The 2016 Biannual Meeting of the Global Waste-to-Energy Research and Technology Council (WTERT) was held on October 6 and 7, 2016, at Columbia University in New York. The council, which was founded by the Earth & Environmental Engineering Center of Columbia University, brought together, engineers, scientists, managers from universities, waste and recycling industry members and current students for two days of presentations that focused on waste-to-energy (WTE) trends and issues.
The speakers included well-known industry members, such as Stephen Jones, CEO of Covanta Energy; Julia Watsford, vice president of strategic planning at Wheelabrator Technologies; Kathryn Garcia, the commissioner for the City of New York Department of Sanitation (DSNY); David Biderman, executive director for the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA); and Antonis Mavropoulos, president of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).
Here are some takeaways from day one of the meeting:
1. Jones spoke about the future of the U.S. WTE industry and gave a rundown of Covanta’s numbers, which include a 30+ year operating history, 41 energy-from-waste (EfW) facilities in 18 states and providences, 4,000 employees, 110+ boilers, 50+ turbine generators, 20 million tons of waste processed, 10 million MWh of power generated, 500,000+ gross tons of metal recovered and 20 million tons of CO2 equivalent offset. Covanta also has five main environmental solutions: assured destruction, zero waste to landfill, recycling and repurpose solutions, liquid waste management and industrial services.
According to Jones, there are two choices for post-recycled waste: landfill and EfW. Landfills are a major source of man-made methane, a non-sustainable use of land and the methane is 28 to 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 100 years and 84 to 86 times strong over 20 years. EfW, on the other hand, allows for 90 percent reduction of waste in volume, clean energy generation and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. EfW also produces more than nine times the energy per ton compared to landfills. Jones also commented that EfW will be a key to improving the state of sustainable waste management in the U.S., and that international growth of EfW shows a large addressable market.
Jones also stated that more than 80 percent of S&P 500 reports on sustainability, which is a four-fold increase since 2011. And out of 80 reviewed companies, 90 percent had some form of a waste reduction goal.
2. In an interview with Waste360, Jones gave an update on what Covanta is currently working on. “Construction on Covanta’s WTE facility in Dublin is now about 80 percent complete, and we are on track to open the facility in 2017,” says Jones. “We also have approximately 90 percent of our waste signed up for about a 10-year term. In addition to that, we are working on growing and acquiring more companies so that we can continue to gain access to more profile waste. We are also expecting to see a lot more opportunities outside the U.S. over the next five years.”
3. Chen Xiaoping, CEO of China Everbight International, provided an overview of China’s municipal solid waste (MSW) treatment industry.
- China’s environmental industry is policy driven. Change in national policies and the country’s economic system will lead to a fundamental transformation in the environmental industry.
- During the last decade (2001 to 2010), China commercialized its infrastructure projects by allowing private enterprises to invest in and operate waste management.
- PPP models, including POT, BOO, BT, TOT, etc., help to promote corporate development.
Xiaoping also identified the characteristics of MSW in China, which include mixed waste, high water content, high ash content, low heat value and no waste sorting.
According to Xiaoping, 38 percent of the waste in China was treated by WTE in 2015.
4. Watsford explained the role of WTE in sustainable waste management. According to Watsford, the real advantage of EfW is our ability to accommodate changing waste habits over time. EfW ultimately drives sustainable waste management, clean renewable energy, local economic benefits and environmental sustainability.
“Wheelabrator Technologies understands the need to be continually innovative, and we need to develop new ways that WTE can operate,” says Watsford.
5. Garcia spoke about the organics programs in New York. New York currently has more than 225 community composting sites and 87 food waste drop-off sites. The city’s curbside organics collection program is slated to serve nearly 1 million New Yorkers by the end of 2016. In addition to that, more than 700 schools in New York City have curbside organics collection and 100 zero waste schools were launched in 2016.
Garcia also gave an update on how the DSNY is affected by Hurricane Matthew. “Hurricane Matthew could affect DSNY’s ability to export waste to South Carolina,” says Garcia. “Extra rail cars are being sent north to prepare for the storm.”
6. Mavropoulos discussed the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the future of waste management. He claimed that some recycled-material prices are hitting severe lows compared to four or five years ago, and that in the next 10 to 15 years, we will have new waste streams for what are now new materials and products.
Mavropoulos also sees social media as a major benefit for the industry because industry members have the opportunity to track behavior trends.
He also touched on e-waste, stating that “it took us 45 million tonnes of e-waste per year for us to figure out what to do with it.”
7. Biderman’s presentation covered the obstacles and opportunities for a national waste management policy for the U.S. Currently, there is not a national waste management policy for the U.S. and according to Biderman, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act could probably need to be amended and a democrat could probably need to control the White House and the Congress.
Biderman also commented that SWANA’s officially policy supports “integrated waste management” at the local level and that the association let’s local governments decide what’s best.
8. Craig Cookson, director of recycling and energy recovery for the American Chemistry Council, highlighted the advocacy to advance the recovery of non-recycled plastics.
Cookson outlined the four main ways to grow plastic recycling:
- Technical reports and data: rate reports, material recovery for the future and mixed waste.
- Industry programs: plastic film recycling, common recycling terms and grocery rigids.
- Policy alignment: advance broadly supported recycling policies.
- Large scalable partnerships: for carts, education and infrastructure.
“Currently, about 70 percent of plastics in North America come from natural gas and as plastics continue to grow, it’s important for us to continue to explore new options for recycling and recovery,” says Cookson.