The field of managing municipal solid waste (MSW) is constantly evolving with new disposal technologies to accommodate changes in our use of products that we eventually retire to the curb. A major component of most cities’ waste programs aims at halting the consequences of the waste we generate towards the Earth. At the top of the environmental degradation list in this field is the effects of methane gas that leaches from landfills.
This past summer I had the exciting experience of working at the Region of Peel’s Waste Management Facility, where all of the garbage, recycling, organics and yard-waste is initially processed that comes from Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon. Since 2007, Peel has boasted a solid composting program by introducing the green bin.
Despite efforts such as the green bin initiative throughout the province, it was reported in 2009 that up to one third of Ontario’s solid waste stream was made up of food scraps, paper, textiles and yard trimmings.
The premise of the problem here is that nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions released from landfill sites are in the form of methane, a pollutant with 25 times the power of inducing the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (which makes up the other half of landfill effluents). Methane is produced as a result of microbial degradation of organic matter.
A division of the Region of Peel’s waste operations department specifically measures where high concentrations of methane eject out of Mississauga’s closed landfill site. These gases are captured and converted into electricity, which ultimately eliminates 95% of their global warming potential.
Unfortunately, not all energy-from-waste infrastructures have been ideally perfected, and rarely is methane captured and reused to its full potential in generating electricity. The Environmental Comissioner of Ontario (ECO) advises that methane needs to be rid from landfills in the initial stages of their lifespan, requiring us to properly dispose of our organics materials in the first place.
Another growing facet of waste management is what to do with the ever-increasing quantity of garbage piled up at our landfills and incinerators. My eco-philosophy on this matter is simply, ‘why waste the waste?’ Fortunately, energy solutions companies such as the Ottawa-based PlascoEnergy Group think along the same lines.
Briefly stated, PlasoEnergy re-sorts MSW to maximize the extraction of any recyclable materials that can be reclaimed. The waste product is then shredded, and converted into a synthetic gas with the use of recycled heat energy. This gas is thoroughly refined of heavy metals and used to power turbines for the rest of the process, as well as district heating. Solid residue within the MSW refinement process is transformed into small pellets which are resold as a construction aggregate.
The major direction of the waste management sector is to produce energy from the waste we generate, which will become increasingly fundamental to the concept of global sustainability.