Re: “The New Eco-Currency” by Clarissa Morawski (December/January 2008) Another excellent edition! Solid Waste & Recycling is the most relevant publication of the many that cross my desk. I always get a warm feeling when I see a piece that nearly reflects my position on certain topics, for example John Mullinder’s “At the Crossroads” from your most recent edition. I’ve been compiling waste diversion data since the early 1990s when the province was asking us to report, for example, separate tonnages of green glass, clear glass, brown glass and miscellaneous colored glass. For many years I’ve been critical of the expectation that, in the BC context, regional districts quantify overall diversion when we only have physical and/or regulatory control over a portion (probably not even half) of the overall solid waste stream. The warm feeling I referred to earlier comes from the realization that I’m not alone in a dark room talking to myself on some of these points (at least not always!).
High diversion rates can camouflage high disposal rates, and for far greater relevance to our programs and how they can be improved, we should really be more focused on the final disposal numbers. My general theory is that if disposal is going down and all of our processing operations are adhering to environmental regulations and sound principles, e. g., GHG reductions: why should we care what the diversion numbers are (except, obviously the investors/owners of the recycling operations who are compelled to make a profit)? It’s my opinion that too much emphasis on diversion gets in the way of effective reduction and is not particularly consistent with the principles of Zero Waste, which I am an adherent (more in the Maria Kelleher sense).
I could go on at length with a vigorous defense of my position; however, that would distract me from the purpose of this letter, which is to point out that Clarissa Morawski’s numbers don’t seem to add up. Table #3 on page 33 suggests that the lowest cost option is “Landfilling LGR Flaring,” however the text suggest different numbers.
I am a bit sheepish questioning Clarissa’s work, which is consistently excellent and has provided me with very valuable information in analyzing policy and program effectiveness.
Thanks for your time.
Director of Environmental Services
Regional District of Kootenay Boundary The author replies:
Thank you for pointing out the error in Table 3. The table should read under Landfill LGR Flaring: True Cost per tonne: $75.14, not $5.14. I am sorry if this caused any confusion to our readers. — CM.
Informed waste management authorities will agree with Clarissa Morawski that composting is an important constituent in waste diversion programs. However they will have considerable difficulty with the eco-environment benefit analysis, which concludes “disposal by landfill enjoys an environment cost advantage over waste to energy.”
The flawed environmental benefits analysis stems from the life-cycle assessment presented by Dr. Jeffrey Morris at the 3 Nov-2006 Recycling Council of Ontario’s Energy from Waste conference in Brampton, Ontario and from the recent Region of Niagara waste management study. The most obvious flaws relate to landfill life cycle environmental liabilities and high waste to energy cost assumptions.
The landfill gas recovery factor of 75 per cent is unrealistic. Studies indicate that even 50 per cent recovery over the full life cycle of a landfill is rarely achieved. Furthermore, there is no indication in the Morawski study, that the environmental cost impact of a landfill, with a contaminating life cycle of 150 years after the liners have disintegrated, has been considered.
Finding a representative cost benchmark for a modern waste to energy facility can be difficult. The processing cost per, tonne assumption, in the Morawski presentation are grossly inflated. Waste to energy cost benchmarks are determined by facility capacity, conversion efficiency, energy rate, revenue from both electrical and thermal energy, and green house gas reduction credits. For example, processing costs of many waste-to-energy facilities in the United States are less than a third of the “low best case” costs presented in the Morawski study. A media article in the latest issue of Solid Waste & Recycling, reporting on the Metro Vancouver waste to energy study, concludes a new waste to energy plant, rated 500,000 tonnes per year, will have a processing cost of $35 per tonne.
A life cycle analysis for a low environmental impact waste to energy plant should recognize that the plant will operate for approximately 35 years after capital costs are fully retired. In this period residual waste processing costs will be significantly reduced, experienced waste management professionals understand the fundament environment advantages of modern waste to energy facilities compared to landfills.
Ed. K. McLellan
You will enjoy the sidebar article on waste to energy in Vancouver, page 13.