At OEC, our entire system of garbage collection revolves around a single can system for both residential and commercial waste. So, what does this mean and what are the pros and cons to such a system?
In essence, we recommend putting all garbage into a single can. In your home, in your office, in the mall, in the theater, wherever! No more decisions by the family about what to recycle and what to put in the trash; put everything in one can for collection. For commercial properties, the same maxim holds true. Whether its office buildings, restaurants, strip centers or big box stores, putting everything in one garbage can, dumpster, compactor or receptacle makes it all more productive. Here’s the reasoning.
The OEC system is built around a patented process which separates all the waste, straight from the back of the route truck. We don’t just separate the recyclables or the organics or a few of the components; we separate everything. If you want to capture all the recyclables in the waste stream, you have to separate everything in that stream including the things you don’t want but have to deal with. Batteries, household hazardous materials, aerosol cans and other items have to be transferred to a different type of landfill. Paint cans, pesticide containers, turpentine and these kinds of chemicals have to be removed from the waste and should not be put into a normal sanitary landfill. We remove all these items so we can get the recyclables; the plastics, metals, papers and organics we need to recycle and divert the largest amount of waste from being buried.
People have told me there are downsides to this process. Not being able to use recycling as a method for teaching social responsibility is one. Another is the purity of reuse conversation, whereby paper is not recycled back into paper. I mention these in the interest of conversation, but have definitive arguments against their logic.
There really is no such thing as garbage anymore! There are materials to be recycled, hazardous materials to be disposed of separately and leftover residue from the process, but for the most part, everything else can be recycled. With organics to methane, plastics to oil, and paper, cardboard and urban wood to gasoline, 70% of everything we currently landfill can be converted to a usable fuel while the remaining is put into the commodity markets for recycling.
We have dealt, at length, with the monetary value of MSW and what it’s worth as separated raw materials. I’d like to delve for a bit into the value those separated materials have as a social force in our society.
As most of you realize, the concept of curbside recycling, while noble, is a losing proposition. It was a great idea at its outset, to attempt to divert materials with more life in them from being buried in local landfills, but it is an economic and environmental nightmare in reality. The programs collect very small portions of recyclable material to begin with; they do not support themselves economically in any city in America and cause problems from an environmental standpoint. All those trucks, traveling every route in each city to pick up a few recyclables here or there depending on the decision you made to even put it out this morning, is absurd. The fuel used, the particulate matter put into the atmosphere, the road degradation; it’s just not a great system. What are the more social aspects of a more efficient system? How does the efficient separation of Municipal Solid Waste benefit society on the whole?
Our facility is really nothing more than a manufacturing plant. Our raw material is the residential and commercial garbage we separate into various categories. We don’t just separate for recyclables, we separate everything, because we have to. Everything is in the garbage. If you stand there and watch long enough you will see this is true. It’s unbelievable what some people put in their trash, but that’s not why we’re here today. These separated categories become raw materials for new manufacturers. This means new businesses, which create jobs, purchase materials to run their businesses, donate to little league baseball teams, buy Girl Scout cookies and pay sales and use taxes. This, by the way is what I call new money. This money is generated by materials formerly put into a landfill and now utilized. It is money previously taken out of circulation and now put back in. These are jobs, families, communities and cities that are directly affected, in a positive way, by simply separating garbage into new raw materials.
Some of these jobs are for the worker classified as “hard to employ”. Some are for mechanically inclined people who enjoy working with machines rather than concepts. There are some supervisory and management positions in the plant as well, like most manufacturing facilities. A living wage, some benefits, some structure and 40 hours per week are a good social base to begin from. To acquire these benefits, from money previously taken out of circulation, without government subsidies and in a new burgeoning industry with solid economic prospects, I would classify as socially beneficial.
Approximately 70% to 80% of the U.S. waste stream is carbon based (e.g., paper, cardboard, plastics, textiles, wood, green waste, food waste and rubber). Approximately 10% to 15% is recyclable inert materials (e.g., metals, eWaste and glass). The remainder is primarily inorganic materials that have little or no value. It is very easy and inexpensive to split these streams using proven equipment.
Hydrocarbons are produced when heat and pressure are applied to carbon. Mother Nature transforms buried carbon, in the form of organic materials, to oil and gas using heat, pressure and time (a lot of time). Oil and gas companies spend enormous amounts of money drilling holes in the earth to find and extract reservoirs of oil and gas located thousands of feet below the surface. Usually, these reservoirs are located in rather remote places, far away from major population centers (consumers) and refining infrastructure. Therefore, coupling the oil and gas with the refining, distribution and consumers has required the development of extraordinary infrastructure, at considerable expense (e.g., pipelines, ships, trucks, rail tankers, etc.).
