. Friends, family members, teachers, neighbors, stores, media and complete strangers were all part of building that magical, mystical time of our lives and we believed it no matter how inconsistent the stories were. We wanted to believe it because it was magical and simply awesome. But unfortunately we grow up and are eventually let in on the big secret of what happens behind the magical curtain. Oh sure, it’s devastating as a child to be told about the big lie, the big secret.

    As a father myself, I have become all too familiar with what it takes to keep the holiday magic alive for my children and someday for my grandchildren. As an adult I have learned the difference between believing in magic and believing in scientific facts and data. This is probably one thing that led me to starting a company that is passionate and dedicated to providing fact based real environmental solutions for plastics and rubber.

    In heading up such a company I have been amazed to learn that some adults have hung onto the belief that magic still exists! Being part of environmental company focused on solving the global plastic pollution problem I have seen and heard quite a lot of amazing, bizarre and flat out crazy ideas and beliefs. Over those past seven years. I have seen firsthand just how cutthroat so called “environmentalists” can be to others. There are a lot of opinions out there as to what the best approach is to solving our environmental problems, and there are still people out there that believe in magical solutions to our environmental problems. I have actually heard grown adults call the process of biodegradation; magical, make believe, and mystical. And although the microscopic world is magical to describe – it is not magic at all – its science.

    This leads me to the point of this article, it is not magical thinking, voodoo, or other types of mystical conjuring or hopeful thinking that is going to solve our global environmental (specifically plastics) pollution problems. Its downright solid science! Science based on the realities of having shelf-stable products, our consuming habits, and factual assessments of the conditions and infrastructures currently handling our plastic waste. All that scientific data is then used to develop solid solutions for addressing plastic pollution and waste “TODAY”, not tomorrow, or sometime in the distant future!

    Too many times we read articles or press releases by companies announcing some future plan to address the plastic waste that their products and product packaging are producing. They usually say some absurd comment that by 2020 or some very far out there timeline, that they will have a solution to address the waste that their products produce, or even worse they do nothing tangible and announce that they support the recycling of their product and packaging and yet the realities are that their product/packaging isn’t recycled. There are even others who promote personal opinions as fact or they make up magical, unrealistic and flat out ridiculous solutions that are not based on any scientific facts, and are hopeful at the very least.

    What we need to solve plastic pollution is to stay focused on the realities and facts of where plastic waste is being disposed of; which are landfill environments. The facts are that over 90% of all plastics are disposed of in landfills. You may not like hearing that, but none the less, it is a fact and one that cannot be ignored (although some try really hard). Once we come to the realization of where plastics are being disposed of we can develop solutions that best fit these existing infrastructures. For example; here in the United States, plastics will end up predominately in landfill environments with a seriously distant second being that of a recycling environment and lastly some plastic are incinerated or becomes litter. There are no (zero, none, zippo, nada) industrial composting infrastructures that readily accepts and processes industrial compostable plastics. And, when you look at the science behind many compostable plastics they do not scientifically show to be a solution to plastic pollution.

    Knowing this fact about where our plastic waste is being disposed of in it leaves us with our two existing infrastructures of landfills and recycling. Again, you may not like this reality but to ignore this fact would be ignorant and would prevent real solutions from being implemented that would actually make a difference.

    Recycling basically takes care of itself, if the plastic material is recyclable and that item is placed in a recycle facility it will most likely get recycled. Keep in mind that placing plastics into the recycle bin does not make that plastic become recycled. Only specific types of plastics are recycled, these are based on the economics of recycling that specific type of plastic.

    But what about the +90% of plastics being disposed of in a landfill environment? Did you know that landfills today are designed significantly different than they were 20 years ago? Modern landfills are designed to manage the gases that are created as a result of biodegradation. When carbon material (food, plastics, yard waste, plant debris, etc.) is disposed of in modern landfills the biodegradation process from microbes creates methane gas. Methane gas is also called natural gas and is flammable. Modern landfills collect and convert landfill gases to energy. Today, over 74% of municipal solid waste is disposed of in landfills that capture and convert landfill gas to green energy – and to top that off, it is the least expensive form of green energy available, cheaper than hydro, solar and wind.

