BioCycle June 2011, Vol. 52, No. 6, p. 6
New Report On Restaurant Recycling
A nationwide survey of 500 restaurant owners and operators by the National Restaurant Association during March and April found that two-thirds have recycling programs as part of their sustainability initiatives. According to the survey, 65 percent of restaurateurs have a recycling program in place, and 13 percent participate in composting programs. Nearly three out of four restaurant operators use products made from recycled materials; the most common of these items were bags, paper products and food containers. Seventy-four percent who recycle do so in the kitchen and office areas, while 43 percent have a program in the dining room and other ‘customer-facing’ areas. “Our research also found that a majority of consumers – 60 percent – prefer to patronize restaurants with recycling programs, and restaurants are following suit to ensure they meet their customers’ expectations,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the association.
Organic Ag Sector Booming In A Slow Economy
Organic farmers have showed signs of growth even in dire economic times, according to the Worldwatch Institute. “In 2009, organic farming was practiced on 37.2 million hectares [almost 92 million acres] worldwide, a 5.7 percent increase from 2008 and 150 percent increase since 2000,” notes a recent Vital Signs Online release from Worldwatch. Certified organic agriculture – and the premium prices it commands – is concentrated in wealthier countries. Comprised solely of developed and industrialized countries, the Group of 20 (G20) represents 89 percent of all global certified organic agricultural lands. NGOs like Slow Food International and ACDI/ VOCA are promoting organic agriculture in developing countries as a means of improving livelihoods and regenerating the land.
Worldwatch’s analysis says despite the potential environmental, ethical and health benefits of organic farming, impediments to large-scale global expansion still exist. These include the price premium of organic food, lack of organic standards, a scarcity of equivalency agreements and the rising price of arable land. Still, the report states, organic agriculture holds promise in helping farmers reduce input costs, increase their incomes and prepare for the coming challenges of climate change.
McKibben Urges (Not) Connecting The Dots
Environmental activist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, urged readers to ponder the possibility of a causal relationship between climate change and recent weather-related calamities – while suggesting, with a note of sarcasm, that they do the opposite – in a recent op-ed piece entitled “Keep Calm and Carry On” published in the Washington Post, following devastating tornadoes across the Midwest.
“It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself, over and over, the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change,” McKibbean writes. “There have been tornadoes before, and floods – that’s the important thing. Just be careful to make sure you don’t let yourself wonder why all these records are happening at once: why we’ve had unprecedented megafloods from Australia to Pakistan in the last year. Why it’s just now that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years. Focus on the immediate casualties, watch the videotape from the store cameras as the shelves are blown over. Look at the anchorman up to the chest of his waders in the rising river.”
McKibben goes on in this manner to chastise the American public for its complacency and the country’s leadership from its complicity regarding climate change, citing such examples as President Obama recently opening up vast acreage in Wyoming to new coal-mining and the U.S Secretary of State for signing a permit allowing a new pipeline to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands. “It’s very important to stay completely calm,” McKibben continues. “If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies. If worst ever did come to worst, it’s reassuring to remember what the US Chamber of Commerce told the EPA in a recent filing: there’s no need to worry because ‘populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.’ I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re telling themselves in Joplin today.” Read the column in its entirety at: http://action. 350.org/signup_page/connections.
Bioplastics In Landfills A Bad Idea
According to University of North Carolina researchers, biodegradable products such as compostable serviceware do more harm than good when they end up in landfills. The study, published online May 27 in Environmental Science & Technology, points to increased interest in the use of biodegradable materials because they are believed to be “greener.” But when they end up in a landfill – as a large percentage of these products do – the materials degrade anaerobically to form methane and carbon dioxide. The paper, entitled “Is Biodegradability a Desirable Attribute for Discarded Solid Waste? Perspectives from a National Landfill Greenhouse Gas Inventory Model,” was coauthored by Morton Barlaz of North Carolina State’s Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering and James Levis.
The researchers developed a landfill lifecycle model to represent the behavior of MSW components and new materials disposed in a landfill representative of the U.S. average with respect to gas collection and utilization over a variety of environmental conditions, including arid, moderately wet and bioreactor. They then studied the relative behavior of various materials with respect to biodegradability and offgassing, observing that food waste degraded relatively fast, while biodegradable polymers degraded moderately and materials such as newspaper and office paper degraded much more slowly. The researchers concluded that in a state-of-the-art landfill with gas collection and electricity generation, slower biodegradation rates correlated with positive environmental performance. Since federal regulations don’t require gas-collecting landfills to install collection systems for at least two years after the waste is buried, the study found that materials that break down more rapidly posed the greatest environmental threat as they release methane into the atmosphere before the collection systems are in place. While landfilling food waste was shown to be a bad idea, landfilling biodegradable plastics may not be far behind. “Biodegradable products are not necessarily more environmentally friendly when disposed of in landfills,” said Barlaz.
USDA Promotes Next Generation Biofuels
In May, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a project to help spur development of next generation biofuels. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) Project Area comprises 39 contiguous counties in Missouri and Kansas and proposes to enroll up to 50,000 acres for establishing a dedicated energy crop of native grasses and herbaceous plants (forbs) for energy purposes. Producers enrolled in the program will plant mixes of mixes of perennial grasses such as switchgrass for the manufacture of biomass pellet fuels and other biomass products to be used for power and heat generation.