OEC “harvests” the carbon fraction of the waste stream, which is conveniently located above ground and in the center of major population centers. In fact, that is the only place it actually exists and never depletes. OEC then refines the carbon into hydrocarbons (gasoline) and natural gas (CNG or LNG) that can directly power transportation vehicles located in the major population centers. The refining technologies are proven and already deployed, globally. The refining process does exactly the same thing as Mother Nature, only in a fraction of the time (e.g., minutes versus millions of years). Picture a major oilfield under New York City, pumping directly into a refinery located on the surface and those refineries producing “drop-in,” mostly carbon neutral and virtually non-polluting transportation fuels for cabs, cars, buses and trucks in the City.
Approximately 50% of the U.S. waste stream is handled and landfilled by two companies. The remaining 50% is handled by smaller private waste collection and disposal companies (approximately 20%) and Government Agencies, Cities and Counties (approximately 30%). OEC has the ability to increase the bottom line profits for 70% of the market by a factor of 10x. This gives OEC lots of room to negotiate supply contracts and shared site locations. The Government Agencies, Cities and Counties are virtually all in financial peril. OEC can turn a cost item (e.g., waste collection and disposal) into reduced expenses (e.g., through elimination of collection routes for recyclables and green waste) and a significant revenue source through shared revenue, which can range from a modest host fee per ton to a more substantial revenue share associated with revenue bond financing.
OEC’s extensive Patent Portfolio and unique suite of licensed technologies make it the only company that can capitalize on this monumental opportunity. While it would take substantial time to deploy this technology nationwide, if all waste generated annually in the U.S. were to be run through OEC’s process, OEC would generate an estimated higher profit ($96.4B) than the world’s largest energy companies. In fact, that is what OEC would become; an energy company based on the nation’s waste!
Recycling seems to be getting more and more attention these days and considering the commodity value of a ton of garbage, it should. The commodity value is what the recyclables – the paper, plastics, metals, etc. are worth. The current 5 year average of commodity values holds the average ton of municipal solid waste (MSW) is worth about $100. While that may not seem like a lot of value in a ton (2,000 lbs) of garbage, think about it in its proper scale. Baton Rouge, LA buries about 2,000 tons per day of MSW worth about $200,000 per day. Dallas puts about 6,000 tons per day in the city owned landfill ($600,000). Los Angeles County averages almost 45,000 tons per day! Can you imagine burying $4.5 million in value a day? Why would we do that? You have to be able to get those recyclables out of the garbage and the only way to efficiently do it is by processing everything from one can and you have to process everything.
Most cities have a very inefficient program called curbside recycling. It’s inefficient because the public makes the decision about what should or should not go in the recycling bin. Some days we do better than others and some days we don’t participate at all, but it was raining and sorry, I needed to get to the office. Those curbside bins are taken to what is called a MRF; a Materials Recycling Facility. A MRF is a place where recyclables are culled from what they call “source separated” garbage. In other words, you separated them at your home, which is the source, and they are trying to get all the recyclables. A Dirty MRF separates recyclables from non source separated garbage. In other words, everything went into one can and they are still sorting for the recyclables. Everything else is garbage.
A resource recovery facility however separates everything! Organics, which is food waste and green waste are separated, aerosol cans are separated; plastics, broken bottles, paper, batteries, EVERYTHING is separated. Even the things you don’t want are separated because they have to be. People put everything in the garbage so if you’re going to separate it, you have to separate ALL of it. What’s left is about 10-20% of inert, inorganic residue which can then be taken to the landfill. It’s not garbage; its sand, dirt, rock, gravel, ceramics, etc. which come out of the waste. This is why a MRF costs about ¼ of a resource recovery facility. The difference however is the value of what’s left. In Baton Rouge, the curbside program nets about 12% of the recyclables available which would be worth about $24,000 daily. The resource recovery facility however can capture at least 80% of the recyclables which are worth about $160,000 daily. It makes good sense doesn’t it? Now let’s discuss the environmental attributes of not burying that waste.
By Larry Buckle, PE
It was with a great deal of interest that I read the paper last week titled “Providing a Road Map to Implementing AB 341″ by Dominic Meo III, PE. I agree with Mr. Meo in that a productive role of CalRecycle could be to help develop local markets for diverted commodities. Development of local innovative business to utilize locally produced, waste derived, feedstock will certainly assist in development of a sustainable society. However for true economic sustainability, we need much more than local markets for diverted commodities.
