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By Robert Rapier on Sep 20, 2010 with 55 responses

Recycling Our Way to Sustainable Waste Management

While my focus is primarily on energy, I am also interested in other sustainability issues. Some of those include food production, water issues (e.g. water desalination to increase availability of fresh water), and waste management. I have discussed waste management here before in My Composting Experiment. (My experiment has gone quite well; three years after that story I am still actively composting everything I can).

Landfill Space Constraints

A garbage barge sails past the Statue of Liberty on its way out of New York City.

Regarding waste management, stories often appear in the media about places running out of landfill space. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but twenty years ago there were numerous stories in the media about New York barging their garbage, but having trouble finding someone to take it:

The Garbage Barge

The garbage barge wasn’t just redolent with remarkable names. The misbegotten cruise quickly became a media sensation. The economy was hot, and news was slow. Garbage, which is just the effluence of our affluence, was the perfect target. Greenpeace, Phil Donahue and Johnny Carson all used the barge as fodder. Six months after it sailed, the garbage barge’s trash was burned in a Brooklyn incinerator, and the ashes buried back in Long Island. The media didn’t attend the funeral.

The story put landfill space in the spotlight, and there were a number of positive outcomes as a result:

After the circus was over, the barge had a profound impact on solid waste and recycling. Within three years, most states passed laws requiring some kind of municipal recycling. The United States went from about 600 cities with curbside recycling programs to almost 10,000. Our recycling rate is three times higher now than it was in 1987.

Without a doubt, that is a positive outcome. However, twenty years later numerous areas still struggle with the same issue. New York still ships garbage to states like South Carolina and Ohio. A story playing out in Hawaii over the past few years is that the island of Oahu, where Honolulu is located, has been working on a deal to barge their garbage all the way to Washington state. Not surprisingly, some in Washington aren’t enthusiastic about accepting the garbage:

Hawaii Garbage Faces New Obstacle En Route to Washington State Landfill After Yakama Tribe Objects

Over the weekend, Hawaii news outlets were reporting that the first shipment of Honolulu garbage was likely only weeks away from coming to a Washington state landfill near the Columbia River. Hawaiian Waste Systems, the Seattle-based company that has a contract to ship 150,000 tons of waste from Honolulu to the Roosevelt Regional Landfill, told reporters it believed that final approval from the US Department of Agriculture was imminent. But now there appears to be a new holdup in the approval process that has already dragged on for years and sparked controversy across the Pacific.

One of the core issues here is that despite the increase in recycling programs in the U.S., most areas still don’t have them. Over the past 20 years I have lived in nine different cities in the U.S. Of those, only one – Houston – had a curbside recycling program. In other locations you could recycle, as long as you were willing to make the effort to segregate your garbage and then deliver it. Most people don’t bother, and so our landfills fill up with green waste, paper, plastics, and metals — all items that can be composted, recycled, or burned for power.

Swiss recycling point

One of many public recycling points dotted along the roads in Switzerland featuring huge containers for glass, cans and plastic packaging.

One of the steps I often take — when faced with a complex problem — is to see how others have responded to similar problems.

The Swiss Model

Over the summer I was in Switzerland, and I spotted a far away smokestack. I asked my host what it was, and he said “That’s a waste to power plant. We don’t really have landfills here in Switzerland.” I was intrigued by this statement, and wondered if there were any lessons to be learned from Switzerland’s waste management programs.

Most of the available information is in German, but Wikipedia does have an article specific to Switzerland’s programs:

Waste management in Switzerland

Switzerland is highly active on the recycling and anti-littering front and the country has one of the highest recycling rates in the world with a mean of 76% of all currently recyclable items being recycled. This has narrowly surpassed the Swiss government’s 75% target, meaning that for the time being there will be no introduction of a recycling tax on glass bottles and jars, nor on clothes and textiles, plastic bottles, home-use batteries, light bulbs or paperware and card.

Of course the caveat is that those results are achieved with mandatory recycling laws that subject citizens to heavy fines for violating them:

In many places in Switzerland, household rubbish disposal and collection is charged for. Household refuse (except dangerous and cumbersome items, batteries, sofas, electrical appliances etc.) in theory, is only to be collected if it is in bags which either have a payment sticker attached, or in official bags with the surcharge paid when the bags are purchased. However in practice, this is difficult to enforce, for hygiene reasons and the like. However it is a financial incentive to recycle as much as possible, for recycling is usually free of charge or cheaper, albeit not always operated through a door-to-door collection.

This is a very different situation than in most of the U.S., but we will ultimately need to have results like Switzerland’s as our landfills continue to fill up. How we should obtain these results will be much debated; mandatory recycling laws probably won’t be warmly embraced by most Americans. We have made progress in dealing with waste after it has been collected; the success of landfill gas and waste to power programs are examples. But if we begin to address the waste further upstream by separating it, we will have a much easier time devoting different waste streams to more appropriate end uses. Plastics, for instance, can be burned for power, but if they are a separate stream they likely have higher value being recycled back into plastics.

Comparing Pineapples to Cheese

The specifics of each local situation will always differ. As my Swiss host pointed out when comparing Hawaii’s situation to that of Switzerland:

  • Recycling in Switzerland is tied in with local or nearby facilities which reduces transportation cost
  • Burning waste is relatively inefficient (35% or heat content retrieved on average in CHP mode, 11% for electricity only), which might create even bigger challenges for Hawaii than for Switzerland
  • Running those waste burning facilities at halfway decent efficiencies needs a constant inflow of waste, which might be a problem for Hawaii (seasonality of tourism), even Switzerland imports waste from Germany to keep plants going
  • The remains from burning have a high metal content (about 30% of their weight), which requires after-treatment

Probably the biggest challenge in the U.S. is that there are still lots of locations that we can cheaply bury our waste. That means that for the immediate future this will be a regional issue, in places like New York and Oahu in Hawaii that don’t have local access to landfill space that can take their entire volume of garbage. In these locations mandatory recycling laws could go a long way toward solving their problems, and provide a road map for the rest of the U.S. Their road map, in turn, could be provided by Switzerland.

