Category Archives: Biodegradation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recovery Cannot be Ignored in a Circular Economy :

Hierarchy

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

The recovery of Landfill Gas-to-Energy provides predictable results and a better value proposition for single-cycle applications than any other disposal method we have available today.   As we embark on creating a “Circular Economy” we need to harness the resources available to us.  The idea is to recoup, or recover, the greatest value possible within a products life-cycle, including disposal.  Plastics cannot be recycled perpetually, it is not an end-of-life solution.  In order to get plastics out of the environment and into the grid, it falls on producers, the brands and manufactures, to ensure its applications are designed to comply with this disposal method.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Circularity with Single Cycle Packaging

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

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

companies

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sustainability with Landfilling

    When considering landfills from a sustainability perspective, often the most difficult thing is to step back from the negative connotations of landfills. Too often, sustainability managers get caught in the trend of “zero landfill” because it is great marketing and it sounds like it would be more environmental. We must overcome the negative perception of landfills so we can evaluate them objectively.

     The truth is always in the facts. Landfills are an important part of any sustainability strategy. Most all of the waste worldwide goes into landfills. Landfills can be the most environmentally and economically beneficial disposal options for certain items. Technology has completely changed landfills; they are not the same as they were prior to the 1980’s. And landfills are an important part of many municipal green energy initiatives.

    The design and operation of landfills has completely changed over the past few decades. Landfills are now actively managed to avoid leachate absorption into the surrounding soil, to avoid air emissions and they are a valuable and consistent source of renewable energy. Modern landfills are by far the most inexpensive method to dispose of materials and they allow a means to provide economic and environmental value through the conversion of landfill gas to energy.

     There is no doubt that most all plastics are disposed of in landfills. Even after 40 years of efforts to divert plastics from landfills, we still landfill over 90% of plastics. Many companies’ products and packaging will have closer to 100% landfill disposal. History has shown that we will continue to landfill plastics for a very long time and attempts to divert plastics from landfills usually causes more damage to the environment and economy than any benefit it may provide. Because of this, we must understand how to create sustainability with landfilling of plastics.

     Plastics in the landfill should biodegrade during the managed life of the landfill, 2-50 years. When compostable plastics enter a landfill many will biodegrade too rapidly and the methane is released into the atmosphere and most traditional plastics biodegrade over hundreds of years meaning, again, the methane goes into the atmosphere. We must use plastics that biodegrade during the 2-50 year managed time of a landfill so the methane can be managed, collected and converted to clean energy. Once collected, the methane provides energy, fuel, and reduces the methane’s global warming effects.

    Ultimately, we cannot disregard landfilling because plastics are, and will continue to be, discarded into landfills. Instead, we must design plastics that provide value in the landfill. In this way, we can create sustainability platforms that are more realistic and beneficial.

    For more details, check out the Sustainability Managers Complete Guide to Plastics: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0175AQ24K

     

    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