April 21, 2006 | General

BioCycle World

BioCycle April 2006, Vol. 47, No. 4, p. 6

In an e-mail to BioCycle, David Allaway – Solid Waste Policy & Program Development with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) – writes that his office conducts an annual material recovery survey which estimates the quantity of materials recycled, composted and burned for energy (when statute allows it to be counted towards the state recovery rate). “We released the 2004 results just last month, and for the first time, included an estimate of the energy conservation benefit from recycling (statewide) as well as the net greenhouse gas reduction of recovery (recycling, composting, counting energy recovery). Results are very large,” notes Allaway who provides these figures:
o Energy savings from recycling is estimated at roughly 28 trillion BTUs, about 2.5 percent of total statewide energy use (across all sectors), or the equivalent of 227 million gallons of gasoline.
o Net greenhouse gas reductions from “counting” recovery (recycling, composting, some energy recovery) is estimated at 3.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which provides a greenhouse gas reduction offset equivalent to 4.5 percent of total statewide emissions.
These estimates include the energy savings from recyclables that are generated in Oregon but become feedstock for manufacturers in other states, but exclude the energy and greenhouse gas benefits of materials generated outside of Oregon but sent here for recycling. Full text of the report can be found on www.
Scientists at the UK University of York, led by Neil Bruce in the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP), “are using microorganisms to turn trees and plants into pollution busters,” notes the March 2006 issue of Resource. Explains Bruce: “We have taken that activity from the bacteria and put it in plants with large amounts of biomass. A tree, for instance, is effectively a big pump seeking out water, and if we can redeploy the enzyme which degrades the explosive making it harmless, it combines the capabilities of soil bacteria with the high biomass and uptake properties in plants.”
The research has involved redeploying the enzyme into a model plant system – Arabidopsis thaliana – but in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington, the CNAP team now extending the technique to robust plants species such as trees and perennial grasses. The technique can also be used to modify plants to resist other organic pollutants.
“We are a community resource for used building and remodeling materials,” explain staff at The ReBuilding Center located on Mississippi Avenue in Portland, Oregon. “Our inventory is ever-changing and restocked daily with an average of three 20-foot flatbed truckloads of donated materials. From framing lumber, doors, windows to flooring, trim and furniture, you’ll find it all.” As soon as you walk into the workplace, visitors get the sense of neighborhood spirit that demonstrates how people can turn a wasteful practice into a community benefit. A nonprofit organization founded over five years ago, Our United Villages (OUV) – which runs The ReBuilding Center, its DeConstruction Services and ReFind Furniture operations – is committed to “bringing people together to share hopes and ideas they have for their neighborhood.” OUV has no political, religious or government affiliation.
Through its DeConstruction Services, the Center can handle-dismantle anything from full houses to century-old grain mills. It works closely with green building projects – creating three to six jobs for each one generated by standard demolition practices. Cast-off house parts are also the resources for ReFind Furniture – one-of-a-kind functional/artistic home furnishings. At least 99 percent of materials used have been salvaged. The Center’s operations reclaim annually more than 4.5 million pounds of building materials for reuse.
For more details, contact The ReBuilding Center, 3625 N. Mississippi Ave., Portland, Oregon 97227; call (503) 331-1877; or visit
Even though it’s reused more than almost any other product, a global shortage has developed for OCC – old corrugated containers, reports the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI). The demand is leading paper mills to look at such fiber alternatives as corn stalks, kenaf and straw. Countries like China export many more products into the U.S. than they import and fill empty containers going back with recycled papers, says a manager of a Becker, Minnesota mill that recycles cardboard into new containers. “The Chinese use the OCC to make cardboard so the price keeps climbing,” explains an AURI official.
To find alternatives to OCC and wood pulp, AURI is taking another close look at a 10-year-old study that evaluated using straw pulp to make papers. That study showed that straw paper was “technically feasible but the economics were way out of whack.” But with pulp costs rising, the consortium from the University of Minnesota, State Department of Energy and Economic Development Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources and AURI representing Minnesota wheat growers is taking another look. Through the consortium AURI found Liberty Paper in Becker, Minnesota. They are working with technology to blend wheat straw with recycled cardboard. Of all the alternative fibers Liberty Paper has evaluated, “wheat is the best suited because of its fiber characteristics … and there is an abundance of it in Minnesota.”
The straw-OCC blend would likely be used in the cardboard’s wavy interior. Writes Cindy Green in the AURI newspaper: “Cost of the wheat straw, baling and transportation would still be less than the price of recycled cardboard. AURI and the University will analyze all wheat varieties for paper-making attributes.” If wheat-straw paper making is feasible, “theoretically a new $80 million plant in northwest Minnesota would use 100,000,000 tons of straw a year, mixed half with recycled cardboard. It would be a direct $3 million value-added to the wheat growers,” concludes Michael Sparby, AURI project director.