  1. By takchess on September 20, 2010 at 6:30 am

    re:Over the past 20 years I have lived in nine different cities in the U.S. Of those, only one – Houston – had a curbside recycling program.

    I bet that most of those cities have since picked up curbside recycling. It’s seen as a money saving option here in NH.

    In Nashua, we been doing it for at least 10 years.

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  2. By Kit P on September 20, 2010 at 10:06 am

    “Not surprisingly, some in Washington
    aren’t enthusiastic about accepting the garbage:”

     

    The Yakama Nation does seem to have
    legitimate concerns that should be addressed. I have been to the 10
    MWe LFG power plat at the Roosevelt Regional Landfill. A friend of
    mine is the plant manger. The amount of transportation fuel getting
    garbage from ‘green’ cities to the boondocks is astounding. There is
    a similar landfill on the Oregon side of the river too.

     

    Roosevelt has school and one gas
    station. As you leave town there is a sign that says next gas
    station 82 miles. The semi-arid climate and geology makes it an idea
    place for a landfill. The area is almost all dryland wheat farms
    with wind farming a growing business.

     

    “our landfills continue to fill up”

     

    Another non problem not to say there is
    not a better way.

     

    I think RR has made fun of me when I
    have said the best ROI for a renewable energy project is a compost
    pile. A friend of mine is the conservation officer at a Washington
    State PUD. On earth day, I would help with the utility’s events by
    providing a booth to explain the amount of energy in things to school
    kids. Compost was one of the favorite props with the boys. Good
    compost has a wonderful tactile feel and all kinds of interesting
    critters if you look closely. LCA of the nutrients in compost shows
    that there is lots of energy in it. If you look at the environmental
    impact for the production of N,P, K there is a clear case for not
    buying it in a landfill or sending down the garbage disposal.

     

    Another prop was a deck board made from
    recycled disposable diapers. I got that from the conservation
    officer of one of the biggest utilities in the US. Plastics in
    general have 22,000 BTU/lb. Most plastics can be converted to
    synthetic diesel or boiler fuel but the first choice should be to
    reuse them for things like boards.

     

    The first way to recycle is to avoid
    buying thing you do not need that is packaged. Drink tap water
    instead of bottled water or soda. Buy in bulk and use Tupperware
    containers. Second rescue or extend the life of things you buy.

     

    So I mostly agree with RR but I would
    like to ovoid the OCD Swiss approach. For many things that go into
    the landfill, it takes more resources to recycle.

     

    Some some of may not have considered is
    the cost benefit of composting. When my wife is playing in the
    compost she is not shopping. I expect one day to come home from work
    lifeless in the compost pile. What would make her happy is to mix
    her in but I suspect the county folks would not agree.

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  3. By Wendell Mercantile on September 20, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Garbage dumps and landfills are deposits of concentrated embodied energy just waiting to be tapped into. In theory, it should be more lucrative to extract energy from a landfill than from a corn field.

    People like those clever Swiss have beaten us to the march on doing it.

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  4. By rohar1 on September 20, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    This guy has the opposite point of view on landfills:

    The Washington Post – Could the garbage heap help save us from global warming?

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  5. By rrapier on September 20, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I think RR has made fun of me when I have said the best ROI for a renewable energy project is a compost pile.

    Given that I am enthusiastic about composting, I doubt that. Perhaps you can link to it so we can see the context?

    RR

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  6. By rrapier on September 20, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Wendell Mercantile said:

    Garbage dumps and landfills are deposits of concentrated embodied energy just waiting to be tapped into. In theory, it should be more lucrative to extract energy from a landfill than from a corn field.

    People like those clever Swiss have beaten us to the march on doing it.


     

    Julian Comstock, a book I recently read, had that as one of the themes. They were mining the dumps, amazed at the things we had thrown away.

    RR

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  7. By Perry on September 20, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Fiberight is pegged by the EPA to be the largest cellulosic ethanol contributor next year. The company is expected to ramp up its Blairstown, Iowa, facility to its full production capacity of 5.7 MMgy by late 2011 and said it could produce as much as 2.8 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol next year. Fiberight’s process uses Novozymes enzymes for enzymatic hydrolysis to convert cellulosic waste materials to ethanol.

    http://www.biomassmagazine.com…..le_id=3944

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  8. By Perry on September 20, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    TMO Renewables Wins $25 million US Bioethanol Plant Contract

    A 20-year deal with Fiberight will apply the UK-based firm’s fermentation process in municipal waste-fuelled plants across the United States.
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  9. By russ-finley on September 20, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Growing trees and burying them may remove carbon from the atmosphere but it would not make anybody any money without a price on carbon.

    There are many groups out there that call these waste centers “incinerators” and fight them tooth and nail because in the old days incinerators essentially took garbage and put it into the atmosphere for us to filter with our lungs. They don’t differentiate between plasma arc and others. They are all incinerators in their eyes.

    The waste coming from that smokestack has to be carefully controlled.

    Burning 9 energy units of coal for the electricity to burn that garbage to net 1 unit of energy seems like a dead end idea as it would deplete coal reserves and increase the negative ramifications of burning coal.

    Never simple.

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  10. By paul-n on September 20, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Perry – you are worse than Rufus.  That post has nothing to do with this thread.

     

    Where I live we have a kerbside blue bin (wheely bin, not box) for recyclables.  Every house got given the bin, and you just put in paper, cardboard, plastic, metal – but no glass, and no food waste.  Wash the food containers first  too, or the raccoons/bears will get at your bin.

     Truck comes around every two weeks to pick it up and goes to a sorting facility, where they have a conveyor line sorting system.  Air blast gets the light plastics, paper is separated, and then metal is speareted by magnet, and remainin metal into aluminium and then other.  Quite an efficient process and they end up with bales of plastic/cardboard/paper/metal.

