Turning waste into a resource

Meet the EcoComplex Project

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Why not have businesses and other groups make use of the garbage and sewage that was piling up every day in Catawba County’s landfills instead of letting it go to waste, was the seemingly simple idea of Barry Edwards.

He had heard of plans like this being successfully implemented in other communities and countries, and hence he knew that such a project would help save costs and create new jobs and resources, through recycling, that would benefit the county’s residents and the environment.

Thus was born the Regional EcoComplex and Resource Recovery Facility at Catawba’s Blackburn Landfill.

Though it is still in its early stages, the complex has already helped move Catawba County up to third place from fifth in North Carolina in per capita recycling and has boosted the county’s revenues by $500,000 a year thanks to a new methane-to-energy project. “Every tie you see there has a benefit,” said Edwards, Catawba’s utilities and engineering director. “We didn’t just pad these people’s wallets. We get something from it.”

Edwards and his colleagues are already hard at work finding other innovative ways to convert the county’s waste into commodities and are encouraging businesses to relocate next to the landfills to take advantage of the project:

• An Appalachian State University research facility will use the grasses planted on the fields of buried trash to make/study biodiesel.

• A brick-making company is negotiating with the county to build a plant next to the landfill to use the heat from the methane-to-energy project to dry bricks.

• A vegetable greenhouse operation will use the carbon dioxide emitted by burning landfill gases to spur the growth of plants.

• A new sewage sludge composting facility will use the gas it produces to make more energy.

This is not rocket science but the powers that be tend to treat it like that and more often than not they cannot come up a with and implement an idea until they have spent often millions of studies the outcome of which the like of the Neanderthals could have told them, such as when the British government announced – via a press release – that via a GBP five million study they had 'discovered' (parenthesis mine) that waste wood can be burned. It can?

Such projects as the one above more often than not show the way what can be done with, as in this case, use of methane from landfill sites and sewage sludge but when this is attempted to be placed beyond the research stage into the wider world problems are being encountered.

Who or what is behind such problems I leave the reader to conclude though suffice to say that there are industries that would loose out if methane use would become widespread. Need I say more?

It is one thing to make the likes of landfill gases, e.g. methane, into a commodity it is not something that should be done with other recyclables though, For, as soon as that is being done the ethics goo out of the window and, when the values of the recyclables are down, such as happened at the beginning of the 2008/2009 recession, the materials are stored or, in many cases, were dumped in landfills. This is not the way it is meant to work.

Also, we may have to and should look at other ways of working with recyclables, such as proper upcycling in the way of TerraCycle, still to this day the only company properly devoted to doing that on a big scale and getting bigger every time.

The problem is that recycling is too often seen as something that must create a commodity and generate one. It should be something that helps all of us and not just some people trying to make money. Who pays you to sort out all the recyclables and then put them neatly at the curbside? Instead councils want to punish you if you do not do it.

On the other hand it is true that waste is a resource but it should not be seen too much as a commodity to be traded, which seem to be the case with, say, PET bottles and such, and this is not a good way to doing things.

A new way and a new approach are needed and it is not rocket science either.

© 2009