Editorial: Integrated Solutions

Nora Goldstein, BioCycleNora Goldstein
BioCycle October 2012, Vol. 53, No. 10, p. 4

When we launched our monthly feature, “Community Sustainability,” in the beginning of 2011, we wrote the following: “The concepts and communities profiled embody the core principles of our company and our publishing mission — management of natural resources to sustain a community’s well-being, from clean air and clean water to healthy soil and healthy people, from renewable energy and recycling to composting and conservation.” Underlying these core principles is a very practical concept, and a phrase I use these days to talk about BioCycle and our mission: Integrated Solutions.

“Integrated solutions” essentially means that there is more than a single solution from an investment in organics recycling. For example, diverting food waste from the landfill provides multiple solutions, including reduced landfill methane emissions, generation of renewable energy via anaerobic digestion and production of high value compost via composting. In turn, the compost can be used to grow healthy food, address challenges with storm water management, revitalize depleted soils and replace fossil-fuel fertilizers.

If that same food waste were directed to a waste-to-energy plant, the landfill methane reduction is achieved, and electricity can be generated (and maybe heat recovered). That’s it. There is nothing left over to replenish soils, grow healthy food, manage storm water or sequester carbon. There are a minimal number of jobs created. Several years ago, I toured a waste-to-energy plant in Tampa, Florida burning up to 3,000 tons/day of municipal trash. Garbage trucks backed onto the tipping floor and unloaded. A huge claw picked up the garbage (actually, the recyclables, organics and trash) and dropped it into a pit that fed the burner. We went to a control room that monitors electricity output to the grid. Only a handful of workers were employed on each shift. Bottom line, a minimally integrated solution.

Today, we see so many communities — small, medium and large — closing the loop in their neighborhoods. Community gardens and urban farms provide citizens with access to fresh produce. Food waste from neighborhood restaurants, grocers and households are brought to the gardens and farms to be composted with other green waste. The compost is used to replenish the soil for the next round of crops. And some of that produce is sold to restaurants that divert their food waste. Bottom line: a swarm of integrated solutions.

This month’s Community Sustainability feature, “Compost In The Green Infrastructure Tool Box” (page 33), hits a home run with integrated solutions.  Author Britt Faucette explains that the latest thinking among Low Impact Development and Green Infrastructure gurus is managing the rainfall where it falls, thus reducing the volume that flows off site, which in turn reduces the pollutant load and combined sewer overflows. One of the most effective Best Management Practices to keep rainfall where it falls is a compost blanket. Faucette provides this example: A 10-acre development with a compost blanket designed for a storm event of 3-inches per 24 hour period will produce about 54,300 gallons of storm water. The same scenario, but under impervious surface, will produce 752,100 gallons. The increase in storm water discharge is nearly 1,400 percent. Because pollutant loads are correlated to storm water volume, the increase in pollutant load is also nearly 1,400 percent. The example then introduces the dollars and cents comparisons. Total savings by using a compost blanket are mind-blowing. Bottom line: a swarm of integrated solutions.

This editorial just scratches the surface of Integrated Solution examples in the BioCycle Community. For an upcoming Community Sustainability feature, we are exploring the role that local anaerobic digesters can play in servicing the power needs of the massive data centers that support the world’s on-line activities. In that case, the flow could be food waste and other organics to the digesters, power to the data centers, digestate to the composters, compost to the soil, food from the soil to the community, etc. Yes, a swarm of integrated solutions.

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