    Since putting this in place, recycling volume has quintupled compared to the previous shopping centre carpark receivals, and volume of garbage collected has halved.

    The problem with the paper is, that the value of it, to get it to somewhere that can use it, is less than the energy value contained.  We have a pulp and paper mill not far away that can turn it into electricity at 30% efficiency, and that is what is now happening.  Actually more efficient than them trying to re-use the mixed paper etc in their pulp process.  

    The municipality is  now looking at a separate bin and collection for food waste, but that is a bit harder to do with bears wandering around.

    The city of Vancouver has started a food waste collection program.  You can get a green wheely bin for yard trimmings, and non meat food items can go in there, and is collected, composted centrally, and you can go and get the compost.  Great for those who are not as willing to get their hands dirty as Kit’s wife or RR.

    I think Kit has mentioned this before, if you really get serious about composting, you can actually use it to provide heat and “warm” water for your house.  

    Given that composting is, really, biological burning, if there is a practical way to make use of the heat evolved, then so much the better.

    I saw a show on discovery channel; about the waste systems on US aircraft carriers – plasma arc incineration (and energy recovery) – probably about the most sophisticated waste to energy project there is, but they certainly don’t have much “landfill space” on board.

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  11. By Perry on September 20, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Paul N said:

    Perry – you are worse than Rufus.  That post has nothing to do with this thread.

     

     


     

    It has everything to do with this thread Paul. Wendell made the comment “In theory, it should be more lucrative to extract energy from a landfill than from a corn field.” Fiberight claims landfills can produce 10 billion gallons of ethanol a year. That would put our landfills on par with corn ethanol.

     

    I don’t call you a shill for oil companies. I’d appreciate the same respect when I tout electric cars, ethanol, or a number of other alternatives I happen to favor.

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  12. By OD on September 20, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    I live in Utah and currently pay a private company to haul my recycling away. Although, many cities in my state are now requiring recycling.

    I see many houses in my neighborhood that have 2-3 garbage cans. This seems highly unnecessary to me. Ideally, each house should have 1 recycling can and 1 normal can. Anything more than that, and you probably need to reevaluate what you’re throwing away.

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  13. By paul-n on September 20, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Perry, your first post (one I was responding to) did have nothing to do with landfills – it, and the article you linked, were purely about the cellulosic ethanol business.

    Your second post is quite relevant though I still don’t see the point of the first one.

    You get my respect based on what you post.  Have a read of your first one – it looks like a plain attempt to divert the conversation to ethanol – you did not even say how it is relevant to landfills, and neither does the article linked.

    You didn’t even link to anywhere for the 10bn gallons a year claim.  Now, for Fiberight to claim they can produce as much from landfills as the entire corn ethanol industry does today is quite a claim, and if true, every landfill in the country will come knocking on their door.  

    But given that they don;t even have one commercial plant in operation yet, I think that claim is getting a bit ahead of themselves.  And this from one of their press releases;

    According to Stuart-Paul, the hardest waste stream to deal with is what he dubbed “black bag MSW” or trash bags from residential collection. “For us to deal with that, we need to have a further pretreatment,” he said. “We’ve been working with several suppliers of autoclave-type technology including several from Europe.

    So clearly they are not there yet for MSW – making it from “cellulosic waste materials”, as their pilot plant did, is much easier.   Their process has earned itself a place in the game for waste to energy, and I hope they are successful but it has yet to prove that it can do what they claim it can do.

    Perry, I am glad to hear that you are not a shill (and neither am I) – but your first post sure sounded like one.

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  14. By Rufus on September 20, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Paus, why would you have a post about the problem of “waste disposal” without having comments about mitigating technology?

    I think Perry’s comment was Entirely relevent. Everything you read, today, is about “waste to energy.” Why would you exclude ethanol from the discussion?

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  15. By Optimist on September 20, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Great post, RR! I would think that this was the obvious first step for renewable energy, including biofuels: add value by converting waste to energy, as opposed to the value destroying food-to-fuel systems the prostitutians insist on spending out tax$$ on.

    How we should obtain these results will be much debated; mandatory recycling laws probably won’t be warmly embraced by most Americans.

    As the authors of the book Freakonomics argued, people respond to incentives. The best thing the government can do is to put some modest incentives in place, and try NOT to force a specific solution down the public’s throat.

    IMHO, composting is like biodiesel: great for the DIYer, no so sensible for larger institutions, as there are better ways. Composting basically converts the energy in the waste (or much of it) to GHG. There are better ways. Ultimately we need to harvest BOTH energy and nutrients from our wastes.

    I believe New York has looked very seriously at ways to convert its MSW into energy, but, as Russ mentioned, too many greens are completely opposed to any form of “incineration”. Greens standing in the way of green projects? Where have I seen that before?

    The remains from burning have a high metal content (about 30% of their weight), which requires after-treatment

    I guess the technology for recovering the metals have not yet been discovered.

    Plastics, for instance, can be burned for power, but if they are a separate stream they likely have higher value being recycled back into plastics.

    How big is the market for recycled plastics? I suspect that (as is the case for recycled paper) the supply exceeds the demand.

    Running those waste burning facilities at halfway decent efficiencies needs a constant inflow of waste, which might be a problem for Hawaii (seasonality of tourism), even Switzerland imports waste from Germany to keep plants going.

    All you need is some storage facility. I suspect the problem is that we engineers tend to be conservative in our designs, so a 100 t/d facility can typically run at least 150 t/d. With waste-to-energy systems that may not always be useful – the throughput can sometimes needs to be maintained at much higher rates than the nominal capacity. For reference: that was one of the many problems that TDP ran into.

    Burning waste is relatively inefficient (35% or heat content retrieved on average in CHP mode, 11% for electricity only), which might create even bigger challenges for Hawaii than for Switzerland.

