In the winter it can be hard to get out and play all of the time. We built some chained tires to tackle the snow. Unfortunately 2019 has been more ice than snow, and the polar vortex kept us inside for over a week. But we can still have fun driving RC inside. So how do we get these high speed vehicles from wrecking everything in the house? Training mode & drift tires!Continue reading
The state of Minnesota defines our waste hierarchy as:
I wrote about recycling, and composting, and I recently visited the local waste-to-energy (WTE) facility to complete the picture of the garbage lifecycle. If you live in or near Minneapolis, there’s a place called the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (the HERC). It’s downtown, right next to Target Field. In the winter, the amount of steam it produces in the cold, still air makes it look like a cloud factory.
I toured the facility to see what it’s all about. To begin, this facility is not without controversy. The Sierra Club tried to shut it down recently.
Burning trash doesn’t sound like a great idea. Ever put styrofoam into a campfire? Noxious fumes! But the HERC burns trash at much hotter temperatures – 2000°F. Also, more than half of the facility is dedicated to cleaning the exhaust from the burn – after it has turned the heat into power.
Here’s what it looks like in the belly of the beast:
The alternative to a facility like the HERC is landfill. But even landfills that capture their gas emissions, called Landfill Gas to Energy (LFGTE), produce more emissions on all accounts:
So we’re good on emissions and particulates compared to the alternatives. What about the leftover ash? It still needs to be landfilled, but it occupies 90% less space than the trash that went in. The ash, while it does require a special type of landfill, surprisingly is much cleaner than you’d think. Landfills are frequently tested via leachate – collecting water that has traveled through the material, and testing it for toxins.
Just the clarity of the ash leachate compared to that from a regular landfill is incredible:
Burn in Moderation
Waste-to-energy is listed as #68 in Drawdown – and basically describes it as a “net zero” effect – not really good or bad, but better than the alternatives (as we’ve shown here). WTE is 2nd-to-last on the hierarchy of trash for a reason – we need to do what we can to reduce what is sent to the HERC. Even if it is turning our trash to energy, it is running at capacity. Sadly, another waste-to-energy facility in Elk River, MN recently closed. This is where many northern suburbs trash went, and it’s also where the HERC would send overflow when they were at capacity. Now any extra trash will wind up in the landfill.
People that recycle often feel recycling guilt. It’s when they want to make sure something gets recycled even if it’s not recyclable. This is when wish cycling occurs. You can’t just wish your grease-stained cardboard pizza box can get recycled. Cardboard is recyclable, right? Instead let’s put it where it belongs and really reduce the contents of your waste bin.
To get started, let’s look at the big picture: total trash output. It appears that we reached “Peak Trash” in 1990
While total consumer waste output is continually increasing, the peak landfill output was in 1990. Thankfully recycling has ramped up so landfill use doesn’t follow the same trend.
“Combustion with Energy Recovery” is just cities burning trash in specialized energy recovery facilities and turning it into electricity. It’s better than the landfill, but reuse is always preferred.
Even while landfill output is not increasing, it’s not decreasing fast enough. How can we quickly and easily make a big dent in the trash going to the landfill?
Drawdown lists composting as #60 on the top list of things you can do to reverse global warming. Also if you reduce food waste by purchasing and using the right amount – #3(!) in Drawdown – you’d be killing it on your new year’s resolution.
Many people already do at-home composting with a bin in their backyard. But what if you don’t garden and don’t need fresh soil? Municipal composting will help you reduce your trash and turn your compostable material into rich soils that others can use.
Even people that have home compost bins can enjoy the benefits of municipal composting. The large compost facilities can process materials that your home compost bin can’t – including meat, fish, eggs, even bones. Who wants to trudge through the snow to the backyard compost bin when you can just put it in an organics cart?
Seeing the future
I had the privilege of touring the Mdewakanton Sioux organics recycling facility and Shakopee, MN. We got to see how they manage the organic material, mixing and turning it to keep it composting all year-round (even in the harsh Minnesota winters).
What struck me the most was that the Mdewakanton Sioux started the organics recycling facility as a seventh generation initiative. Not because the organics market is hot right now, but because it is the right thing to do – thinking ahead seven generations down the road.
Many cities and haulers now offer composting options, referred to in their business as curbside organics recycling pickup. Some municipalities, usually those with organized waste collection, will offer organics collection in conjunction with normal yard waste collection.
Fridley, where I live, is running a pilot program for organics collection. Right now it means another (small) garbage can, and in Fridley it picks up on a Wednesday – no matter what your normal trash day is. It is $10 a month to participate. I consider all of these responsibilities to be an investment, ensuring a quarter of my trash is going to be reused.
The bottom line
Composting is just as important as recycling. Used kleenex? Compost it. Coffee grounds and filter? Compost it. Last week’s leftovers that now look like a science experiment? Compost it!