    This process of converting landfill gas to energy is already happening today, there is nothing you or I need to do to make this happen, except to just change the way we think about plastics. What if plastics could be designed to be recycled (when and where possible) and also biodegrade when disposed of in a landfill, where the gases generated from the biodegradation process would be collected and burned to create green energy? Did you know that nearly all of the states that make up the United States have landfill gas to energy included in their green energy portfolios? This is all happening today and all we have to do is be smarter about our plastics!

    Some might call this magic, magical or even voodoo; but here at ENSO Plastics we call it Science – a fact of life or reality! Come check it out for yourselves. Let’s move away from believing in the magical or hopeful yet- to- be- created solutions for plastic pollution and focus on science, facts and data to start making a difference today.

    California Energy Commission Recognizes the Value in Landfill Gas to Energy

    Its no argument that California is home to the largest population in the United States. With over 37,000,000 California residents, Californians no doubt produce A LOT of waste. In fact the state produces over 42 million tons of waste per year. The majority, I mean the vast majority of this waste being disposed of into landfill environments. When organic material (not the Whole Foods organic, the carbon based organic) is disposed of into landfill environments the biodegradation process of organics in these type of environments (low oxygen) produces a tremendous amount of methane gas. This gas, (methane) is a very potent greenhouse gas and if not handled properly would be very bad to release into the atmosphere. Luckily we have solutions for handling the methane produced from landfills. The California Energy Commission recognizes that a good solution to handling the methane gas that is generated from landfill sites it to collect the gases and convert it to green energy.

    As of July 2013, California has 78 operational landfill gas recovery projects with 32 additional landfill candidates. In 1995, the 42 landfill gas to energy sites produced a total electricity production of about 246 megawatts. Today with over 36 additional sites the production of electricity is much higher.

    Landfill gas to energy has been commercially utilized in California now for several decades with the state including landfill gas to energy as part of its green energy portfolio.

    If California and nearly all other states within the United States recognize the value in converting landfill gas into energy, wouldn’t it make since that we take measures to ensure that the waste that goes into landfills would biodegrade within the managed time-frame of that landfill? If you answered yes, you would be thinking the same way we do and this is why our ENSO RESTORE landfill biodegradable additive is such a value added technology. Plastics enhanced with ENSO RESTORE allow brands, manufacturers and consumers to know that regardless of it that plastic item will end up disposed of in a recycle stream or landfill it will provide a value outlet and will no longer be looked at as just waste or garbage.

    You can view the California Energy Commissions website on landfill gas to energy here: http://www.energy.ca.gov/biomass/landfill_gas.html

    Just the Facts! Landfill Gas Renewable Energy

    What is landfill gas?
    Landfill gas is the product of the anaerobic decomposition of organic materials in a landfill. Methane comprises approximately half of this gas and can be converted into a renewable energy product. The EPA established the Landfill Methane Outreach Program to promote landfill gas beneficial use projects by partnering with states, local governments and the private sector. This program is a cornerstone of federal renewable energy initiatives.

    What kind of energy can landfill gas produce?
    Electricity generation is the most common energy recovery use, with two-thirds of existing projects producing this form of renewable energy. One third of the projects directly use landfill gas in boilers, dryers, kilns, etc.

    Companies using landfill gas include BMW, SC Johnson, Tropicana, Ford, Dupont, Honeywell, Sunoco, General Motors, Fujifilm, Dart, Stouffers, Anheuser Busch, Frito-Lay, and many more.

    How many landfills convert gas to energy?
    According to EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach program, as of July 2013, 621 landfill gas energy recovery programs are operating in the United States and approximately 450 other landfills are good candidates for these projects.

    What are the energy benefits of using landfill gas as a renewable energy source?
    As of October, 2012, existing recovery projects produced annual amounts of 14.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 102 billion cubic feet of landfill gas for direct use.

    EPA estimates these products provide annual energy benefits of powering 1 million homes — a little fewer than in the state of Nevada and heating 736,000 homes — about the number of homes in Maine.