In the vast majority of studies I have been associated with or read, the true cost of a diverted ton is between $200 and $400. Even with development of local markets, the value of diverted materials will not exceed the cost of extraction from the waste stream. With very rare exception, markets exist today for every commodity segregated from the waste stream through conventional diversion programs. Economically, the system is working because the shortfall between the value of a diverted ton and the cost to extract it is made up in a processing fee to the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) operator and the hauler.
The true path to economic sustainability is to have the value of the diverted ton exceed the cost of extraction. Under the current collection and processing systems, this will not occur with increased local demand for feedstock. We are in a global economy and commodity prices are largely based on global, not local demand. The path to economic sustainability is to lower the cost of collection and processing to produce a diverted ton.
The commodity value in a ton of mixed waste is about $100. If you can collect waste and process waste into segregated commodity streams, for under $100 per ton with a profit, only then will you have economic sustainability. The only chance to get even close to this possibility is with single can collection and a state-of-the-art processing facility.
In modeling economics of almost any business, the path to profit is through lowering the cost of production. In almost all cases, you have no control over the value of a global commodity. If demand is created locally, it will be filled globally.
Single stream collection (one bin for recyclables and a bin for trash) is going to be extremely problematic for commercial and multi-family waste collection. Often these businesses and residences are in congested urban areas. The cost to expand a trash enclosure to accommodate two bins from one can place an extreme economic hardship on businesses. Costs are often in the tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, a trash enclosure expansion often comes at the price of lost parking spaces. The only practical / sustainable option is to maintain single can collection in an effort to meet requirements of AB 341.
At the AB 341 meeting CalRecycle conducted in Sacramento, there was discussion that the only way to get to 75% diversion may well have to include processing for recyclables contained in the trash portion of single stream collection. Currently there is tremendous commodity value in the single stream garbage being directly hauled to the landfill. One recent study showed the commodity value in a ton of curbside recyclables to be $110. In that same city the commodity value in a ton of trash going directly to the landfill was $94. Why have two bins, two trucks, and double the collection cost to collect almost the same material? Put it all in one bin and process it all.
If material never sees a diversion processing plant, there is no chance for it to be diverted. Relying on 38,000,000 Californians to put the right material in the right bin to achieve economic and environmental sustainability is absurd. Put everything in one bin and rely on technology to mine it. Contamination will not be an issue. Those who derive income from multi-can collection drive the myth of commodity contamination of mixed waste processing. The answer to economic and environmental sustainability in solid waste is productivity of collection and processing. The answer for AB 341 and for municipal solid waste in general is single can collection combined with advanced processing systems. Such technology exists today.
It seems like a novel concept, doesn’t it? With every individual (in the U.S.) generating almost 5 lbs. per day, you would think we could come up with some way to use this waste as opposed to burying it in landfills. Lots of companies are working on it and you can see the proof on various websites. Oil companies, the big money players, are interested in making energy from various components in the waste. Organics to methane, plastics to oil and other methods of the “waste to fuels” movement are a huge research piece for big oil right now. In fact, garbage is considered the “new oil” by many of these industries, as well it should be! The amount of energy hiding in the garbage is incredible. The energy used to make all those products which have been consumed and their remnants discarded is what our economy is all about. Think about aluminum cans. People have been collecting aluminum cans on the side of the road for years. They know those cans can be resold and have value. What about the rest of the garbage? How do we extract the value and energy and carbon encased in the other “disposable” materials in the waste stream? Speaking of carbon, how do we extract it from that waste stream without it being emitted into the atmosphere?
Lots of these answers and more are at our website and we’ll continue to talk about them as we progress. Keep abreast of the “OEC Movement!”
Vote at this link to help Houston win!
The City of Houston is one of the 20 named finalists for the Bloomberg Mayor’s Challenge. Cities across America were invited to submit proposals for innovative programs in a competition created to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life – and that ultimately can be shared with other cities across the nation. Houston’s program, “One Bin for All” encompasses having all garbage, both residential and commercial, processed in a private facility from one bin. This process eliminates the need for expensive curbside recycling programs and includes commercial waste as well, which is seldom recycled. The process, currently in use in Northern California, has been in operation for years and is now being spread through an innovative process.
There is no longer a need for 3 or 4 recycling bins and more importantly, 3 or 4 trucks that come to collect them! Too many trucks, too much fuel, and too much waste are used to keep this highly inefficient program in place. The process now exists to separate all the waste into different, homogenous categories to be used as raw materials for new manufacturing. Plastics to oil, organics to methane and paper to gasoline are just some of the innovations with many others to follow.