    That is bad? What is the efficiency of a standard coal power plant?

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  16. By Perry on September 20, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Paul N said:

    Perry, your first post (one I was responding to) did have nothing to do with landfills – it, and the article you linked, were purely about the cellulosic ethanol business.

     


     

    It was about getting cellulosic ethanol from waste Paul. I think it’s significant that the biggest cellulosic production at this point is coming from waste, not corn stalks, trees, or wood chips. Fiberights facility is commercial. They’re ramping it up slowly. I only posted the second article because of the compost references in earlier posts. Fiberight is paying for the right to use an altered microbe first found in a compost pile. I find that stuff fascinating. RR has pointed out before that cellulosic technology is 100 years old. What we didn’t have back then was the ability to genetically re-engineer these microbes. That could mean all the difference.

     

    Companies like LS9 and Amyris are working on bugs that can produce crude oil, gasoline, or diesel, instead of just ethanol. I’m not stuck on ethanol by any means. I see ethanol as just the first baby step in a long process. The end goal is a drop-in fuel we can use on a sustainable basis.

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  17. By Kit P on September 20, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    “Given that composting is, really,
    biological burning”

     

    Actually you are growing little
    critters that store N, P, K. The little critters bind the soil
    together reducing wind and water erosion so that the N, P, K does not
    pollute surface waters. When you mix the compost with the soil in
    your garden and the sun warms your garden in the spring, other bigger
    little critters eat the smaller little critters releasing the N, P, K
    to the roots of growing plants. It is jungle in healthy soil.
    Commercial organic farmers design compost (imitate with science what
    nature does so well) for the crops they are growing.

     

    “The city of Vancouver has started a
    food waste collection program.”

     

    The city of Seattle found that putting
    food scarps down a garbage disposal reduced energy use. In that case
    the biosolids end up on the dry land wheat fields not far from
    Roosevelt Regional Landfill which is a very beneficial for that type
    of soil.

     

    “it to provide heat and “warm”
    water for your house.”

     

    Well no, not enough heat in a family
    compost pile and the heat is need to kill pathogen bacteria. Scam
    alert is in order for some people who throw the word organic around.
    A good source is Soilfoodweb: http://oregonfoodweb.com/
    .

     

     

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  18. By Kit P on September 20, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    “MHO, composting is like biodiesel:
    great for the DIYer, no so sensible for larger institutions, as there
    are better ways.”

     

    Anyone doing home biodiesel, is an
    idiot with a death wish.

     

    There are many commercial scale
    composing operations that focus on low BTU, high moisture content
    organic waste with a high N:C ratio. Low moisture content waste
    making fuel and the P&K can be recovered in the ash.

     

    “Ultimately we need to harvest BOTH
    energy and nutrients from our wastes.”

     

    It is a matter of selecting the right
    technologies to do both.

     

    “I guess the technology for
    recovering the metals have not yet been discovered.”

     

    The concentration of metals in waste is
    much higher than anything you dig out of the ground and we have been
    doing that since the bronze age.

     

    “That is bad? What is the efficiency
    of a standard coal power plant?”

     

    I have heard of SCGT left over from the
    USSR with 11% thermal to electricity efficiencies. If you have a lot
    of something cheap, capital cost is more important than efficiency.
    A modern coal plant would range from about 40% to 50%.

     

    When places import LNG or coal like
    South Korea and Japan, you find very efficient power plants.

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  19. By Wendell Mercantile on September 21, 2010 at 12:06 am

    The concentration of metals in waste is much higher than anything you dig out of the ground and we have been doing that since the bronze age.

    Excellent point Kit.

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  20. By rrapier on September 21, 2010 at 12:55 am

    That is bad? What is the efficiency of a standard coal power plant?

    I think a standard coal-fired power plant is in the region of 35% efficient. But note that the number he cites for the waste plant got to 35% only by including the heating aspect; just electricity was cited at 11%.

    RR

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  21. By paul-n on September 21, 2010 at 12:59 am

    Here is a more thorough study about getting heat from composting, from the International Journal of Chemical Engineering. I knew I had seen this before, somehere.

    They set up the system to be a “thermal battery”, with heat gathered by polyethylne pipes.

    Looks like a rather over engineered system, but as Kit said, that is what we engineers do.  A house system could be done much simpler.

    They were able to get 50deg C hot water out of their compost system

    Their results were that they got 7 to 10MJ (about 7 to 10million btu’s) per kg of material used – about half the heating value of firewood.

    For a 15 day compost, this works out to 8 W/kg/day 

     

    So for a 4kW, 24hr, heat load, you needed to add 500kg of stuff every two weeks.  Not a small amount, but you can often get it for free, and you’ll have a huge pile of compost to play with in the spring.  And,once the system is set up, possibly less more work than collecting and cutting firewood!  And you don’t have to season it, either.

     

    I was involved with setting a up a sewage sludge composting system where it was done mixed with woodchips in aerated windrows, with perforated pipes running along them to supply air.  The blowers were two speed – low speed got the compost going, but after 2 days you had to go to high speed to blow excess air through to cool the row,  otherwise the row would get over 70C!  They have been known to spontaneously combust if not managed properly.

    I heard of a (small) commercial greenhouse that heated this way, apparently, they just form the piles in one end of the green house, have some controlled venting into the pile, and let the warm air, laden with CO2, go through and out the other end.  About as cheap and low tech as you can get, but it worked.

    Lots of creative options for biomass, when it is concentrated in one place.

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  22. By carbonbridge on September 21, 2010 at 3:22 am

    Robert Rapier said:

    The Swiss Model

    Over the summer I was in Switzerland, and I spotted a far away smokestack.  I asked my host what it was, and he said “That’s a waste to power plant.  We don’t really have landfills here in Switzerland.”


