BioCycle World

BioCycle July 2016, Vol. 57, No. 6, p. 6

repurposedMaterials specializes in connecting unwanted materials with new lives

repurposedMaterials specializes in connecting unwanted materials with new lives

Linking Users With Repurposed Materials

Damon Carson defines “repurposed materials” as by-products and waste that have value to a second, unrelated industry. That is the cornerstone of repurposedMaterials, Carson’s company that specializes in connecting unwanted materials with new lives. The company was founded in 2010, and has grown to 14 employees, with operations in Denver, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Philadelphia. What are some examples of “repurposing”? Taking a by-product or waste stream such as a retired street sweeper brush and giving it a second life as a backscratcher for horses or cattle … a decommissioned fire hose and giving it an extended life as a boat dock fender … using an obsolete ski lift cable as hand railing in a luxury condo building.

While much of what repurposedMaterials’ deals with are structural items, Carson does dabble in food recovery and organics recycling. Placements include: 30,000 lbs of expired sugar from a beer manufacturer with a beekeeper who made sugar water out of it to feed to his bees; 40,000 lbs of tapioca starch with a building materials manufacturer who uses it as a binder in some of his adhesives; turning highway guardrails into material bunkers; and taking mining conveyor belting to use as windbreaks to minimize odors and dust blowing offsite to neighbors.

Quebec’s Organics Ban Update

The province of Quebec, Canada has hit a few bumps on its road to banning organic materials from landfill by 2020. While the target date remains in place, application measures aren’t yet known. Details are to be released in a new strategy later this year. Because the ban is politically sensitive, no one from the government will speak on the record about it. However it is expected to follow a soft approach at first, employing incentives rather than penalties or other controls.

The organics ban, backed by $650 million in subsidies for new anaerobic digesters and composting facilities, was first announced in 2009 and reinforced later as part of a 2011-2015 provincial “Action Plan,” which included 40 measures aimed at reducing all wastes going to landfills. It was to proceed in stages, starting in 2013 with paper and cardboard, and adding wood in 2014. But that timetable proved too aggressive and all organic materials are now to be banned as of 2020. Many municipal and regional governments have already built digesters or composting facilities, with more underway or planned. The federal government has provided $170 million for eight large projects.

Provincial support comes from a Green Fund, which receives part of a $21.93/metric ton fee imposed on most organic materials going into landfills in Quebec; last year, the fund received 39 percent of the $112.8 million accrued. Municipalities receive Green Fund monies to cover 66 percent of the cost of anaerobic digesters and 50 percent for indoor or outdoor composting facilities. Private sector projects get 25 percent of a digester’s cost and 20 percent for composting facilities. Additional digestion and composting facilities, essential for the ban to be effective, are still to be approved and completed. Proponents must apply for funding by the end of December 2017. The deadline for facilities going into operation will likely be extended to 2022.

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The new strategy might address grumbling within the private sector over the low support its projects receive. It must also tackle how to deal with landfill operators with costly biogas collection facilities that will be rendered obsolete if they don’t receive organic wastes. As well, waste generators in the industrial, commercial and institutional sector are raising concerns about a lack of services for collecting their organic residuals. Discussions continue on the thorny issue of whether ash from large municipal incinerators in Montreal and Quebec City should be deemed diversion from landfill, and therefore in compliance with the ban, if it’s spread on farmland.

Obeo compostable, water resistant food scraps box

Obeo compostable, water resistant food scraps box

Irish Start-Ups Tackle Food Waste

Two new companies have started operations in Ireland to help homes and businesses address the country’s food waste problems. Obeo, founded by Elizabeth Fingelton, an accountant, and Kate Purcell, a packaging and product designer, decided to do something about the yuck factor households experienced when keeping food scraps in kitchen caddies. They developed the Obeo compostable, water resistant food scraps box made from fully compostable materials that complies with European Union standard EN13432. The cardboard is Forest Stewardship Council-certified and the bag is made from recycled fibers. It’s water-resistant, but not designed to hold lots of liquid, according to Obeo, noting that for most households, the box will last two or three days on the counter before they need to be placed in the household’s organics collection bin. More than 200 supermarkets around the country sell the Obeo, reports the Irish Times, which retail at a2.50 ($2.82) for a three-pack.

In the commercial sector, FoodCloud — started by Aoibhinn O’Brien and Iseult Ward — facilitates donation of surplus food to charities. FoodCloud creates a network of charities to match donating businesses. Using its technology platform, either via smartphone app or online through its website, participating businesses can upload details of their surplus food and the time period in which it can be collected. This automatically sends a text message to a charity in their local community who collects the food directly from the business.

