May 24, 2006 | General

BioCycle World

BioCycle May 2006, Vol. 47, No. 5, p. 6

April 22, 2006 showed persistent threats of crises that need to be addressed – 36 years after the first Earth Day in 1970 such as: The average American generating five pounds of trash/day in 2003 compared to 3.3 pounds in 1970. In 2005, Americans drank about 26 gallons of bottled water each. In 1976, they consumed about two gallons each; From Lester Brown, President of The Earth Policy Institute, comes this overview: “Today we are on an economic path that is clearly not sustainable environmentally. If you look at the environmental trends … we’re faced with shrinking forests, expanding deserts, falling water tables, dying species, collapsing fisheries, rising temperatures, ice melting … a whole series of threats.”
Since 1970, average temperatures around the globe have risen by almost one degree Fahrenheit. Most experts attribute at least some of the warming trend to the accumulation of “greenhouse” emissions – such as carbon dioxide and methane – in the atmosphere; many link human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, to the trend. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. emits about 21 percent of all greenhouse gases, the most in the world. China, which comes in second, produces about 15 percent.
“Exciting developments are happening on the West Coast of North America to get to the root of toxic and disposable product design,” writes Bill Sheehan, Director of the Product Policy Institute based in Athens, Georgia. As indications of the progress, Washington State just adopted the strongest producer responsibility law yet in the U.S. for electronic discards. British Columbia is implementing the most comprehensive framework regulation and is adding new product categories. And in California, a ban on putting hazardous household and small business products in the trash has created a “perfect storm” for engaging local governments in promoting the producer responsibility policy approach.
Sheehan’s Institute is informing elected officials and other decision makers on the benefits of local government of transitioning to producer-financed and designed product recovery systems. Visit
New York State Governor George Pataki is intent on making his state “the vanguard of ethanol production (and homegrown fuel) in the Northeast,” and an old Miller Brewing plant in Fulton, New York is converting its kettles and fermentation tanks to help make it happen. “Every vessel is going to be reused,” engineering director Rick O’Shea told the New York Times last month in a report on how the 420-acre complex would churn out biofuel in the vats that once brewed Miller Lite. New environmental regulations are causing a rapid rise in demand for ethanol to replace MTBE, a gasoline additive linked to groundwater contamination. Writes the Times:
“New York is investing millions of dollars in research on corn-free ethanol.” The State University of New York seeks to produce ethanol using chips from willow trees. “We pull out the things that are normally thrown away by a pulp and paper mill,” says Neil Murphy, president of SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. The goal is to use the willow chips to make paper (at an International Paper plant in Ticonderoga) and ship a syrup by-product to Fulton, where it can be brewed into ethanol, also known as grain alcohol.
The owners of the plant, a local company called Northeast Biofuels, plan to start by producing corn-based ethanol at the beginning of 2008, later getting into wood chips. They formed a partnership with an established Canadian ethanol producer, Permolex, and received a $3 million loan from the pension funds of two union locals in the Syracuse region.
“There are already more than four million cars and trucks on the road that have the option of running on a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, known as E85, but only about 500 gas stations in the nation sell it. Now Gov. Pataki – whose government-issued Chevrolet Suburban runs on E85 – has an initiative to bring ethanol and other alternative fuels to service stations this year. His budget includes $20 million for production of noncorn-based ethanol.”
With the hosepipe ban taking effect in the Southeast of England, many gardeners are worried how their plants will cope during the summer months. One solution, urges Jane Gilbert of The Composting Association in the UK, is to apply compost to conserve moisture levels and improve soil quality. “This needs to be done before the weather starts to get much warmer and soil begins to dry out,” advises Gilbert, the association’s Chief Executive. “Home-produced compost or high quality compost purchased from producers will go a long way to helping people’s gardens bloom this summer.”