     

    RR:  Nice post and a change of pace to begin looking at waste to energy conversion.  I’ve read your essay and all the comments thus far.  What I’ve noticed is that the word ‘gasification’ has not surfaced thus far even one time.

    Instead, I’ve read the words ‘burn, waste burning facility, bury our waste, combust and incinerate waste, AND waste systems on US aircraft carriers – plasma arc incineration (and energy recovery) – probably about the most sophisticated waste to energy project there is, but they certainly don’t have much “landfill space” on board.’ 

    I note that these burn and incinerate terms are all 180 degrees opposite of gasification.  I know that you understand this.  But do the people reading this essay?  Does the general public understand the differences between incineration and gasification?  No they do not!  Look no further than most NIMBY’s who rally against any waste conversion technology. 

    Herein are almost 180 degree technological differences in just the front-end conversion processes of incinceration vs: gasification let alone what kind of new energy is created on the back-end from the conversion of municipal solid wastes.

    I’ve read the words ‘plasma arc’ here too – this is only one type of gasification system – yet these words were used as if plasma arc was incineration.  Not so…

    Also, I tend to agree with those who indicate that composting is somewhat like [nature] biological burning — as it actually is.  Composting organic solid materials offgasses copious quantities of CO2 and CH4 methane combined as biomethane.  The great volumes of these two gasses is where the bulk of composting solid material actually goes — directly into the air — as the volume of physical material remaining shrinks into soil amendments.

    Thus there exists really big differences in the ‘waste to energy’ space.  Really, really big differences which are very, very confusing to most people, scientists, promoters and politicians alike.

    In conclusion:  Tonight via Hotel TV I’m viewing Growth Energy (green) ads backing corn ethanol.  Text in this advertising is some of the strongest political energy barbs I’ve ever witnessed – things like ‘no energy wars have been fought over ethanol,’ that kind of thing.  For the past 14 months I’ve unplugged from television, maybe only viewing 12 hours of network news in 14 months.  So viewing political ads for corn ethanol (now another one by Poet as I’m typing at 11pm mst) airing on CNN newscasts is quite interesting to say the least just ahead of mid-term elections.  Thanks once again for providing a place to publically share and debate energy ideas.

    –Mark

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  23. By Kit P on September 21, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Paul wrote

    “Looks like a rather over engineered system, but as Kit said, that is what we engineers do.”

     

    Engineers are also allowed to use common sense and apply the KISS principle.

     

    Paul linked paper is very interesting technically.

     

    “From this it is clear that reusing the heat offered by the compost is an economically attractive option when compared to alternate possible renewable sources.”

     

    Bnot better than a ground soruces heat pump.  It would also make an interesting study for the sociology department to  find out why some engineers have energy OCD.

     

    “A house system could be done much simpler.”

     

    Picture trucking organic wastes to turn your entire yard into a compost pile to heat your house or you can do what I do with my all electric house.  Invest in an efficient heat pump and buy electricity from utility.  If you want renewable energy heat, I would recommend a wood stove or boiler using waste wood.

     

    Paul linked paper starts out.

       

    “Composting is an aerobic process”

     

    To maintain a process aerobic requires energy input by mechanical turning of the compost pile or electricity for:

     

    “The blowers were two speed”

     

    Anaerobic digesters produce methane which can be burned to produce heat in a boiler of electricity using an ICE with heat recovery (CHP).  Anaerobic process are almos always more enregy efficient.  Assuming there is local demand for organic fertilizer, I think the best energy choice is to maximize organic fertilizer production.  

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  24. By Wendell Mercantile on September 21, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Text in this advertising is some of the strongest political energy barbs I’ve ever witnessed – things like ‘no energy wars have been fought over ethanol,’ that kind of thing.

    But wars have been fought over food. And the allocation of the world’s food resources to make fuel only increases the possibility of wars and turmoil caused by food shortages.

    It’s true that most food shortages are caused by political corruption and poor logistics and infrastructure, but it should be obvious to even Growth Energy*, the less strain we put on food production, the better.
    _______________
    * Headed by former four-start general, Presidential candidate, West Point valedictorian, and Rhodes Scholar Wes Clark. He should know better than anyone what causes wars. I still don’t understand how Wes Clark became a shill for ethanol.

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  25. By Perry on September 21, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Wendell Mercantile said:

    But wars have been fought over food. And the allocation of the world’s food resources to make fuel only increases the possibility of wars and turmoil caused by food shortages.


     

    I guess we’re lucky cows aren’t armed to the teeth, because that’s who we grow 90% of our food for. The US grows half the world’s corn. Only 12% of it goes into human food products. And that was before ethanol became a factor. We also grow more than half the world’s soybeans. 87% of that goes to livestock as well. The next biggest crop is hay. 100% for the cows. Those three crops use 80% of farm acreage in the US.

     

    The only true food crop we grow a lot of is wheat. We produce 13% of the world’s wheat and have 25% of the export market. We grow rice on just 3 million acres. We only grow 1% of the world’s rice, yet we’re the second largest exporter.

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  26. By Wendell Mercantile on September 21, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    I guess we’re lucky cows aren’t armed to the teeth, because that’s who we grow 90% of our food for.

    Oh c’mon Perry, you know very well those cows, hogs, and poultry to which we feed corn are all part of the human food chain. That corn is the foundation for those pork chops, steaks, chicken wings, and eggs we eat; and the milk, ice cream, and yoghurt we consume.

    If your ready to give up your ribs and burgers so we can send more corn to ethanol distilleries, so Rufus has E85 for his Buick Regal, great.

    There are also a lot of hungry people in the world who wish we were growing more wheat, rice, and oats and not so much corn.

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  27. By Perry on September 21, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Good luck finding malnourished cows Wendell. DDGS has more protein than corn. The production of ethanol leads to fatter cows, and juicier burgers. We can feed our cows AND some of our cars with the same corn. Neither is likely to start a war anytime soon.

