The Infrastructure Needs of Organic Waste Diversion

Allan Gerlat, News Editor

May 1, 2014

3 Min Read
The Infrastructure Needs of Organic Waste Diversion

Knowing that increasing organics diversion is the best way to increase recycling rates is one thing. Having the infrastructure to make it happen is another.

A panel of representing waste companies, energy firms, organics consultants and the U.S. government discussed the challenges and progress with infrastructure issues at a WasteExpo session.

Organics consulting firm Resource Recycling Systems has profiled the amount the amount of waste going to landfills in order to predict how much might come out. "There’s a basic Catch-22,” said the firm’s Aaron Burman. “There’s lot of material out there, but lots of areas don’t have sites. And they don’t have sites because no one is pulling (material) out.”

The challenges are to get the generator to separate the material, the haulers to pick it up (which can be expensive if the routes don’t exist) and to establish high-quality processors to keep costs low.

The Northeast has been active recently in banning commercial food waste from landfills. “I think you’ll really start to see infrastructure development in that area,” Burman said.

The keys, he said, is to make processors aware of all the potential material; encourage haulers that this is an opportunity; push industry in general to see the value; and to fully understand the effects of all the recent government policy decisions.

Jen McDonnell of the organics division of Rutland, Vt.-based Casella Waste Systems Inc. examined the impact of commercial food waste bans in Vermont and Massachusetts.

Vermont’s ambitious goal is to ban all food waste from every generator by 2020. “Vermont is focusing on composting as a primary option,” McDonnell said. “A number of facilities have been permitted. And we feel there’s enough capacity.” Several anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities also are under development.

In Massachusetts its ban applying to large commercial generators takes effect Oct. 1. The state has numerous composting operations but fewer permitted to accept food waste. “So that makes capacity a little more challenging,” McDonnell said.

The state government has been very supportive, she added, changing regulations to make siting facilities easier, for example, and pushing digestion.

From the hauler perspective, more are getting into the business as result of the laws. “But we are seeing the ton change,” McDonnell said. “That certainly changes how we approach things.”

AD projects need a significant amount of material to make economic sense, said Brandon Moffat of Storm Fisher Biogas. “At the end of the day, the money needs to be there,” he said.

That involves having an adequate tipping fee (at least $40 a ton), sufficient revenue on the energy charge and sufficient tonnage, which could be 30,000 to 40,000 tons. “It needs to be a diversified revenue,” he said.

On the utilization side, Moffat said the options are natural gas or electricity. His company prefers electricity, because it’s a concept better understood by the customers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  is trying to be part of the solution, said John Johnson of the agency. “The EPA wants to look at why are we burying what we bury, and how do we recover it,” he said.

The EPA has established the Organics Recovery Challenge to encourage generators to recycle more.


About the Author(s)

Allan Gerlat

News Editor, Waste360

Allan Gerlat joined the Waste360 staff in September 2011 as news editor. He was the editor of Waste & Recycling News for the first 16 years of its history, and under his guidance the publication won 27 national and regional awards.

Before Waste & Recycling News, Allan worked at another Crain Communications publication, Rubber & Plastics News, which covers rubber product manufacturing. He began with the publication as associate editor and eventually became managing editor, a position he held for nine years.

Allan is a graduate of Ohio University, where he earned a BS in journalism. He is based in Sagamore Hills, in northeast Ohio.

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