Experts and business leaders to Congress: Encourage more investment in energy recovery

Very recently, ACC hosted a policy forum on Capitol Hill (video) to discuss the importance of recovering energy from waste in strengthening our nation’s energy security. Last week, I wrote about the opening remarks from our keynote speakers Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressman Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA).

This week, I’d like to focus on the experts and innovators from businesses and universities who spoke at the event. Many echoed the keynote speakers’ emphasis on the potential environmental and economic benefits of wider adoption of energy recovery technologies. In addition, this group highlighted how policy makers could support efforts to expand a range of energy recovery technologies.

Below are selected highlights from our discussion.

Mr. Harvey Gershman | Gershman, Brickner & Bratton, Inc.

Harvey Gershman, who has over 30 years of experience in the waste and recycling industry as president and co-founder of Gershman, Brickner & Bratton, Inc., moderated the discussion and began by pointing out that the U.S. Capitol uses waste-to-energy technology to convert its waste into energy:

“The waste that isn’t recycled here, on Capitol Hill, goes to a waste-to-energy facility in Alexandria, Virginia, to make power for the grid, and has done that reliably for over 20 years.”

Gershman also noted that “…waste-to-energy plants work hand-in-hand with robust recycling programs.” Several other speakers commented on the mutually beneficial relationship between recycling and energy recovery.

Dr. Marco Castaldi | Columbia University

Dr. Marco Castaldi of the Earth Engineering Center at Columbia University detailed the environmental benefits of energy recovery, summing them up this way:

“Capturing the energy value of non-recycled plastics – and municipal solid waste in general – makes good sense because it provides a good domestic form of energy while minimizing impacts on the environment.”

Dr. Michael Webber | University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Michael Webber of the University of Texas at Austin underscored the fact that municipal solid waste can be very energy intensive, noting that his research has found that waste-derived solid fuels can generate more energy per pound than some types of coal.

Dr. Webber told attendees:

“In securing our nation’s energy future, energy recovery and energy efficiency are great places to start.”

He also quoted energy expert David Scott, who has said, “Waste is what’s left when you run out of imagination.”

Mr. Barry Caldwell | Waste Management, Inc.

Barry Caldwell of Waste Management, Inc. offered a business perspective.

On the relationship between waste, energy and revenue, Caldwell noted how Waste Management’s is turning the traditional landfill-based approach to managing waste on its head:

“There’s a ton of material in landfills, and there’s a ton of value in that material. Our goal is to extract that value.”

Mr. Brent Bostwick | Agilyx

Brent Bostwick of Oregon-based Agilyx, a firm that converts non-recycled plastics into a synthetic crude oil, added:

“We are on the forefront of a changing world; capital is important, technology is available, and policy is critical.”

ACC is a strong advocate in favor of an “all of the above” national energy strategy, and that includes recovering energy from waste. A list of policies that would support greater adoption of energy recovery technologies can be found HERE.

Gershman summed up the day’s events well by putting the emerging technologies related to energy recovery in perspective:

This is an exciting time for our country to make even greater strides in utilizing our waste stream as we set out to do back on the first Earth Day in 1970. If we can make higher valued fuels and chemicals from our waste, communities and businesses can look forward to reduced charges for the waste management services they need to have and rely on every day. And, in the process, we will recycle more too. Continued wasting of our waste is certainly a waste. We should start viewing (waste) as a valuable energy resource.

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