According to an article in the March/April 2006 issue of In Business, Seattle Biodiesel is the first company in the Pacific Northwest to open and operate a refinery producing fuel that meets or exceeds ASTM D-6751 specifications. “Made from abundant and renewable virgin seed oil, our biodiesel supports regional economies by keeping energy production dollars circulating in our own communities, from farmer to fuel pump, without sending dollars out of the region,” writes Zanetha Matisse, an Administrator at Seattle Biofuels, Inc, which owns the biodiesel company. The firm now has 22 employees and two pilot projects with Northwest farmers to develop oilseed crushing and refining capacity.
Seattle Biodiesel produces unblended B100 refined from a variety of oils – canola grown in Washington State, soy and other crops. “This is a great business,” says company president John Plaza. “Our sales gradually keep increasing, and we’re able to sell all that we produce.” Last year, Washington passed legislation requiring a minimum of two percent biodiesel in all diesel fuel sold in the state. The law also provides benefits of tax credits to biodiesel makers. The firm also produces and sells crude glycerol (also called glycerin), a by-product of the refining process.
To read the complete article published in the March/April 2006 issue of In Business, visit:
The March/April 2006 issue of Sierra magazine reports an incident when the FBI tried to arrest an environmental criminal but instead wound up agreeing to pay $100,000 and send a “letter of regret.” The story, under a headline “Compost and Go to Jail,” describes how 27-year-old Josh Connole was mistakenly arrested at gunpoint two years ago and held four days on suspicion of setting fire to four Southern California Hummer dealerships, spray-painting slogans like “SUV=Terrorism.”
At the time of his arrest, Connole was living at an ecological co-op called Regen V that was involved in such activities as composting, greywater reclaiming and solar electricity generating. Alarmed to discover that he was being followed by shadowy figures in unmarked cars, Connole called 911 and was promptly arrested. Connole’s arrest provoked the real arsonist, William Cottrell, to write a letter to the Los Angeles Times claiming responsibility for the vandalism. Cottrell (who is now serving eight years for the crime) was a doctoral candidate in physics at Caltech at the time.
A report just released by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) identified pesticides in almost all U.S. rivers and streams between 1992 and 2001. Most waterways and the fish in them are contaminated with pesticides linked to cancer, birth defects and neurological disorders, but not at levels that can harm humans. Pesticide use “raises questions about possible effects on the environment, including water quality,” says Robert Hirsch, USGS associate director for water.
Most frequently detected in agricultural streams were three herbicides used mainly on farms: atrazine, metolachlor and cyanazine. The USGS report is based on an analysis of data from 51 major river basins and aquifer systems nationally, plus a study of aquifers that run through eight states from South Dakota to Texas.
At the Boulder, Colorado Farmers’ Market, everything available for consumption is compostable or recyclable. Signs indicate that “You are entering a Zero Waste zone.” Eco-Cycle has partnered with market vendors to find alternatives to the styrofoam and other petroleum-derived packaging. Over the winter, Eco-Cycle staff met with each market food vendor and found compostable alternatives for items that previously generated trash – including plates, bowls, cups, etc. Preferred products are made from corn, wheat, sugarcane or other natural sources. For more information, e-mail
A joint United Kingdom and United States team of planners have completed a detailed feasibility and enterprise development plan for a zero waste center based in Lowestoft, U.K. The European Union considers the project as in important model with potential to spread to other cities and regions. The report – Zero Waste Centre Feasibility Study – was guided by three key principles: A site that’s convenient to the public; Built-in incentives for proper processing of materials; and Reduce, reuse and repair, and then recycle or compost. Benefits from this investment are estimated to be over $1.6 million annually. For materials that did not have local markets, a service analysis was undertaken to identify enterprises for recruiting.
