August 12, 2005

Waste Not... Before and After Product Use

In Wired News there is an interesting article about the advances in policy making and technology to reduce the amount of waste generated during the production processes of some major manufacturers (see "At Clean Plants, It's Waste Not" by Dan Orzech, August 10, 2005).

It's great that manufacturing companies are learning to create less waste in the production process as described in this article, but what about the reuse of the manufactured products after their effective life is over? The fact remains that in spite of heroic efforts by the recycling industry over the past few decades, most waste is still not recycled. In California that number is about 40 million tons of unrecycled waste per year - mostly paper, construction and demolition wastes, plastics, and other organics (CA Integrated Waste Management Board, 2004). Most of this ends up in land fills where the average cost to dump a ton of garbage in the U.S. rose from $8 in 1985 to $34 in 1995 (National Solid Waste Management Association). That's roughly $1.4 Billion in CA alone.

It is estimated that 75%-85% of the mass of this leftover waste could be converted to green power and heating, renewable fuels (ethanol and biodiesel), and green chemicals. These proven conversion technologies (CTs) include gasification, pyrolysis, thermal depolymerization, catalytic cracking, and hydrolysis/fermentation.

What is most needed to spur investment for implementation of CTs is regulatory reform like California's upcoming AB1090 bill. It would simply enable waste to be treated as fuel if it can be converted without violating existing environmental standards for residue and emissions toxicity. Diversion credits would also help communities and corporations invest in CTs.

To this point, it has been the recycling industry in the California that has been most resistant to change of the regulations - in spite of the fact that the CTs would only be used on leftover waste not currently utilized by recyclers. A lobby group headed by well-respected CA Senator David Roberti (Ret.) is collecting letters of support to present to the CA Integrated Waste Management Board in support of AB1090. Those interested should visit for the latest updates on this critical legislation.

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