Tag Archives: landfills

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?

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

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.

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

Don’t Be An Environmental Honey Badger

Think for a moment that you’re at the drugstore picking up a few items. Some products you may be loyal to, others you may be trying for the first time. Would the packaging play a role in what you buy at the store? Would you consider buying something in a recyclable container before buying a product with packaging that will go into the garbage?

Maybe you don’t care where it ends up. Maybe you do. Did you know that even if you were to you choose the packaging that says it can be recycled, will most likely end up in a landfill anyway? Surprising, I know! Don’t feel bad, most people don’t know this.

In an effort to be “green” those consumers, conscious of the environment, tend to purchase items with recyclability. Even though you may choose a product based on the “green factor” of its packaging being recyclable, ninety-four percent of recyclable products will end up in a landfill.  Turns out your efforts to be “green” are mostly moot.

Recycling is a misnomer. I’m not suggesting that we stop putting items in our green recycling can on recycle day. Six percent of our recyclable items get recycled. I’m suggesting we take a closer look at where our products and its packaging are ending up.

What if you are the person who doesn’t care where the packaging goes? You throw it in the garbage and it magically disappears when that big truck stops in front of your house once a week and dumps all your problems.  Not your garbage anymore, but it’s still your problem.  How can it still be my problem you ask? Because you, along with me, along with billions of other people live on this earth. And what we do to our planet affects us all.

And for you do-gooders who buy “green” and recycle everything, nice effort! But, most recycling facilities are very picky about what they recycle. Do you know what happens to the material they don’t recycle? Yep, it ends up in a land fill.

Ultimately, a land fill seems to be the final resting place for most of our products’ packaging. Landfills that are quickly filling to capacity.  Landfills that are full of packaging that will sit under the dirt for hundreds of years. It won’t be our problem by then, but it’s a problem we’re causing for the future. It’s a good thing if you’re wondering if there are any solutions to this environmental issue.

Biodegradable plastic is the solution.  An additive added to the plastic manufacturing process that will allow the plastic to biodegrade when placed into a land fill. The plastic that is not recycled can now be discarded without worry that it will affect the environment.

Going “green”, as a consumer, is an end result not a purchasing result; unless what you’re purchasing will end “green”.  Don’t be an environmental honey badger. Care enough to know where your products and its packaging are ending up.

Debunking the Myths of the Paper vs. Plastic Debate, Part I

Image by Aeropause

Standing at the grocery store checkout, realizing you forgot your reusable shopping bags, or if you did remember them, you don’t have enough, you’re faced with the decision: paper or plastic? First, you’re momentarily overcome with pangs of guilt; second, the inner dialogue commences. You’re a deer in the headlights, frozen, afraid to make a move.

There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the Great Bag Debate, much of it perpetuated by misinformation, common assumptions, and a whole lot of greenwashing. For years, it was thought that the better choice for the environment was paper, but it turns out that paper and plastic bags are just about equal in pros and cons. They both use resources, cause pollution, and generate many tons of waste that more often than not, ends up in the landfill.

To further complicate the conundrum, there is more than just paper and plastic to consider these days; plastic alternatives, including corn-based PLA, and landfill biodegradable plastics are commonly being used in packaging. As eco-conscious consumers, which bag do we choose, and how can feel good about our choice?

The Resources and Energy Pitfall

Myth #1: Paper is made from a renewable resource, so it must have a lower impact.

The first part of this statement is true, but in fact, paper production deals a double blow when it comes to climate change and environmental impact. First, forests are cut down, removing trees that absorb greenhouse gases and convert it into oxygen (not to mention the other impacts on wildlife and ecosystems in general); in 1999, more than 14 million trees were cut down to produce the 10 billion paper bags consumed in the U.S. alone. Second, manufacturing paper from pulp takes a tremendous amount of energy, and because paper is relatively heavy, it takes a lot of fuel to transport the finished product.

How does this compare with the plastics? Of course, there are impacts associated with the extraction of petroleum (just look at the Gulf), but it turns out that the actual production of plastic bags releases about 92% fewer emissions into the atmosphere than paper bag production, and requires about Plastic bags also weigh significantly less than paper, requiring less fuel to get them from point A to point B.

What About Waste


Myth #2: Paper breaks down in the landfill faster than plastic, so it must be the better choice.

Image by greenismyfavoritecolor.net

It turns out that under standard landfill conditions, paper does not degrade any faster than plastic. Even newspaper can take years to break down; newspapers excavated from one New York landfill were mostly intact after 50 years, and another in Arizona was still readable after 35 years. Indeed, the largest percentage of solid waste in U.S. landfills comes from paper and paperboard products, about 31%.

On the other hand, the new generation of plastics somewhat complicate this debate. PLA, or corn-based, plastics commonly used in disposable cutlery, packaging, and plastic grocery bags is compostable, but only among the perfect conditions found in a commercial composting facility, NOT in the landfill where  most plastic ends up, or even in the backyard compost pile.

