November 22, 2006 | General

BioCycle World

BioCycle November 2006, Vol. 47, No. 11, p. 6

A coalition of recycling organizations challenged NatureWorks’ plans to push use of its biobased plastic, polylactic acid (PLA) in bottles. It called on the company to agree to a moratorium on any further expansion until the bioresin’s recyclability has been demonstrated. A subsidiary of Cargill, NatureWorks has commercialized the plastic resin made from corn. Besides touting its compostability, it also claims that PLA can be recycled or chemically converted back into PLA.
According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, one of the coalition members, “No recycling infrastructure exists for plastic cutlery, plates and cups. We want biobased companies to focus on replacing nonrecyclable disposable plastic products such as polystyrene.” The coalition first raised concerns about PLA bottles displacing recyclable PET bottles 18 months ago. “We earn 15 or more cents per pound for our PET bottles,” says Susan Hubbard of Eureka Recycling in St. Paul, Minnesota, another coalition member. “Any PLA bottles have nowhere to go but the garbage, costing us money. No compost operation will pay for PLA. No facility accepts postconsumer PLA for recycling. There is no cost-effective way to sort it out, so it contaminates the bottles that do have a value.”
Other coalition members include EcoCycle (Boulder, Colorado), Ecology Center (Berkeley, California), Center For A Competitive Waste Industry (Madison, Wisconsin) and Grass Roots Recycling Network (California).
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2005 “Facts and Figures” on municipal solid waste management in the United States, the amount of trash generated by Americans declined between 2004 and 2005 – from 247.3 million tons to 245.7 million tons. The agency says the decline is due in part to a dip in individual waste generation to about 4.5 lbs/person/day, a 1.5 percent decrease since 2004. At the same time, EPA claims the U.S. recycled 32 percent of its waste in 2005, a two percent increase from 2004 (and equivalent to 1.5 lbs/person/day). Excluding composting, the amount of MSW recycled increased to 58.4 million tons, an increase of 1.2 million tons from 2004. Tons recovered for composting rose slightly to 20.6 million tons in 2005, up from 20.5 million tons in 2004. Container and packaging recycling increased to 40 percent; nearly 62 percent of yard waste was composted; and about 42 million tons of paper (50 percent) were recycled.
Of the 246 millions tons of MSW generated in 2005, paper and paperboard made up the largest component (34 percent); yard trimmings were the second largest, at 13 percent. Food scraps accounted for 11.9 percent, and wood was 5.7 percent. The recovery rate for food scraps as a percent of generation was 2.4 percent (that includes recovery of other MSW organics for composting); the recovery rate for wood as a percent of generation was 9.4 percent.
The USEPA’s data, extrapolated from manufacturing and consumption trends, contrasts sharply with BioCycle’s State of Garbage In America survey data (see April 2006 report, which reflects 2004 data). The BioCycle survey, done in collaboration with Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Center, utilizes tonnage data reported by the states. BioCycle/EEC reported an estimated 387.9 million tons of MSW were generated in 2004. Of that, 110 million tons (28.5 percent) were recycled and composted. Waste Age Wire, an on-line bulletin, appeared skeptical of the data as well. Citing EPA’s claim that waste volumes are down by two percent, Waste Age Wire notes: “This despite a growing population and economy, and as far as most can tell, an ever more disposable consumer product marketplace. Never mind that most waste firms have reported both strong pricing and volume improvement as contributing to solid financial results.” An Executive Summary of EPA’s 2005 Facts and Figures can be downloaded at: msw99.htm.
The Jenkins Brick Company’s new $56 million manufacturing plant in Moody, Alabama will use landfill gas to fuel its kilns – planning to expand from 40 percent to 100 percent usage in 10 years. The project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 62,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Jenkins Brick and Veolia Environmental Services, owner of the landfill providing the gas, is partnering with EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program to create the project.
A global warming bill that caps California’s emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2020 was passed by the California legislature. It represents an estimated 25 percent reduction from current levels; establishes a mandatory emissions reduction reporting program to the state’s Air Resources Board; and sets a “cap and trade” program which allows companies to buy and sell emissions rights.
According to Environment California, the law gets California closer to the emissions reductions specified in the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is hoped that the tough emissions law will lead other U.S. states to pass similar legislation.
As explained in a recent New York Times article, the Cleantech Venture Network helps venture capitalists invest in technologies that improve energy sources and provide alternatives – including companies with ideas in solar power, fuel cells, water, pollution control and recycling. Says Nicholas Parker, chairman of Cleantech Venture Network: “This is not the venture equivalent of socially responsible investing.” It’s about money, Parker said, as investors have become receptive to alternative energy companies. In the first two quarters of 2006, venture capitalists invested $379 million in 30 clean tech companies up from $230.8 million in 27 companies in all of 2005. “When I started out, the idea of environment and finance being two worlds you could put together was unheard of. The world is changing.”