     

    I’m sure the third world would appreciate more wheat and rice. If farmers can make a profit, they can grow a lot more of it. We could garner half the export market for rice by adding just 6 million acres to production. And farmers would break themselves in the process.

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  28. By carbonbridge on September 21, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Wendell Mercantile said:

    Oh c’mon Perry, you know very well those cows, hogs, and poultry to which we feed corn are all part of the human food chain.

    If your ready to give up your ribs and burgers so we can send more corn to ethanol distilleries, so Rufus has E85 for his Buick Regal, great.  There are also a lot of hungry people in the world who wish we were growing more wheat, rice, and oats and not so much corn.


     

    It is easy to drift away from ‘waste to energy’ issues and go right back once again to batch fermented corn ethanol discussions.  On hotel TV this this morning I again saw new, hard hitting commercials by POET launched internationally via CNN network news.  I thought that these commercials by POET were very well done indeed.

    In a related vein this AM, I picked up on a short 12 min. video featuring none other than this blog’s Moderator RR.  It first came to my attention via a post by cruxcatalyst (???) and then this same short piece with RR answering Peak Oil questions at a conference has been reposted on the front page of Bioroot Energy LLC from Darby, Monana, pop. 750.

    http://www.biorootenergy.com/discuss/

    Bioroot Energy’s Jay Toups has been studying the ‘waste to liquid fuel’ opportunity for a few years now and he has determined that his group of Montana citizens should be first in the USA to commercially produce a GTL blend of higher mixed alcohols at 138 octane and 90,400 BTU’s per gallon.  The primary feedstock in western Montana would be millions of acres of beetle-killed pine trees.  A handful of smaller communities would be able to steer their society garbage, sewer sludge and worn tires into this same GASIFICATION front-end to GTL liquid, biodegradable fuel’s back-end catalysis process as well.  One of the gasifiers being reviewed does not even have a smokestack.  This is something which interests me personally.  Herein is a small company wishing to kick-off American independence/jobs/recycling fuel synthesis demonstrations which are completely opposite of corn ethanol and true lignocellulosic ethanol batch fermentation.  How? 

    This particular GTL fuel synthesis process does NOT utilize anything agricultural which was purposefully planted, fertilized, watered, weeded and annually harvested to produce carbonaceous feedstocks.  Thus no food vs: fuel issues here!  Instead, ground tires and society’s wastes become the never-ending feedstock, some with tipping fees.  On Bioroot’s pages you can view brown forests of beetle-killed pine trees needing somewhere to go instead of up in smoke as a result of a lightning strike!  Hydrocarbon oils contain only hydrogen and carbon.  All alcohols including higher mixed alcohol ENVIROLENE® adds only ONE missing element and this is Oxygen derived from H2O.  Pretty simple…

    Jay writes about one of Monana’s largest corporations beginning to understand the benefits and profits of such waste to energy conversion but they, like others, are reticent to be first in a big and powerful way.  Most folks wish to be 2nd or 3rd in line after kicking the tires of someone else’s GTL demo project.  I’m well aware of what Jay is saying as I was with him and his biz development associate Heath Carey just a few weeks ago when they made a presentation to a giant in Montana.  No problem.  There are other financial giants hiding out in Western Montana’s beetle-killed forests, — simply not as obvious as the one whom we’d called upon…

    RR’s short video speech about what he’s doing and for whom seems to be looking directly into the equation of this particular RR blog essay on Waste to Energy possibilities and solutions.  I thought that RR did a great job on answering a lady’s questions without missing a beat.  10/4 and good luck each and everyone!

    -Mark

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  29. By Perry on September 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    We also have 80% of the export market for grain sorghum, yet another livestock feed. It takes 2.5X the acreage rice does. Farmers grow what they can make money at. Historically, that means animal feed. If the world’s population became vegetarians, US farmers could probably feed every one of them. With a few acres to spare.

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  30. By Perry on September 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    CarbonBridge said:

    This particular GTL fuel synthesis process does NOT utilize anything agricultural which was purposefully planted, fertilized, watered, weeded and annually harvested to produce carbonaceous feedstocks.  Thus no food vs: fuel issues here! 


     As cellulosic processes begin coming online next year, they’re sure to be in stiff competition with corn ethanol. We may need to take away the blenders credit for corn ethanol and keep it in place for cellulosic for the latter to be profitable. That would suit me just fine. Corn has pushed over $5 a bushel anyway. Ethanol producers will be losing money with $75 oil and $5 corn.

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  31. By paul-n on September 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    KIt wrote;

    Anaerobic digesters produce methane which can be burned to produce heat in a boiler of electricity using an ICE with heat recovery (CHP).  Anaerobic process are almost always more energy efficient.  Assuming there is local demand for organic fertilizer, I think the best energy choice is to maximize organic fertilizer production.

    I agree with you entirely here, but this was one of those “almost” cases.  A small sewage plant, that produced less than 1 cu.m/ay of dewatered sludge (actually 100kg/day dry solids).  If we did AD+ ICE we would have been able to run all of a 6kW engine.  The AD expert advised us that the system was just too small for AD to be worthwhile.   This was 10 yrs ago – maybe small packaged AD systems are available now.   The blowers needed 500W and 1.5kW, and they were already in place from a now unused aeration lagoon – we just piped the air to the adjacent compost site.  They started to take food waste from the restaurants to compost, but quickly had with a raccoon problem, and would likely have had  a bear one too.  So the food waste went to a commercial compost facility about 60km away (that would not take sewage sludge as the compost was used for commercial greenhouses and mushroom growing).

    With the wood chips, there was enough material to make a new row every two weeks, and end up with about 10 cu.m of compost.  It was used for land rehabilitation and given away to homeowners, who seemed to be equally thrilled with the stuff as your wife is.

    AD certainly recaptures the most energy, but at this small scale it wasn’t a feasible solution.  Nearest operating AD plant was 150km away, and the resort could have trucked stuff there fairly cheaply, but they wanted to deal with their sludge onsite.  I think this was a pretty good solution – certainly weren’t OCD about energy in this case.

