China’s ban restricting particular kinds of waste entering the country has presented many challenges for the U.S., which exports a significant amount of recyclable materials overseas for processing and reuse in the manufacturing of other goods.
The ban on the import of certain plastics has been particularly challenging, and in response to lack of processing capacity, an overwhelming number of plastic bottles make their way to either a landfill or the ocean, making new technologies more important than ever.
Leveraging technology to combat this problem, companies like Sewell, N.J.-based Gold Medal Environmental employ a High Efficiency Biological Treatment (HEBioT) process to advance the recovery of bio-mass, plastics and other carbon materials.
More than 100,000 tons of mixed waste collected annually is broken down in their facilities and converted to an Environmental Protection Agency-recognized (EPA) solid recovered fuel (SRF)—achieving as much as 80 percent landfill diversion while reducing logistics, minimizing carbon impact and extending the life of existing landfills.
Waste360 sat down with Michael Schmidt, executive vice president of strategic growth and development at Gold Medal Environmental, to discuss why the focus should be on efficient and sustainable waste diversion solutions and the increasing role that technology can play.
Waste360: Why is now the time to reaffirm the focus on efficient and sustainable waste diversion solutions?
Michael Schmidt: With the ongoing global recycling crisis, declining landfill capacity, especially in the Northeastern U.S., a growing population and the growing food waste problem, there has never been a more important time than now to reaffirm our focus on employing efficient, cost-effective and sustainable waste diversion solutions. The time to address these problems is now; waiting will only make the problems worse.
Waste360: What are those solutions?
Michael Schmidt: The solutions include recycling those materials that can still be recovered efficiently, new strategies such as food waste diversion strategies, like our food waste digester solutions at Gold Medal, as well as new technologies that allow companies to convert waste to fuel, such as our mechanical biological treatment (MBT) facility in West Virginia. These solutions will help our customers achieve their waste diversion goals.
Waste360: What role can technology play in those solutions?
Michael Schmidt: In the environmental industry, technology has historically been applied by the collection company to achieve a safer work environment as well as increased operating efficiencies, whether through routing software, automated collection vehicles or vehicle cameras. The recycling industry has embraced technology to help develop automated recycling facilities to help sort greater volumes of single stream materials to meet the historical specifications of commodity buyers. Unfortunately, as we have seen, even these sorting technologies have their limitations, resulting in much of what we thought we have been recycling to end up in landfills.
As the population is becoming more concerned with diverting more materials from landfills and corporations continue to implement long-term sustainability goals, technology is playing a bigger role in the environmental industry to help achieve greater landfill diversion. For example, by utilizing new technologies, our food waste digesters break down organic food waste at the customer’s site and disposes the effluent down the drain to the wastewater treatment facility. The digesters also give our customers real-time insight as to the amount of food waste they have diverted from landfills. Furthermore, the data captured by our digesters has assisted many of our customers in making better buying decisions on the front end, helping them to reduce the amount of food purchased, while also helping them make more economic purchase decisions.
The combination of science and new technology has led to the formation of new solutions that help to reconstitute traditional waste into a fuel, such as our MBT facility in West Virginia that applies a proven technological process known as HEBioT.
Waste360: What is the HEBioT process?
Michael Schmidt: The HEBioT process is a commercially proven technology that treats unsorted, non-hazardous municipal solid waste (MSW) to produce an EPA-recognized engineered SRF. SRF differs from refused derived fuels (RDF) in the fact that it is an engineered fuel that meets minimum specifications for calorific value and emission standards. The SRF is generally used as an alternative or supplement to fossil fuels, in particular that of coal.
Industries, including cement kilns, power plants, gasification technologies or utilization in biomass boilers use this material. The state-of-the-art HEBioT technology is readily available and can reliably provide high-quality feedstock for co‐processing in different industries.
The MBT process, SRF production and the use of SRF are well established in Europe, with more than 300 MBT plants throughout Europe today. Of those 300 MBT Plants, nine of them deploy the HEBioT technology.
Waste360: How much waste is broken down and converted into fuel using that process?
Michael Schmidt: Depending on the composition of the waste stream, approximately 42 to 47 percent of the incoming waste stream is converted to fuel during the HEBioT process. Of the remaining volume, approximately 30 to 35 percent is water that either evaporates during the bio-oxidation process or captured as leachate.
The process recirculates a majority of the leachate throughout the facility to help maintain the moisture content in the plant. The remaining balance is considered inert fines and either reused as a beneficial use product or disposed of at a landfill.
Our MBT plant and the HEBioT technology utilize those plastics that cannot be recycled in the manufacturing of the SRF, which helps to create the calorific value required by the end user of the material.