September 16, 2009 | General


BioCycle September 2009, Vol. 50, No. 9, p. 4

A lot of the discussion (at least what I can understand) boils down to methane, which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. (I hear nitrous oxide is worse, but let’s not muddy up this editorial.) Food waste and biosolids, among other organic residuals, break down quickly in an anaerobic environment like a landfill, generating methane. The landfill industry claims that it can capture most of the methane before it is emitted. They also throw in the carbon buried in the landfill as a climate asset. Organics recyclers and others note that much of the methane generated in a landfill is emitted before gas capture systems are in place and that digesters are obviously more efficient at capturing the methane from food waste and biosolids. The landfill industry pushes back, saying that composting can emit greenhouse gases and that digesters are expensive. And on it goes.
In this month’s Biomass Energy Outlook column, Mark Jenner – a biomass economist who understands data and math – makes a critical point that the danger with all these lifecycle analyses and “projecting out” studies, is that there really is a lack of valid data upon which to base conclusions. The danger, he points out, is that everyone is clamoring for public policies and laws that will address climate change, renewable energy and fuels production, and so forth. So legislators, industry groups, government agencies and others contract out for analyses upon which they can write and/or influence laws. And the analyses are relying on a small amount of hard data, and a lot of estimates and projections.
Amidst all this brain-bending mumbo jumbo, we received a copy of a study just released by the World Economic Forum (see BioCycle World starting on page 6). It essentially says that consumer industry companies are facing a natural resources crisis: “By 2020 it is estimated there will be one billion more consumers worldwide, resulting in a fundamental consumption imbalance with demand for natural resources outstripping supply.”
What’s the solution? Closing the loop, says the report: “The traditional linear supply chain model – build, buy, bury – needs to be replaced with a model which enables resources to go full circle.” Stop me if I’m wrong, but I do believe that source reduction, materials recycling, composting, energy recovery via anaerobic digestion (so that digestate is available to use) fits that bill, not burying and burning natural resources in the name of green energy production and climate protection. And here is where we play our trump card in the current “who is kinder to the climate” debate. Our sectors of waste and wastewater management are natural resources champions. That claim is fully supported by years and years (50 in BioCycle’s case) of hard, valid, field-tested data and experience. And it applies across the resource conservation and source reduction sectors, from curbside recycling to food waste composting. And best of all, it is a claim that the combustion and disposal industries can’t make. – Nora Goldstein

Sign up