You and I make 4.5 lbs. of trash a day on average, most of which grows hills at the landfill. But Europe turns trash into electricity to power homes or fuel the family Volvo.
Denmark, for one, considers residential and commercial trash to be a clean, alternative fuel rather than a waste removal headache. There is no one like a Dane to convert trash to power and reduce energy costs, cut reliance on imported oil and even to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
We Yanks are less refined. As of 2005, the US had 396 landfill-to-energy refineries, way fewer per capita than Europe. Currently, the EPA advises that there are no new waste-to-energy plants under construction even though Federal greenbacks await states that construct them. We have only 87 trash-burning power plants, and they’re at least fifteen year old. Rather than convert trash, a distant landfill is our end game. New York City ships 10,500 tons of waste out of state daily. An abundance of land has provided America with cheap landfills but we’re running out of space and the cost of dumping our trash on other countries is too costly. Did I mention it’s ethically questionable?
We can get energy by safely burning all kinds of trash. Or we can convert items like product packaging, furniture, grass clippings, newspapers appliances, paint, batteries, clothing, used tires, dried sewage sludge, animal waste, food scraps and bottles at one of the new bio-refineries. The later rely on distillation technology to convert in a three step process:
1) First trash is sorted to remove recyclables. What is left is ground up.
2) The ground up trash is then distilled and the byproduct, gas, is stored in tanks
3) The gas fuels a generator to produce electricity. Or, gas is converted into liquid fuel.
Bio-refineries are super-efficient and produce 90 percent more energy than they consume. The US Army is ordering mobile bio-refineries to covert trash at military bases.
In a land where 5% of the global population uses 30% of the world’s recourses, trash conversion suggests big time opportunity given the federal monies available for conversion plants. Why we could even relegate oil industry subsidies to the trash bin.