     

    With the compost/heat thing, I agree that electricity is an easier way to do it, and a fireplace has much more ambience.     But if you have lots of this stuff around, and where I live (not in the city) , there is unlimited amounts of this stuff, it is an option, if you have a use/need for that much compost.  I think the greenhouse application is ideal, and a local commercial greenhouse operator, who told me the story, is going to do it himself.  He is 3/4 of a mile away from the local landfill, which gives away chipped green waste (yard trimmings etc ) for free.   The greenhouse uses electric resistance heat (no NG available), which is just a waste – air source heat pump would be way better, but the compost option is better still – he gets free CO2 and compost out of the deal, and doesn’t have to buy large capacity heat pumps.  He already has to blow air into the greenhouses so that energy use and equipment (quite small, 1/2hp blowers) is already there.   I think that is the best solution in this case, and certainly the simplest.

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  32. By Perry on September 21, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    With $5 a bushel corn, it was only a matter of time. Ethanol for October delivery is $2.14 a gallon, and gasoline is $1.91 . Without the .45 blenders credit, E85 will cost 20 cents more than gasoline next month. Even with the credit, the spread will be less than 10%. Ethanol production was only down 3000 bpd last week. It’s sure to be down more in coming weeks. This would be good news for cellulosic producers….if there were any.

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  33. By OD on September 21, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    The only true food crop we grow a lot of is wheat. We produce 13% of the world’s wheat and have 25% of the export market. We grow rice on just 3 million acres. We only grow 1% of the world’s rice, yet we’re the second largest exporter.

    Good stuff Perry. Sounds like the US is the Saudi of Food. Wonder how that situation plays out post peak. If things got bad enough, we could eat a lot less meat and feed our population several times over, from the sound of things.

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  34. By Kit P on September 21, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    “The AD expert advised us that the
    system was just too small for AD to be worthwhile.”

     

    I agree, with small amounts of waste
    compared to the available area should lend itself to aerobic
    composting nicely. The small amount waste infers small amounts of
    energy not worthwhile to recovering.

     

    “certainly weren’t OCD about energy
    in this case”

     

    If you tell me there is a $500/month
    energy bill savings with little additional effort or cost, then I
    would agree. If there is a $5/month energy bill savings with large
    additional effort or at high cost, then it is an example of energy
    OCD.

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  35. By Rufus on September 21, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    It seems like everyone is overlooking the 34 Million, or so, Acres of fertile land That We’re Paying Farmers NOT to Plant.

    After allowing for DDGS you can get 800 gallons of ethanol, and feed the same number of cattle, by planting one more acre of corn. 34 Million X 800 = 27.2 Billion Gallons.

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  36. By mac on September 21, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Rufus.

    I thought we were trying to figure out a way for Hawaii to get rid of their garbage without having to ship it to a landfill in Washington State.

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  37. By mac on September 21, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Rufus,
    Just exactly what is the DDGS value of Hawaii’s garbage, anyway.? I’m sure you would know.

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  38. By Rufus on September 21, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Mac,

    Wendell, and Perry were discussing acreage of corn for ethanol. I just mentioned something that I thought could help. A lot of people don’t realize how many acres we are paying farmers not to farm.

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  39. By savro on September 21, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    CarbonBridge said:

     

    In a related vein this AM, I picked up on a short 12 min. video featuring none other than this blog’s Moderator RR.  It first came to my attention via a post by cruxcatalyst (???) and then this same short piece with RR answering Peak Oil questions at a conference has been reposted on the front page of Bioroot Energy LLC from Darby, Monana, pop. 750.

    http://www.biorootenergy.com/discuss/

    RR’s short video speech about what he’s doing and for whom seems to be looking directly into the equation of this particular RR blog essay on Waste to Energy possibilities and solutions.  I thought that RR did a great job on answering a lady’s questions without missing a beat.  10/4 and good luck each and everyone!

    -Mark


     

    Mark, I too thought that RR did a fantastic job in expressing his outlook on energy and the fundamentals he looks for in renewable processes in that video. The interview will be posted along with an essay by RR on his blog very soon. Stay tuned.

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  40. By mac on September 21, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Rufus,

    What is your solution to Hawaii’s garbage problem ? Set up some ethanol plants in Hawaii ?

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  41. By mac on September 21, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Rufus.

    The Hawaiians are shipping their garbage all the way across the Pacific Ocean to Washington State. What do you think we should do about that, Rufus ?

    Since this is the subject of the post, just exactly what is YOUR answer to this problem ?

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  42. By mac on September 21, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Please answer the question, Rufus, “What would you do about Hawaii’s garbage.problem ?

    You are a “genius” when presenting your case for ethanol. Figuring out what to do wirth Hawaii’s garbage should be a snap.

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  43. By Rufus on September 21, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Mac, if the Fiberight deal works out like I think it will, then a MSW to ethanol plant would be the First Step.

    That would leave about 60% of the waste to be utilized/disposed of. I guess a significant part of that would be plastics. Some say you should burn them (for energy,) and some say they should be recycled. That’s above my pay-grade, but since the Fiberight plant is already doing some “sorting,” I suppose that one or the other could, likely, be done profitably.

    The remainder I’ll just have to let you guys “sort out.” :)

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  44. By Kit P on September 21, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    “Since this is the subject of the
    post, just exactly what is YOUR answer to this problem?”

     

    What problems? The people in Hawaii
    are happy they do not have to deal with the garbage. The people who
    work at Roosevelt Regional Landfill and the barge lines are happy
    they have jobs. The people who work at the Roosevelt LFG power
    plant are happy.

     

    Rufus is pretty good at identifying
    solutions. If the built some sort of MSW to energy facility in his
    community, Rufus will be supporting it.

