Tag Archives: landfill gas to energy

Something might be missing in that sustainable packaging playbook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Landfill Gas-to-Energy Turning waste into energy.

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

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

ENERGY CONSERVERS

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

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

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

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

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

Is recycling the key to sustainability?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waste360: How does the program benefit GM?

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

Waste360: How many other GM plants use renewable energy?

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

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

Megan Greenwalt | Aug 02, 2016

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

Turning trash into energy makes good business sense

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

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

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

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

Trashy transformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Companies benefit while helping the planet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Top 10 and Not a 1?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Landfill Power: Turning Gas into Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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