Tag Archives: energy

Recycling: Making Sense out of the Cents

Last week I was reading the European Federation of Waste Management and Environmental Services (FEAD) assessment that the EU will need to invest up to $12 Billion (€10 Billion) to innovate and expand the separate collection, sorting and recycling capacity to reach the EU landfill diversion targets for plastic packaging.

I had to pause and reread the figure; $12,000,000,000??

I understand the desire to increase recycling, but at what cost do we stop pushing blindly forward and begin to compare the alternatives?

Let’s just look at the numbers:

The latest report from PlasticsEurope states that there was a total of 16.7 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste in the EU. 6.8 million tonnes of it was recycled. That leaves 9.9 million tonnes that would still need to be recycled to reach the proposed 100% recycling of plastic packaging. According to FEAD it will cost up to $12 billion to build the infrastructure to collect, sort and recycle this 9.9 million tonnes using traditional recycling methods.

This breaks down to an annual cost of $1200 per tonne to recycle this material. Even if they were to expand that expense over 10 years of recycling plastic packaging, it would still cost $120 per tonne.

As an alternative, let’s calculate the numbers when designing plastic packaging with the existing infrastructure in mind. Most plastic packaging is discarded into a landfill. Modern technology allows for plastics to be converted into biogas within these landfills. Subsequently, the landfills are currently harnessing this biogas for auto fuel and energy. The result is recycling waste plastic by conversion to energy.

Sounds like a simple solution, but do the numbers add up?

Incorporating the technology to recycle plastics to biogas costs an average of $120 per tonne. The infrastructure and collection are already in place so there is no additional expense. The value of the biogas energy produced is $550 per tonne. This leaves a net income of $430 per tonne of plastic packaging. For 9.9 million tonnes of plastic packaging the income would be $4,300,000,000 each year. Expanding that over 10 years would be a net benefit of $43 Billion.

So, the question: Is it better to spend $12 billion for traditional recycling or earn $43 billion by combining traditional recycling with energy recycling?

(And this doesn’t even begin to address the fact that LCA analysis shows that most plastic recycling is not environmentally beneficial, nor can plastics be effectively recycled indefinitely. But, that is a subject for another article….)

The missing link between the Circular Economy and Sustainability

For those of us in the field of sustainability, the Circular Economy is not a new concept. However, when it comes to the Circular Economy and plastics too often there is a misunderstanding of how the two relate. The Circular Economy is used as simply a re-branding of recycling. The idea that recycling will solve the plastics dilemma is a misguided direction that has been pushed for decades. To achieve a sustainable plastics economy, we must understand the Circular Economy and refocus the vision.

The Sustainable Plastics Economy is a guide, written for those wanting to implement the Circular Economy within the plastics industry, providing a deeper understanding of the Circular Economy, and a vision beyond simply recycling. It is a method to replicate the efficiency of nature as intended in the Circular Economy.

The Sustainable Plastics Economy integrates a complete Circular Economy approach with the unique challenges of plastic. It includes the concepts of Sustainable Materials Management by addressing the full life cycle impact of various plastic options such as, what types of materials to select, where to source raw ingredients, waste infrastructures, and customary discard scenarios. The Sustainable Plastics Economy creates a dynamic, data driven approach to create a system designed to replicate and ultimately integrate into nature, as intended in the Circular Economy precept.

The link below allows for a complimentary download of the Sustainable Plastics Economy guidebook. This guide provides an overview of the Circular Economy concepts and introduces the Sustainable Plastics Economy. Also included is a five-step process for organizations to implement the Sustainable Plastics Economy in a practical and pragmatic method.

Download a complimentary copy of the The Sustainable Plastics Economy here:

The Sustainable Plastics Economy Guidebook



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.

Renewable Energy, Arizona’s First Wind Farm

Earlier this year (2009), construction began on the first renewable energy wind farm in Arizona.  The project is owned and maintained by Iberdrola Renewables and went online earlier this month (Aug. 2009).  The electricity produced by the first phase of the wind project will serve 15,000 homes.  100% of the 63MW of electricity produced by the 30 wind turbines will be purchased by Salt River Project (SRP).

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