“By encouraging production of feedstocks that can be converted into next-generation biofuels we are boosting the rural economy, creating jobs, contributing to America’s energy security and protecting our planet,” said Vilsack. “Investments like this spark creation of new industries.” The project serves the dual purpose of providing long-term, resource-conserving vegetative cover.
The program provides for teams of crop producers and bioenergy facilities to submit proposals to USDA to be selected as a BCAP Project Area. Selected farmers will be eligible for up to 75 percent of the costs of establishing a bioenergy perennial crop. They may also receive up to five years of annual payments for annual or perennial grassy crops and up to 15 years of payments for annual or perennial woody crops. Bioenergy facilities are defined as those that produce heat, power, biobased products or advanced biofuels from biobased feedstocks. Learn more at www.fsa.usda.gov/bcap.
Raising The Bar For Fish Farm Sustainability
In a sprawling old one-story warehouse in Greensport, New York, 100 miles inland from the Atlantic, a new firm called Local Ocean claims the distinction of being the first and only commercial-scale, zero-discharge saltwater fish farm in the United States. Eventually the founders aim for a weekly harvest of 80,000 pounds of fish such as sea bass, sea bream and flounder. Local Ocean is raising the fish in enormous tanks resembling aboveground swimming pools in two acres of the repurposed building and a five-acre greenhouse, half of the planned build-out. The fish farm’s system of continuously recirculating water employs a treatment technology licensed from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. With the closed loop system, fish tanks – filled with tap water plus imported salt – are only topped off occasionally to make up for evaporation.
Rather than recycling the effluent to fertilize horticultural crops as in aquaponics, Local Ocean purifies the water through bacterial digestion. Water circulates through plastic honeycomb biofilters. Bacteria in the filters convert fish waste ammonia into nitrates. Then in anaerobic settling tanks, bacteria turn nitrates into nitrogen gas.
Solar greenhouses help maintain fish tank water at a constant 76°F and reduce the need for artificial light. Local Ocean is looking into wind turbines in Greenport and solar panels for a planned California operation.
Researchers Remove Phosphate With Biochar
A process developed by University of Florida (UF) researchers to remove phosphate from Florida’s saturated waters could provide an inexpensive solution to one of the state’s ongoing water quality issues. The process utilizes biochar (partially burned organic matter) to remove the mineral, and also yields methane gas usable as fuel as well as phosphate-laden carbon suitable for enriching soils. Crop waste provides the raw material for the biochar. A study published in Bioresource Technology involved culled beets, scraps and weeds removed from shipments of sugar beets destined for processing. The sugar beet detritus was fermented in an anaerobic digester to produce biogas. The digestate was baked at around 1,100°F to make biochar, which was added to a water-and-phosphate solution. Three-quarters of the phosphate was removed within 24 hours.
Researcher Bin Gao says the technology can be adapted to other materials. “It’s really sustainable,” explains Gao. “We will see if it can be commercialized.” UF has filed a patent for the phosphate-removal process. Florida produces about a quarter of the world’s phosphate, which is used to make fertilizers, pesticides and detergents. The state’s surface-water phosphate challenges generate from both natural sources and human activity. Like excess nitrogen, phosphate can upset the balance in water ecosystems by stimulating algae growth. Researchers also plan to test the technology’s potential application for removing nitrogen and heavy metals, including lead and copper, from water.
Synagro Ceo Goes Undercover
Bill Massa, President and CEO of Synagro, the nation’s biggest wastewater treatment corporation and largest recycler of organic by-products, disguised himself as an environmental polluter attempting to turn over a new leaf and visited several of the company’s facilities across the U.S. in a recent episode of “Undercover Boss,” the CBS reality TV series. At a wastewater treatment plant in Knoxville, Tennessee, for example, Massa had to run to keep up with Shelly Sun as she went through the paces of operating a treatment plant basically single-handed. “After this material is dewatered by the centrifuge, we need to collect it and then ultimately load it in the trucks,” Massa explains to the camera. “Then the material is taken and spread by our workers out in the field. …Never in my life did I think I would be grabbing sludge with my bare hands,” as he fills a bottle with a sample dipped from an in-ground holding tank.
Next stop is Shawny, Kansas, as Massa learns firsthand how to clean decades of accumulated sludge solids out of holding pond with a front-end loader. Then it’s on to the Black River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Lorain County, Ohio, where heat-dried biosolids are pelletized for use as a fertilizer. Outside La Crosse, Wisconsin, Massa finds himself thigh deep in a 2.2 million gallon holding tank breaking up biosolids with a pressure hose. “The first foot or so was water, but then pretty quickly it was [the consistency of] thick sticky oatmeal,” he says. Finally back at corporate headquarters, he reveals his true identity to his various tour guides. Watch the full episode, which originally aired March 27, at: www.cbs.com/primetime/undercover_boss.
June 16, 2011 | General
BioCycle June 2011, Vol. 52, No. 6, p. 6