Furthering Waste Reduction Through Waste To Energy Recycling

Illustration by Kelsey King

Illustration by Kelsey King

Waste to Energy (WTE) plants have been a viable waste reduction tool for quite some time. But they have still produced waste in the form of ash. Now that ash can be recycled.

Covanta, a leader in sustainable energy, and TARTECH eco-industries, a German firm, have joined forces to launch the first metals recycling project reclaiming ferrous and non-ferrous metals from WTE ash. Appropriately, the project has been launched in Massachusetts, which is a national leader in U.S. recycling policy and sustainability efforts.

A few of the benefits that are expected to result from this collaboration:

  • Recovery of thousands of tons of metals from the Peabody Ash Monofill
  • Reduction waste deposited in landfills
  • Reduction of greenhouse gasses
  • Energy savings
  • Creation of new high-paying jobs 
  • Increased revenue opportunities for the town of Peabody

While these benefits would seem to make this project a no-brainer, WTE is still highly controversial, and has met with significant opposition in many parts of the country. Incinerators are banned in many states based on concerns that the burning process releases toxins such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, the acid gases, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen chloride, ordinary smoke and soot, known as particulates, which can contain dioxins and solid metals, and mercury. However, modern WTE technology operates at much higher temperatures than their older counterparts, and they operate at close to zero emissions. This is prompting many states (including Massachusetts) to reexamine their bans and take another look at WTE technology.

Another opposing view claims that WTE undermines recycling efforts. If trash can be burned away then consumers can continue to dispose of unwanted household materials and buy new. And the manufacture of virgin materials puts a higher burden on our natural resources. This claim, however, is not borne out by the evidence.

According to the European Environmental Agency the five European nations with the highest recycling rates (Sweden, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and Austria) recycle at least 50% of their waste stream, and virtually all other waste is used in WTE plants. Austria is recycling 70% of its waste. This means that at worst these countries are still recycling 20% more of their waste than we are in the U.S. (currently our recycling rate is approximately 34%).  

We should also recognize that recycling is not a waste-free activity. Even with the newest MRF plants using advanced fiber optic technology about 10-15% of the material that goes in comes out as landfill matter on the other end. Likewise, WTE produces ash waste. The ability to reclaim metals from the ash answers one more of the opposition’s questions.


Covanta TARTECH Commences Metals Recycling Project in Peabody, MA (via MarketWired)

SOURCE: Covanta Energy November 14, 2013 15:59 ET Project to Recover and Recycle Ferrous and Nonferrous Metal From Ash Monofill PEABODY, MA–(Marketwired – Nov 14, 2013) – Covanta TARTECH, LLC, a joint venture of Covanta Energy Corporation, a world…

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Bathroom Recycling: A matter of convenience?


Many consumers who are avid recyclers don’t practice recycling in the bathroom. The following article posits that the reason is a matter of convenience; most people don’t have recycling bins in the bathroom.

Granted, this is true. I don’t have a recycling bin in the bathroom either, and I admit that it is a bit of a hassle to collect my recyclables and bring them down to the household container. But I think the problem goes further than a mere issue of whether or not to add another container to the household. 

Many bathroom plastics are difficult if not impossible to recycle. Toothpaste tubes, for example, are usually made of recyclable plastic, but they rarely have a recycling symbol stamped on them, and in order to recycle them you usually have to cut them apart and clean them out (or make craft projects as reported in our post, http://tipsforrecycling.com/2012/01/07/tips-for-recycling-in-the-bathroom-toothpaste-tubes/ ). Deodorant tubes are rarely recyclable due to the composite composition of the plastic used to construct them. Shampoos, conditioners, body wash and lotion bottles are usually recyclable, but their caps usually aren’t. And cosmetics? Don’t even get me started!

Perhaps the issue is as much about the packaging as the inconvenience when it comes to bathroom recycling.

Recycling in the Bathroom – Why Don’t We Do It? (via http://www.tradewindsimports.com/)

Why is it that that only 1 in 5 Americans recycle in the bathroom in comparison to nearly 7 out of 10 who recycle around the house? A study commissioned by the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies was recently conducted by Shelton Group. The…

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Animal Composting: VDOT has a new plan for disposing of road kill

VDOT worker loads deer carcass into vessel composter

Composting 101…DON’T put meat, fat or bones in your compost bin. But now we’re hearing that the third largest DOT (Department of Transportation) in the country is planning on composting the thousands of animals that end up dead on the roadside every year.

The idea may sound morbid…grotesque even…but the benefits of composting these carcasses instead of landfilling or incinerating them are both environmental and financial.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) spends approximately $4.1 million per year on road kill disposal. Currently those animals are brought to a landfill to be deposited as general refuse. And the numbers of animals are significant; the insurance industry estimates that there were 52,400 deer-car crashes in Virginia last year. The economic issue is the cost of disposal. The environmental issue is that these animals are organic waste. In a landfill, that means methane production.

VDOT began experimenting with animal composting in 2012 at their Hanging Rock facility. The Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research (VCTIR), a subdivision of VDOT, tried several different compost bin configurations before seeking help from Advanced Composting Technologies LLC, in Candler, N.C.  The initial experiment involved converting three metal roll-off trash containers, installing large blowers in the floor to force air into the system at a cost of $48,000. When that experiment proved to be a success, VDOT workers retro-fitted three concrete material storage bins at a cost of $28,000. Those units became operational in July, 2013.