Project team included an architect and illustrator from Urban Ore Design Associates, plus team members from staff at Eco-Cycle of Boulder, Colorado and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
BioCycle’s Annual Directory of Equipment & Systems – in the April 2006 issue and appearing year-round at www. – is a work in progress. Here are the most recent additions to the following equipment categories:
Food Residuals-Compostable Serviceware: Earthcycle Packaging, 1100-1166 Alberni St., Vancouver, BC V6E 3Z3;
Bagging, Materials Collection – Biodegradable Plastic Bags, Degradable Bags: Marshall Plastic Film, 904 E. Allegan, PO Box 125, Martin, MI 49070;
Contact information for Poly-Flex Composting was not included in the Company Directory. Poly-Flex Composting, 2000 W. Marshall Dr., Grand Prairie, TX 75051; Categories the company was included under include: Anaerobic digestion systems and components and Materials collection (biodegradable plastic bags).
A renewable energy standard was passed in the Washington legislature last month, making it the second state (after Minnesota) to commit to making biodiesel an integral part of the diesel fuel market. Signed by Governor Chris Gregoire, the bill requires that at least two percent of diesel sales by volume will be comprised of biodiesel, with two percent ethanol in the gasoline market. “We are establishing Washington as a leader of a dynamic, 21st century industry,” emphasizes Gov. Gregoire. “Alternative fuels will help bridge the rural and urban divide; these crops can be grown and crushed in rural regions and put to good use in urban areas.”
The requirement goes into effect November 1, 2008 or when in-state production can meet the demand for 20 million gallons of biodiesel annually in the first year. Seattle Biodiesel reports its capacity to be five million gallons annually. Baker Commodities – a California-based supplier – says it will open a 10 million gallon plant in Tacoma in June, 2007. Another company called Washington Biodiesel plans to construct a plant with up to 35 million gallons capacity in Warden, Washington by September 20, 2007.
Since January 2003, Oberlin College students led by Sam Merrett and supervised by Kathryn Janda, an environmental studies professor, have been making and using biodiesel fuel from waste oil collected at restaurant grease fryers in this Ohio community. To get their project up and running, they worked with such local groups as Oberlin Design Initiative and the Youth Energy Project (YEP!) to design renewable energy projects, received funding from the American Public Power Association – building a mobile, community-scale biodiesel processor in Oberlin.
Once a week, Merrett fired up his truck, modified to run on pure vegetable oil, and headed out to collect used cooking oil in 5-gallon buckets from local restaurants. The waste oil has powered cars, trucks, a Bobcat loader and Wood-Mizer sawmill. The group won honorable mention in the EPA 2005 design competition last spring, and Merrett won a $36,000 fellowship that enabled him to stay in Oberlin and create a biofuel resource center.
Merrett and his business partner, Ray Holan of Biodiesel Cleveland, have transformed an old Marathon gas station into an alternative fuel station. Since November, a small pit crew has modified more than 20 cars and trucks to run on biodiesel oil. At the pump, customers can select their own blend of fuel, supplied by three underground tanks of 100 percent recycled vegetable oil, regular diesel fuel, and an ethanol blend for gasoline engines. The station is called Full Circle Fuel Center.
“Sam’s center is a perfect extension of his work and promises significant community benefits,” sums up Janda. “I encourage students to participate because doing so will give them a real opportunity to learn and make a difference in the community.” (This report is based on an article in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine by Tim Tibbits.)
The 2006 State of Garbage in America Report was published in the April issue. We just heard from the state of Connecticut that we made a typographical error in Table 2, “Tons of MSW (Nonhazardous) Generated By State And Waste Stream Categories Included)”. Table 2 currently reads that Connecticut’s Reported MSW Generated (tons/yr) as 29,625 tons. That is in error. The Reported MSW Generated (tons/yr) for Connecticut should have been reported as 3,429,625 tons in Table 2.
An article in the March issue of BioCycle, “Supersized Indoor Composting Facility,” reported that the screening equipment to be installed at the Inland Empire Regional Composting Authority facility was being provided by Western Industries. That detail was incorrect. Two PLC-controlled trommel screens are being supplied by Wildcat Manufacturing Co., Inc., notes Tim O’Hara of Wildcat.

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