In their report in this issue (p. 70), authors Michaela Archer and David Baldwin provide details on trials for composting and utilizing seafood feedstocks. They also prepared data on costs when disposal fees are about $70 to $100/ton (£40-£60). It was estimated that $1.7 million would be the price for a 10,000 ton/year in-vessel facility with production costs per ton at $85. (A British pound (£) is equal to $1.73 U.S. dollars.) Archer and Baldwin wrote:
“Current sales prices for compost vary significantly depending on the intended market and quality of the finished product. Low grade, bulk uses such as land reclamation may pay up to £5/t while topsoil values can reach £40/t. The production of an added value, high quality or organically certified compost would add to these prices but this would have to be offset by the additional costs of improving management of the feedstocks and process.”
“Given the costs of other waste disposal routes, it is considered that composting could provide a cost-effective route for seafood by-products. However with the low value for composted seafood by-products (£5-£40/t at current prices), the potential for gaining revenue/profit appears limited without adding value to compost in some way. A partnership between seafood and waste management industries may help to reduce these costs.”
University of Connecticut researchers Michael Dietz and John Clausen have found that rain gardens can trap and retain up to 99 percent of pollutants in urban storm runoff, protecting against metals, oils, fertilizers, etc. They stress that easy-to-construct gardens – “shallow depressions in the earth landscaped with hardy shrubs like chokeberry or winterberry surrounded by bark mulch” – offer a simple remedy. Their two-year study found that their gardens significantly reduced concentrations of nitrates, ammonias, phosphorous, etc from reaching storm drains. According to Resource magazine, they also found a way to allow polluted rainwater to pool at the bottom of the gardens permitting soil bacteria to convert harmful nitrates into nitrogen gas. Visit
A firm called Arthur Blank & Co. has come up with a way to use corn as an alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastic cards, writes Resource, published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. “CornCard USA is identical to traditional plastic cards in look, feel and durability … for uses such as gift, debit, membership and identification cards.” Notes Eric Blank, executive vp: “If you compared bushels of corn to barrels of oil over the past five years, crude oil prices have skyrocketed, while U.S. corn supplies and prices have remained relatively constant.” For further details, visit
Researchers at the University of Miguel Hernandez in Alicante, Spain have developed a gel from aloe vera, a tropical plant, that can be used to prolong the quality and safety of fresh produce. “The gel, which does not seem to affect food taste or appearance, shows promise as a safe, natural and environmentally-friendly alternative to conventional synthetic preservatives that are applied to produce after harvesting,” notes a report on the research. According to study leader Daniel Valero, untreated grapes appeared to deteriorate rapidly within about seven days while gel-coated grapes were well preserved for up to 35 days under the same conditions.
It’s believed the gel – composed mostly of polysaccharides as a natural barrier to moisture and oxygen – actually enhances food safety. Aloe vera gel seems to contain various antibiotic and antifungal compounds that can inhibit microorganisms responsible for foodborne illness. The findings were reported in the November 2005 issue of Resource.
Even the Wall Street Journal is covering the boom times for scrap metal recycling which has led to criminals targeting steel, aluminum, etc. In Beijing, some 25,000 manhole covers have been missing since New Year’s Day; in Malaysia, a Country Club lost aluminum cups from 12 golf course holes; “Metal scroungers have stolen about $50,000 in scrap from the Concord Naval Weapons Station east of Oakland; and in the United Kingdom, more than 250,000 beer kegs have been taken, while thieves took away empty kegs that had contained Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and Pyramid beer from a Charlotte, North Carolina distributor. Just a few years ago, scrap yards paid $5 a keg, and now it’s $21.”
The many colleagues of Frank Humenik were saddened to learn of his death on March 28, 2006 in Raleigh, where he served for many years as the Coordinator of Waste Management Programs at North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Previous BioCycle reports described his innovative work to improve manure management, especially methods used for swine manure. In one article on “Turning Animal By-Products into Resources” by Richard Reynells of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dr. Humenik was quoted as predicting the need for preparing for “when land application of raw manure would not be acceptable” and how we must treat manures “to the point of effluent discharge to streams.” His list of promising alternative technologies included in-ground anaerobic digesters, constructed wetlands systems as well as use of fast-growing hybrid poplar trees that could absorb nearly 3,000 gallons of effluent per acre per day. The result – ammonia and nitrogen compounds are safely metabolized in the woody tissue of poplars. “Over time, the trees take up the nutrients, and it is natural purification. With the trees, you have a harvestable product,” observed Dr. Humenik.

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