Partially loaded bin with recent roadkill

Partially loaded bin with recent roadkill

The method of using large, open-topped bins and using air forced into the pile from the bottom to fuel decomposition is known as vessel composting. A simple system, such as the ones built at VDOT, can reduce a full load of deer carcasses to compost in a month. Advanced Composting Technologies claims that their systems can reduce ‘huge’ quantities of organic matter to clean compost in a matter of days by maintaining pile temperatures around 160°F. It requires no chemicals. Water and air feed the microbes that decompose the waste and produce the pathogen-killing heat in the process.

Based on the success of the current project, the agency has contracted four more composting units at $115,000 apiece. Composting units have now been added at VDOT’s Bethel and Fishersville facilities. VDOT expects to realize the following benefits from expansion of the animal composting program:

  • Significantly reduce cost of animal carcass disposal, realizing savings that will enable each composting unit to pay for itself in approximately 5 years. VDOT estimates these savings at half a million dollars per year.
  • Save 252,000 road miles traveled each year transporting carcasses to landfills.
  • Produce high-quality compost material that can be used on eroding slopes and in state-owned gardens, further increasing savings in the form of lower material costs.
Finished compost after removal from ACT compost bin

Finished compost after removal from ACT compost bin

While VDOT is the first state DOT to pilot vessel composting technology to address their road kill issue, composting animal carcasses has been a viable solution for livestock mortalities for more than a decade. For more information on animal composting see the following resources:

Composting Dead Livestock: A new solution to an old problem, Iowa State University Extension, November 1999

Whole Animal Composting of Dairy Cattle, New Mexico State University, August 2013

Composting Animal Mortalities, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, May 2009

on-farm composting of large animal mortalities, Washington State University Extension, May 2008

Video Animal Composting Part I



Advanced Composting Technologies, LLC., http://advancedcomposting.com/our-benefits/

Sturgeon, J., The Roanoke Times, October 12, 2013, Composters transform roadkill into landscape

VDOT Employee News, The Weekly Report, October 17, 2013, We’re Composting What? Pilot Program Studies Deer-Carcass Composting

Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation & Research, June 2012, Composting Animal Carcasses Removed From Roads: An Analysis of Pathogen Destruction and leachate Constituents in Deer Mortality Static Windrow Composting

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Tips For Recycling and Reusing Glass Bottles

What’s infinitely recyclable, completely reusable, comes in many colors and contains no BPAs? The glass bottle!

Importance of Recycling and Reusing Glass Bottles (via greenliving4live.com)

One of the best methods to save environmental pollution is by recycling glass bottles and jars. Environment pollution is aggravated due to landfills and the problem is increasing day by day. Recycling and reusing of glass, plastic and other materials…

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Recycling Cell Phones: Smart Cell Phones Need a Makeover to Become Eco-Friendly

When I speak to people about recycling their cell phones and electronics, the most common objection I hear is that it’s a scam and everything gets landfilled anyway. The second most common concern, and the one that is most valid, is that these personal electronics are being sent overseas to be disassembled and have their component parts and materials reclaimed by what amounts to slave labor.

E-waste 'recycling' in Guiyu, China - 01

Image courtesy of www.alexhoffordphotography.com

Many of the workers in these overseas recycling facilities are children.  The toxins that they are exposed to during the recycling process are enough to make any of us cringe. Cyanide, nitric acid, lead, mercury and cadmium are just a few of the substances the workers come into contact with on a daily basis.

Now there is evidence that these toxins are extending beyond the humans that work with them to the water and food supplies in the communities that have electronics recycling plants.  It’s hard to claim you’re doing the right thing when you recycle your old smart phone if you’re causing irreparable harm to other humans and the environment at large in the process.

Thankfully one smart phone manufacturer has recognized the harm that’s being done and is now manufacturing their phones with eco friendly materials. Unfortunately this is not an American supplier, but there is hope that this will be the beginning of a new trend in green cell phone manufacturing. With the average American replacing their phone every twelve to eighteen months this would be good news indeed.

In the U.S. we still face many obstacles to requiring companies to ‘green’ their manufacturing processes. There is a lack of policy leadership on the topic of recycling and the environment in general. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws would force manufacturers to be responsible for the end-life of their products, but such laws have received only limited support at the federal level. Many legislators are concerned that such laws are too costly for businesses and will hurt the economy. However, where EPR has had success in making it through the legislative process it has primarily been in the area of electronics and batteries, and many manufacturers and suppliers already have take-back programs in place. So there may be hope the EPR could become the law for cell phones as well. Unfortunately, until the products are made with more eco-friendly products  to begin with, this won’t prevent those items from being sent overseas to be recycled at the peril of the people who live and work there.


Is your phone smart enough to not poison the people recycling it? This one is (from YES! Magazine) (via www.ourdailygreenlife.blogspot.com)

Our throwaway electronics harm people overseas, but new trends in responsible design are not just smart—they’re kind. by Chris Sweeney posted Oct 11, 2013 When Ted Smith looks at a smartphone, he doesn’t see a multipurpose gadget. He sees faces…

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