    What are the environmental benefits of using landfill gas as a renewable energy?
    In addition to the energy conservation benefits provided by converting landfill gas into a renewable energy product, reduces greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, diesel or other fuel oil. EPA estimated for 2012 that landfill gas recovery projects had an annual environmental benefit of carbon sequestered annually by more than 21 million acres of pine or fir forests OR carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions from 238 million barrels of oil consumed OR annual greenhouse gas emissions from 20 million passenger vehicles.

    Landfill gas recovery is recognized by EPA’s Green Power Partnership and 37 states as a source of green, renewable energy.

    Landfill gas is generated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Its generation is not dependent on environmental factors such as the amount of sunlight or wind. In fact, landfill gas supplies more renewable energy in the United States than solar power. Landfill gas recovery has an on-line reliability of more than 90 percent.

    Find the original National Waste and Recycling Association document and Landfill Gas Renewable Energy Fact Sheet here: http://beginwiththebin.org/images/documents/landfill/Landfill-Gas-Renewable-Energy-Fact-Sheet.pdf

    US EPA reports 74% of waste is in landfill gas energy projects

    Every day there is a new article referring to the value of landfill gas to energy (LFG Energy) and how it integrates into overall waste management sustainability.  The increase in discussion about how landfills are an integral part of sustainability made me wonder what the real numbers are and if LFG Energy is in fact growing trend.

    Well, I just finished going through the entire EPA landfill database and here are the results:

    (For clarification: These calculations only include landfills that are currently accepting waste “active landfills” because for sustainability purposes regarding product design, closed landfills would make no difference as they no longer accept waste. I also removed landfills that had been open less than 2 years as landfill gas management would not yet be applicable.)

    Number of active landfills in the US:                                            1174

    Total US EPA reported waste in place:                                         4,733,180,647 short tons

    Number of landfills with current or planned LFG Energy:          435

    Total US EPA reported waste in place at LFG Energy sites:     3,488,101,967 short tons

    Percentage of waste in place at LFG Energy sites:                      74%

    So while only 37% of the landfills are converting the methane to energy, these landfills are much larger and accept much more waste so they have a much higher impact than the landfills not collecting methane and converting it to energy. In short, 74% of our waste placed in active landfills is in landfills that will actively capture the methane and convert it to energy.

    In the past 20 years there has been a 430% increase in the number of LFG energy sites. This is an average annual growth rate of 21.5%. Keep in mind this is only the increase in the number of landfills with LFG Energy projects. Because the landfills with energy projects are the larger landfills, the true impact on the waste stream is grossly understated. If the growth numbers were based on the amount of waste being put into LFG energy sites, the numbers would be much higher.

    The growth rate of waste going into LFG Energy is much higher than the single digit increases reported in any other waste disposal scenario. Seems that this is more than a trend, it is a change in direction that has been quietly taking place over the past 20 years.  With more of our waste going into LFG energy facilities, sustainability professionals must design products that integrate into the process by biodegrading within the landfill.

    Fueled by the Future | Back to the Future | Presented by Toyota Mirai

    Watch the future become reality as two Back to the Future icons see trash get turned into fuel for a car! And some people believe biodegradation doesn’t happen in a landfill. Silly them, this must seem like pure magic….

    When Should You Not Recycle?

    By Robert Coolman

    Reduce, reuse, recycle—but for environmentalists, that’s not always a good idea.

    When is it right to recycle? If your answer is “always,” I plead with you to re-evaluate your priorities as an environmentalist. We certainly have an obligation to use Earth’s resources and manage waste responsibly, but I believe the priorities and practices of modern environmentalism are in serious need of introspection.

    Films like “Wall-E” and “Idiocracy” would have you believe that we are only years away from skyscrapers of garbage on the outskirts of our cities, but the truth is landfill capacity isn’t a problem in the foreseeable future. According to a letter in Nature Climate Change, U.S. landfills have an average of 34 years of capacity remaining, though capacity is growing at a rate of 2.7 years annually. Also, it’s not as if that land is unusable once it’s filled. Much of NYC is built on top of garbage, and so are many parks. Local governments are typically upfront about what places were formerly landfills (here’s mine) and continually monitor methane gas and liquid leachate levels, concerns that modern landfills are specifically engineered to manage.

