February 21, 2007 | General

Editorial: State Of Organics Recycling

BioCycle February 2007, Vol. 48, No. 2, p. 4
Nora Goldstein

In a talk I gave recently on The State of Organics Recycling In America, the first slide highlighted four key points that I hoped the audience would take away from the presentation. These are: 1. We have a window of opportunity; 2. Cheap and easy still trumps resource recovery so we need to put our collective know-how into action; 3. Connect the dots; and 4. Collaborate, cooperate, communicate.
The bottom line, I said, is that from a waste management perspective, disposal is pretty cheap and doesn’t require much work on the part of waste generators and households. Think about it. Throwing food scraps or recyclables into a garbage can and never having to touch or think about them again is much faster and easier than removing contaminants, separating materials into different containers, emptying the containers into a larger container or dumpster and so forth. While a certain percentage of the population (encompassing consumers/households, business and industry, institutions) will source separate, either because it is environmentally correct or because there is a financial incentive (e.g., reduced trash costs), time and convenience trump saving the Earth and a few bucks.
But that is just coming at this situation from a waste management angle, which has always been a tough battle for the materials (bottles, cans, paper) and organics recycling industries to win. The entire picture turns upside down if we shift the discussion to renewable resource management. What does it mean to be part of the solution to combat climate change, reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, and build sustainable cities and communities? It is in this arena where the organics recycling industry has a window of opportunity to put our collective know-how into action, to connect the dots on sustainable natural resource management.
Key to capitalizing on this window of opportunity is to collaborate, cooperate and communicate. For example, organic residuals play a major role in some renewable energy technologies and in biofuel production, as is highlighted in the BioCycle Energy section each month. This issue’s cover story on wood-fired electricity generating plants is a case in point. One of the biggest challenges these plants face is a steady fuel supply, in this case wood chips that meet fairly stringent specifications in terms of particle size and moisture content. From one vantage point, these power plants create competition for the same raw materials used to produce mulch and compost. From another vantage point, organics processors can serve as fuel suppliers. Their know-how from years of raw materials sourcing, grinding, aging and screening make organics recyclers prime candidates to supply these plants. However, supplying wood fuel at the flow rates required for these plants to be a reliable source of electricity means that organics recyclers need to collaborate, cooperate, communicate – and coordinate. At the end of the day, the overall organics recycling industry will grow, with everyone getting a larger piece of the pie.
The same message applies to all organics recyclers and those championing their cause (including BioCycle). The environmental challenges before us, and the solutions that the organics recycling industry have to offer, comprise our window of opportunity. Working together is our key to delivering.

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