A quick look at our blog and I have not posted since 1/03/2017; exactly a year and I didn’t even try. I could point out that our founder hasn’t written anything, but I can’t even remember to ask him. I am still ranting about the four items I identified as the greatest threat to the environment on Easter Sunday 2015. They are still the big issues, so here goes #3, Things We Still Throw Away!
This is what I wrote in 2015 as an intro – 3. What We Still Throw Away. We throw away a lot of materials that have a better end use than taking up space in a landfill. Many of these fall under the 3R’s, but due to financial issues they are not being Reused, Recycled, or Reduced. We have established technologies that would be able to remove 60% or more materials from our waste stream and convert it to energy. Without a doubt landfilling is the final end for anything that can not be diverted, but we are wasting our landfills and our environment.
Lets get compost out of the way. Home owners are composting and municipalities are offering organic compost collection to do their own compost programs. What changed you ask? We found a cash value for compost, more compost is sold now as “structural” compost for use in construction, than is used for soil abatement in gardening and farming. Structural compost is used in best management practices (BMP)s for reducing erosion and protecting surface water. This is a great use of organic waste, however we are not diverting additional wastes to the practice of composting, we’re using the minimal volumes of “yard” or “green” waste that have been diverted since the late 90’s.
Today, we still have an organic content in our waste stream that is over 50% organic. This organic content is material that breaks down readily on its own, I’ve not included plastics which are made up of organic bonds as well, but decompose at a much slower. Plastics will be discussed in a moment. Organic waste decomposes in aerobic and anaerobic conditions, composting is aerobic and when in a landfill its anaerobic. The odor, gas, and a portion of leachate are generated by the anaerobic breakdown of organic material. Anaerobic decomposition can be done in any environment that is lacking in oxygen; creating methane, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and waste water. There will also be any other contaminants that were present in the waste, such as heavy metals. The management of the undesirable output from organic decomposition has been well managed in the industry since the 90s.
We don’t have to wait a year (sometimes shorter) for a landfill to produce methane, which we may or may not use for power. The technology and devices exist today to perform organic decomposition in a controlled environment creating methane and/or syngas that we can use for energy. In addition to control of the production rates of the gas/energy it can be stored for future use as well. So organic decomposition can remove 50% of material from the waste stream (which prolongs landfill life) and generate energy. The waste product from decomposition is named ash and is 5% of the source material which can be land applied or landfilled depending on conditions.
I mentioned previously that plastics are technically organics, by the fact that plastics are long carbon chains. It takes a little more science, but really not much, to decompose plastics into syngas. This can be done in an “all” plastic situation or plastic mixed with organic wastes. The output is very similar, though the variety of syngases are greater. In an earlier post I pointed out that plastics are made from petroleum or from natural gas; we can make plastic from methane and other syngas derived from decomposition. We can make syngas and methane from decomposed plastic, obviously there will a loss at each time through a transition.
The percentage of the waste stream that has usable plastic for decomposition is about 10%, making a total impact on our waste stream of 60% reduction. Lets assume we send all the waste product or ash from our decomposition to a landfill, that returns 3% of the original waste stream to the landfill, giving us a total reduction of 57%… which means we’ve more than doubled the life of our landfills by removing wastes we can decompose. What about the other benefits from decomposition? Energy and materials. Energy in the form of gas(es) that we already are using on a daily basis and depleting, materials that we are constantly wasting natural resources to create… it appears win win to me!
So why are we not making more and more use of digestion and decomposition to solve our energy and air-space problems. Cost and change, cost and change, the scariest things in life when I talk to other corporations. Change costs, simple fact, you can’t step outside the status quo without some impact. But lets take a real hard look at what we’re talking about, we are running out of places to put our waste, we are running out of fossil fuels. Here is a means to deal with both inevitabilities , so screw the cost and make the change. Change requires a catalyst (so does syngas production 😉 and usually we wait on government intervention to make change; such as the recycling initiatives. But, government isn’t working towards and real energy initiative at this time; other than breaks for fracking, mining, and off shore drilling; so we need to step up and request it for ourselves. Start with composting in your municipality, if you can get a movement going and they get too much waste to market the end product push for a digester for organic decomposition and sell the gas or burn it for electric power and sell that!!!
I’ve got other things to bitch about that we still toss in the garbage, but I’ve got a birthday dinner to attend 😉