A federal judge in Los Angeles rejected Kern County, California’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging its ban on land application of biosolids. The U.S. District Court judge also rejected the argument that the case should not have been filed in L.A. but instead belonged in the federal district that includes Kern County. The court ruled that it was okay to file the suit in L.A. because the effects of the ban – higher costs and difficulties managing biosolids if banned from Kern County – would handicap government agencies in the L.A. area. Commented Cynthia Ruiz, president of the L.A. Board of Public Works: “We are pleased that the court denied most of Kern County’s motion to dismiss. …The ban has enormous impacts on metropolitan Los Angeles.” The ruling clears the way for a motion by the City and its allies asking the court to allow land application of biosolids while the case is heard.
Noted Rita Robinson, director of the L.A. Bureau of Sanitation: “The prospect of closing the City’s Green Acres Farm after 12 years of successful biosolids recycling poses enormous challenges to the Bureau of Sanitation. The facts show that biosolids recycling is good for Los Angeles and good for Kern County.” The lawsuit seeks to overturn a ballot initiative passed by Kern County voters in June that bars the plaintiffs from recycling biosolids at two farm sites in the County, including a 5,000 acre farm owned by Los Angeles.
Viridor Waste Management – one of the largest operators of landfills in the United Kingdom – manages a 193-acre site east of Edinburgh, Scotland that uses two low-Btu gas generator sets from Cummins Power Generation to produce 3.5 MW of electricity from methane. While the methane is dilute, it also is a potent greenhouse gas that can contribute to global warming. The installation features two generators operating in parallel specifically modified to run on dilute methane. As methane production increases, two additional generator sets will be installed to produce a total of 7MW.
A nearby cement plant purchases the power. The plant’s total electrical demand is about 23 MW and the landfill supplies about 15 percent of its needs at a lower cost than the utility.
To collect the methane from the landfill, Viridor installed a combination of horizontal pipes and vertical wells linked together and coupled to a central main that runs alongside the site. The methane gas produces a slight pressure due to the bacterial action. To encourage the gas to enter the pipeline system instead of migrating, a slight negative pressure is created by roots-style pumps in the power building. Part of the landfill is covered with a sheet of polyethylene to prevent water ingress and to control odors. Methane production from the landfill is a steady 2,500 cubic meters per hour.
Contaminants in landfill methane vary with makeup of the landfill. Treatment consists of filtering it in a cyclone device to remove heavy particulates and moisture. Finally, it goes through a fabric filter before being delivered to the engines.
Currently, Viridor generates a total of nearly 60 MW of electricity from 19 landfill sites.
Six cities in the Chinese province of Guangdong will be testing grounds to develop a “recycling economy” – picking 300 enterprises and 15 industrial parks for the program. According to Warmer Bulletin, the goal is to build “a resource conservation and environmentally friendly society to ensure sustained social and economic development.” Guangdong Province consumes up to 9 percent of the energy used nationwide.
Six selected cities will have to make ecofriendly changes in production, consumption and management – and are required to meet national standards for clean production and create recycling technology. In the past three years, the government has verified 52 enterprises who meet the standards. Industrial parks will be transformed to meet the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle.
Projects selected for the program will receive funds from the government for technical renovations. Incentive schemes will be developed for enterprises using wastewater, solid waste, and waste gas.
Through a process called fractionation, University of Georgia researchers plan to generate fuel and fertilizer from poultry litter, separating fine and coarse parts, explains Mark Risse, Cooperative Extension engineer. Processed pellets have a slower release of nutrients.
Poultry litter is put through an intense heating process to create char and bio-oil which can be refined further for use as diesel-like fuel. “Two or three companies are looking at pelletizing litter for fertilizer,” adds Risse. “There’s a real opportunity for research that can be used not 10 years from now, but now.” He can be contacted via e-mail at
Progress Energy Florida has signed a 25-year contract to buy power from a plant fueled with grassy biomass. Biomass Investment Group (BIG) plans to build a 130-megawatt power plant in central Florida fueled with E-Grass, a fast-growing perennial for conversion into biogas. It’s referred to as the first commercial-scale “closed loop” biomass power plant fueled with crops grown on site. The biomass plants are eligible for federal tax credits of 1.9 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity.
In Georgia, a partnership of 28 electrical membership corporations (EMCs) plans to draw some of its electricity from poultry litter. Green Power EMC has agreed to buy 20 megawatts from Earth Resources, Inc., which plans to build a poultry litter gasification system near Carnesville, Georgia to be operational in summer 2007.

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