Biodegradable plastics, like ENSO’s products, however, do break down in the anaerobic landfill environment in a short amount of time (an average of five years), leaving behind only methane, carbon dioxide, and biomass. The use of an additive in standard plastic production also makes it a cost-effective solution. In terms of the plastic waste problem, the biodegradables currently hold the most promise.

Next week, in Part II, we’ll take a look at the aspects of pollution and recycling, and see how the contenders hold up.

Putting Biodegradable Plastics and Methane to Work for Us

When organic material and ENSO Bottles are broken down by microbes in landfills, the decomposition process results in the creation of many gases, including methane, which can be very harmful to humans, animals and the environment if not handled properly. But methane also has the potential to be very beneficial to society if a nationwide system could be put in place to give it a practical use, such as supplying our homes with electricity.

Maybe you’ve heard the term “landfill gas.” Methane and landfill gas are not one and the same, although methane does account for roughly 40 to 60 percent of landfill gas on average; the remaining percentage is a mix of carbon dioxide and small amounts of various other elements.

Methane has its pros and cons. At room temperature and standard pressure, it’s non-toxic and odorless; however, it can be highly flammable as well as an asphyxiant, meaning it displaces all the oxygen in an enclosed space and could cause a person in the room to suffocate. Methane is also known to accelerate the breakdown of the ozone layer and contribute to global warming. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it can remain in the atmosphere for nine to 15 years.

But municipalities that have the means to safely harness the gases coming off landfills can put methane to work for them in a positive way. When you compare methane to the other hydrocarbon fuels, also known as fossil fuels (for example, coal and petroleum), methane produces less carbon dioxide when burned, leading many to argue it’s a greener alternative when it comes to heating homes, powering stoves or running our cars. Methane can also be converted to electricity right on-site at a landfill, providing cities with a relatively convenient and cost-effective way to add power to its electrical grid.

This is how it works: Garbage arrives at a landfill, where it’s compounded and left to decompose (1). As the microbes eat away at organic matter and other biodegradable objects, ENSO Bottles included, the process creates landfill gases (2) that enter underground pipes (3). The pipes transport these gases (4) to a facility where any and all harmful contaminants, such as mercury or sulfur, can be filtered out and neutralized. After the methane is isolated, it can be pumped into an engine (5), which powers a generator, which creates electricity (6). Cities that employ this method can add the power generated by their landfills right into their power supply grid. What city wouldn’t want such an efficient system in place?

According to the EPA, of the approximately 2,300 currently operating (or recently closed) municipal solid waste landfills in the U.S., more than 490 have wised up and utilize landfill gas energy projects — that’s up from the 395 programs that were in place at the end of 2005. And, the EPA has identified at least 515 additional landfills that would be good candidates, which would be capable of producing enough electricity to power more than 665,000 additional homes in the U.S.

Ideally, we would live in a culture of zero waste, where every product manufactured is reused, recycled or reclaimed, but the reality is, landfills are very much a part of our society and won’t be going away any time soon. So one thing we can focus on right now is supporting biodegradable products, such as the plastic bottles ENSO makes, as well as projects that reclaim energy from landfill methane in order to ensure that what we toss out as garbage will live on to heat our homes, power our vehicles and make our waste management system just that much greener.

Corn Lobbyists don’t get the final word

California’s governor vetoed SB-1454 despite its intent to clarify misleading labeling

The recent demise in California of legislative bill SB-1454 took some by surprise. This cleverly written piece of legislation was designed supposedly to clarify misleading labeling claims and would prevent the sale of plastics in California whose packaging is labeled not only biodegradable but also compostable. 

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JUNK SCIENCE: How Politicians, Corporations, and Other Hucksters Betray Us

The book titled JUNK SCIENCE: How Politicians, Corporations, and Other Hucksters Betray Us by Dr. Dan Agin was very interesting book. Dr. Agin has a Ph.D. in biological psychology and thirty years of laboratory-research experience in neurobiology and is an associate professor emeritus of molecular genetics and cell biology at the University of Chicago.

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MICROBES: An Invisible Universe

microbesThe book titled MICROBES An Invisible Universe by Howard Gest was one of the most informative and interesting books I have read on the world of microbes. This book is 200 pages crammed full of detailed information about the history and the function of microorganisms, also known as microbes. The author, Dr. Howard Gest is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Microbiology and Adjunct Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. Dr. Gest is widely recognized for his research on microbial physiology and metabolism.

 

The Ecology of microbes to one another and their surroundings is extraordinary with respect to the diversity of chemical and physical conditions that can be tolerated. Microbes thrive in extreme environments with regards to temperatures, high concentrations of salts and sugars, relative acidity, and with or without the presence of oxygen.

 

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