Please vote for Houston today!
You heard it correctly, there really is no such thing as garbage anymore. Please let me explain. The garbage we create in our homes and offices every day is called Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). It comes from two specific places for the most part; residential and commercial. For most cities, residential means single family homes and duplexes or fourplexes or quadplexes in some areas. Usually any apartment number larger than that is termed as multi-family residential and is lumped into the commercial sector. This delineation is important because most cities control the residential MSW as a function of the health and welfare of the City, but not the commercial. Commercial MSW is usually contracted for collection and disposal through private haulers who pick it up and bring it to the landfill. One VERY important note: There is a lot more commercial MSW than residential and the curbside recycling programs we pay for, either directly or indirectly are specifically for residential MSW, NOT commercial. So to be blunt, most of the MSW generated is NOT being recycled.
So what does this have to do with there being no such thing as garbage? The Environmental Protection Agency breaks down MSW into 3 basic groups: about 50% of the residential and commercial MSW is what they term recyclables. This is the paper, cardboard, ferrous and non ferrous metals and #3-7 plastics. Another 30-40% of the waste is organics made up of food waste and green waste. While this is not considered recyclable material for the most part, if you can capture it and recycle it you have added an important dynamic to the whole concept. The third group is inert, inorganic residue which can actually be landfilled. To get this third group to the point where it is benign and is only residue, there are some things you would want to separate from the MSW, like E-Waste, cans, batteries, children’s toys and a host of other items which can either be recycled or be dealt with as household hazardous waste. So you see, the materials in the trash can at your home or office really can be recycled in some way. If you take out the hazardous things people put in their trash and send them where they are supposed to go, there really is no such thing as garbage anymore! Look at the MaxDiverter graphic on our website and you can see how it works.
It’s not that they don’t want to, of course. Restaurants, both tablecloth and fast food want to be a part of the Zero Waste Mandates everyone wants to attain. The problem is twofold, cost and space. Cost is not a problem for the restaurant; it’s a problem for you and me the consumer, because it will be passed on directly to us in the form of higher prices. Since it will happen to every establishment in a city all at once, there are no competitive barriers to passing it directly to the consumer. The cost is the increase in the number of dumpsters each establishment will have to use for waste and the space those dumpsters will have to take up, eliminating valuable parking for each facility.
To meet the Zero Waste Mandate, the restaurant has to separate organics from other trash. This means double the trash cans inside, double the dumpsters outside and double the number of pickups they have to pay for to haul it wherever it has to go. In addition, those dumpsters are, in the case of the fast foodies, hidden behind some sort of façade so they meet local code compliance ordinances. The fast foodies have an additional problem as well which is parking. Those parking spaces are worth dollars per month based on each location, which was built into the initial design plan and proforma for that facility. Extra dumpsters mean a loss of a couple of parking spaces. Not much you say, but it compounds over time. In fact, in a recent study in one Texas City, the retrofit cost for each fast food outlet was $30,000 just to meet the Zero Waste Mandate.
They’ll comply, but it’s going to cost you and me unless there is a system that allows the separation of comingled commercial MSW from one receptacle. Stay tuned.
The most efficient way to separate Garbage or Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) as it is called, is from one can. You heard me correctly, just put everything in one can, bin, receptacle and let it all begin at that point.
Here’s why: First, this eliminates multiple collection trucks spewing particulate matter, tearing up roads, increasing traffic and costing millions of dollars. Second, this issue of contamination is really a myth. While yes, there is some soiling of waste paper, when correctly separated the “wet” paper is heavier than “dry” paper and goes to another offtake point in the system.
The whole process is based on 2 principles: density and dimensionality. Once the waste stream is configured to a particular size range, everything else about the separation process concerns itself with 2 or 3 dimensionality and weight. Separating wet from dry is also part of this process, but is a function of density, not percentage of moisture.
Using lots of equipment from the waste, mining and agriculture industries, the waste stream, once it is sized, can be separated mechanically into the homogeneous components necessary for sale, remanufacture or conversion technology. Based on the selection criteria, different pieces of equipment can take the waste and segment it so it goes into particular places in the process.
There is a manual sorting process in the beginning to take out various components which are not allowed into the system, e.g. batteries, household hazardous waste, ewaste and others, but once the manual sorting is completed the mechanical system eliminates all guesswork and does an efficient sorting of the whole truckload. It’s a much more efficient way to separate the large amount of tonnage collected by most cities every day.