Evaluating Respiratory Risk Near Large Composting Sites

A team of British and Swiss researchers have evaluated the risks of respiratory illnesses near large composting facilities. A cross-sectional ecological small area design was used to examine risk of respiratory hospital admissions within 8,200 feet of all 148 large-scale composting facilities in England in 2008–2010. Statistical analyses used a random intercept Poisson regression model at Census Output Area (COA) level. (A COA has a mean population of 310 persons.) Models were adjusted for age, sex, deprivation and tobacco sales.

Analyzing 34,963 respiratory hospital admissions in 4,656 COAs, there were no significant trends using predefined distance bands of >820–2,460 ft., >2,460–4,920 ft., and >4,920–8,200 ft. Using a continuous measure of distance, there was a small non-statistically significant association with total respiratory admissions corresponding to a 1.5 percent decrease in risk if moving from 820 ft to 1,640 ft. There were no significant associations for subgroups of respiratory infections, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The researchers concluded this national study in England does not provide evidence for increased risks of respiratory hospital admissions in those living beyond 820 ft. of an outdoor composting area perimeter. Further work using better measures of exposure and exploring associations with symptoms and disease prevalence, especially in vulnerable groups, is recommended to support regulatory approaches. The full study appears in the July 2016 issue of International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.

Palm Fronds To Animal Feed

The City of Phoenix, Arizona receives about 34,000 tons of palm fronds each year from residents and businesses, all of which end up in the city-owned landfill. With a citywide goal of 40 percent diversion from landfill by 2020 under the Reimagine Phoenix initiative, finding an alternative to burying tons of palm fronds became a priority. (The fronds are a difficult feedstock to compost.) In late June, the Phoenix City Council voted to award a palm fronds diversion services contract to Palm Silage Arizona, LLC, a subsidiary of Palm Silage, Inc. The company transforms palm fronds into nutritional livestock feed in pellet form, as well as dairy chop. “Innovative solutions like this are what it means to have a circular economy,” said Mayor Greg Stanton. “This contract shows that regenerating and repurposing our resources can extend the life of our landfills and create jobs at the same time.”

Palm Silage will be leasing land at the Resource Innovation Campus (RIC) at the 27th Avenue Transfer Station to dry and grind the fronds, and eventually manufacture the actual feed. The fronds are ground until they have a hay-like consistency, then mixed with other nutritional ingredients, including dates as a natural sweetener. Diverting 34,000 tons of palm fronds will increase Phoenix’s waste diversion rate by approximately 3 percent, according to the city; it will pay Palm Silage $12/ton of processed fronds collected, which is $5 less per ton than what the city currently pays to transport and landfill the fronds.

California Struggles To Manage Dead Tree Epidemic

Between the effect of a historic drought and a series of invasive insect infestations (see article on page 28), about 40 million trees in the central and southern Sierra Nevada mountains have been killed since 2010. In October 2015, Governor Edmund J. Brown signed an Executive Order directing state agencies to work together to manage the problem and to direct the harvested trees to biomass facilities around the state. However, the biomass industry in California has been closing plants due to the emergence of competing solar and wind farms.

One alternative being considered is to incinerate the trees in air-curtain burners, which are 20-foot long steel containers that incinerate at high enough temperatures that there is little smoke produced, thus minimal emissions of soot, a short-lived climate pollutant. Chief Ken Pimlott, who manages the state’s response to the die-off as director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, defended the air burners as one of many tools. He acknowledged the burners will contribute to air pollution. The primary pest responsible for the die-off is the bark beetle, which carries a fungus that turns the wood blue, diminishing its value for lumber.

Reader’s Letter

Dear Editor:
I appreciate Richard Hertzberg’s Commentary, “Is There A Recycling Crisis?” in June BioCycle. The focus on composting is of course excellent as this sector is growing by leaps and bounds. However, I do not agree that recycling of traditional materials is stagnant. I feel that it is stagnant in cities with no active or aggressive grassroots recycling efforts. In cities where these groups exist (usually cities where citizens have fought off incinerators) recycling continues to grow. For stagnant cities, they just have to look at their peer’s best practices, and have a will or a push from the grassroots.

I would also include future landfill or incineration costs as another reason not to pay so much attention to market prices as you indicate. The real savings are in avoided costs and these always go up.
Neil Seldman, President, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Author Response:
I don’t mean to come off as negative about recycling and there is certainly room for improvement and expansion of materials recovery efforts, especially for example in the Southwest where I have been consulting for the past several years. The boom in organics collection programs and processing technology is very promising and as noted in my piece does not have some of the inherent structural and economic limitations recycling does.

But I do think it is past time to acknowledge a much broader context for diversion (“sustainability”), where recycling fits in that context, and the necessity of addressing the underlying political and institutional causes of waste generation.  By the latter I mean the phony freedom that allows corporations to flood the marketplace with products that cannot be reused, recycled, composted, or otherwise diverted from disposal.

Well more than enough work there for another lifetime.
— Richard Hertzberg, Environmental Consultant

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