Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg put out a call for proposals to examine technologies that could turn a portion of the city’s municipal waste into renewable, domestic energy.
Although there are many ways to recover energy from solid wastes, NYC is specifically looking at an emerging group of technologies that convert municipal solid waste, which includes non-recycled plastics, into energy.
ACC supports many types of sound materials management programs, especially those that reflect EPA’s reduce, reuse, recycle and recover hierarchy. And we support recovery programs as a compliment to recycling. Recycling and other forms of recovery very often benefit one another.
Less than two years ago, ACC testified at a NYC hearing in support of legislation that expanded the city’s recycling program to include plastic containers in addition to bottles, which the city had collected for many years. And we were thrilled when that legislation passed.
Not all used household items can be recycled, though. Some are too dirtied with food or grease, for example. These materials make their way into the waste bin instead of the recycling bin. And for those materials, waste-to-energy facilities provide a means to capture their energy value and avoid a one-way trip to a landfill.
New York State currently operates ten existing waste-to-energy facilities that complement local recycling programs. These facilities provide an excellent alternative to landfill, and we congratulate the Mayor for looking to complement existing strategies with new technologies that can recover energy from harder to recycle materials.
The impact could be huge. A new study from the Earth Engineering Center (EEC) of Columbia University found that if all of the non-recycled plastics currently put into landfills each year in the United States were instead converted to energy using currently available technologies, they could provide at least enough energy to power 5.2 million homes annually.
That’s just the plastics portion of municipal solid waste. That same study also reported that one ton of municipal solid waste processed with waste-to-energy techniques avoids mining one third of a ton of coal or importing one barrel of oil.
It takes a lot of juice to run The Big Apple. Mayor Bloomberg deserves credit for slowing leakage to landfills and tapping into what he’s got.