    To say that landfill space isn’t a problem in the foreseeable future isn’t to say we shouldn’t think about it at all. Rather, there are concerns that will cause much larger problems much, much sooner. Because we are already seeing the effects of climate change due to the increase in greenhouse gases, the right time to recycle is when it reduces greenhouse gas emissions. If landfills can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we should absolutely use them.

    Recycling the hard-to-find elements put in many electronics is a no-brainer. Energy, pollution, and money are also all saved when comparing the reprocessing of post-consumer metal scrap against mining and processing ore. As for other stuff? With one major exception, it should all be landfilled.

    A common criticism of landfills is how long it takes materials to break down. Ironically, this is backwards; it’s the materials that break down fastest that we should be most concerned about. When organic materials like food, yard waste, and biodegradable plastics break down in a landfill, they anaerobically decompose to produce methane. This is a problem because methane is more than 20 times potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, which is what organic matter turns into when it composes aerobically in a composter.

    There’s two ways to solve this methane problem. First is to capture the methane produced from a landfill and burn it. This turns the methane into carbon dioxide and can generate electricity. While this is the traditional method, it only works after a landfill has been capped. According to Waste Consultant and Yale Student Jon Powell, “91 percent of all landfill methane emissions are due to landfills that are still open.” Additionally, the infrastructure to produce electricity from combusting methane is subject to a cost/benefit analysis of how much methane is produced and for how long.

    The alternative is to separate out organic matter from other landfilled solids, then intentionally turn it into methane which can be turned into electricity at an even greater return. Because the carbon contained in biomass (and by extension the carbon in the gases that evolve from it) was brought out of the atmosphere by plants performing photosynthesis on atmospheric carbon dioxide, returning bio-based carbon to the atmosphere (specifically in the form of carbon dioxide) does not contribute to the total amount of atmospheric carbon, and thus does not contribute to climate change.

    So now we’re up to four bins: electronics, metal, biodegradable stuff (including most paper), and everything else. The “everything else” bin goes directly to the landfill, and includes both plastic and glass. Recycling glass is so close to a borderline energy improvement that it probably doesn’t deserve its own bin. As for plastic, anything that’s not code 1 (rPET) can’t be recycled to make containers and is instead demoted to plastic lumber, etc. When it’s done being that, it’s almost certainly going to the landfill anyway.

    Why not incinerate used plastics to produce energy? The atoms in plastic come from petroleum, so burning plastic still counts as a fossil fuel and creates a net increase greenhouse gases. In a landfill, the carbon in plastic is said to be “sequestered” which is the end goal of taking carbon out of the air and storing it so it won’t reach the atmosphere. Methods of sequestering atmospheric carbon are still under development and inherently take lots of energy; more energy than we got from burning the plastic in the first place. Instead of (1) burning plastic (2) taking the released carbon out of the air at great energy cost and (3) sequestering it, it’s probably best just to leave it sitting in a landfill.

    Read original post here: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/10/24/reduce-reuse-recycle-but-not-always.html

    This was a great article and shows that the author has a pretty good understanding of the realities of recycling. In my time I have run across a handful of people that are misguided in their belief that we should recycle everything. When you hear someone say this you can rest assured that the person making that statement lacks the understanding and knowledge about the realities of recycling. And unfortunately, many people mistakenly quote countries out of the EU as recycling rates as high as 80%. Many of these countries include incineration in their recycling numbers.

    Unfortunately those that may think we should recycle everything throw out inaccurate and misleading recycling rates out into the public domain to get others to believe the same misguided and environmentally and economically detrimental approach to our waste. In the meantime, there are companies like ENSO Plastics who understand the realities of our waste infrastructures and is working diligently to develop solutions that will make the most environmental impact today.

    Click here to download a free white paper on how to develop sustainability strategies of reaching zero waste; http://www.ensoplastics.com/download/Plastics_EstablishingthePathtoZeroWaste.pdf