     

    When you watch the rail and barge
    containers heading to Roosevelt and Arlington, Oregon; it is from
    places that want BEV but no power plants in the their back yard.

     

    There are plenty of solutions but too
    many lawyers who oppose solutions.

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  45. By mac on September 21, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Rufus,

    I will forward your sujggestion to the Governor of Hawaii..

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  46. By mac on September 21, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    Why not just let the Hawaiians tow their own bargrs out to sea and dump the garbage in the ocean. That way citizens of Hawaii would have the jobs and money instead of people way off in the Roosevelt Landfill in Washington State

    Plus, the State of Hawaii would save the expense of shipping all the way to Washington..

    It’s only a hop, skip and a jump to deep water off Hawaii. Just like the guys from BP said. “The Gulf is a big place, don’t worry.”

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  47. By paul-n on September 22, 2010 at 2:08 am

    Here’s a good descriotion of an operating waste to energy plant in London, 

    Burning household waste

    SELCHP (“South East London Combined Heat and Power”) [www.selchp.

    com] is a 35 MW power station that is paid to burn 420 kt per year of black-

    bag waste from the London area. They burn the waste as a whole, without

    sorting. After burning, ferrous metals are removed for recycling, hazardous

    wastes are filtered out and sent to a special landfill site, and the remaining

    ash is sent for reprocessing into recycled material for road building

    or construction use. The calorific value of the waste is 2.5 kWh/kg,

    and the thermal efficiency of the power station is about 21%, so each 1 kg

    of waste gets turned into 0.5 kWh of electricity. The carbon emissions are

    about 1000 g CO2 per kWh. Of the 35 MW generated, about 4 MW is used

    by the plant itself to run its machinery and filtering processes.

    from the excellent book Sustainable Energy, Without the Hot Air, by David McKay, 2008

    And this interesting graphic, from the same book;

     

    So clearly,  if a country wants to have minimal landfilling, it can be done.

     

     

     

     

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  48. By paul-n on September 22, 2010 at 2:27 am

    And there is also a waste to energy plant in Vancouver, their website has a good process description page.

    The take 800 tons a day, and produce 400 MWh (about 17MWe output), 130 tons of “bottom ash”, which gets used as roadbase etc, 30 tons of metal, which goes for recycling, and 25 tons of fly ash, which is th only part that gets landfilled.  And it is located right in the middle of the metro Vancouver area. 

    Same ratio of about 0.5kWh/kg of garbage as the London one.

     

    But Hawai already has a big waste to energy plant, and it’s about to get bigger, from 600ktons/yr to 900k tons, and up to 84MWe.

    And with electricity prices at 25c/kWh in hawaii, a ton of garbage produces about $125 of electricity (retail), and offsets about 2/3 of a barrel of oil, so the expanded plant is saving about 2000bpd.

    No disrespect to the folks in Wa who operate that landfill, but with electricity in Hawaii at those prices, and oil fired at that, shipping it halfway across the Pacifc seems like a missed opportunity for Hawaii.

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  49. By Perry on September 22, 2010 at 2:50 am

    mac said:

    Why not just let the Hawaiians tow their own bargrs out to sea and dump the garbage in the ocean.


     It works for the navy. Have any idea how much garbage an aircraft carrier can make in a day? They do send the plastics to shore though.

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  50. By moiety on September 22, 2010 at 4:17 am

    Burying our waste is not clever though having said that, waste to energy is not that clever either. Both should be limited to the specific area in which they are most suitable. Burning enegy while better than landfill destroys valuable raw materials (e.g. plastics) which need to be replaced by oil. Recovery of these materials is what the US shoulds focus towards. Only burn what you have to.

     

    Considering the Swiss model we first have to introduce the waste hierarchy, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W….._hierarchy. As we progress up the pyramid the amount of energy that goes into reporcessing decreases (though the overall energy use may be larger depending on manufacturing energy). In the Swiss model much of the waste ends up in tier two (incineration) and tier three (recycling)l; by no means the most efficient tiers.

     

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  51. By Kit P on September 22, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Again the reason stuff gets sent to
    Roosevelt Regional Landfill is not technical. If you are a city
    manager, sending stuff away reduces the risk of getting sued. The
    tipping fee in Richland, Washington is $16/ton. The city of
    Richland is not running out of barren desert to put a landfill. It
    also has a great recycling and composting program.

     

    There is one difference that I know of
    between Richland and Switzerland. In Richland, there are no jobs for
    polishing parking meters because there are no parking meters.

     

    The city of Spokane, Washington has a
    great MSW to electricity and hard waste composing program. However,
    they still ended up getting the ash classified as ‘hazardous waste’
    by the ninth circus (pun intended).

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  52. By Optimist on September 23, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Anyone doing home biodiesel, is an idiot with a death wish.

    What ever happened to the redneck, git’r-done spirit, Kit? Another 180?

    There are many commercial scale composing operations that focus on low BTU, high moisture content organic waste with a high N:C ratio.

     I know. I guess that proves that when we see something as a waste, we don’t allow ourselves to look at the possibilities. Perhaps we need an invention that would allow us to recover both energy and N.

    It is a matter of selecting the right technologies to do both.

    Yip.

    The concentration of metals in waste is much higher than anything you dig out of the ground and we have been doing that since the bronze age.

    My point exactly. So why aren’t we recycling this, yet? The look at it as a waste thing? Quantities too small? Hard to believe for NYC and others.

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  53. By Kit P on September 23, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    “What ever happened to the redneck,
    git’r-done spirit, Kit?”

     

    He burned his house down with his kids
    in it. Which is a lot ‘greener’ than achieving the same results
    making meth in a home lab.

     

    Getting it done implies doing it
    safely.

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  54. By Wendy on May 8, 2011 at 2:06 am

    Can anyone point to a comparison of how major cities dispose of solid waste? Does New York really still dump in the ocean? Do other cities do this?

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  55. By hi on February 20, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    hi

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