In Search For Renewable Energy Sources, Could Trash Be King?

With the massive “People’s Climate March” and the meeting of world leaders at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York Tuesday, the debate over renewable resources is heating up. But one potential solution is often left out with the garbage.

Steve Russell, vice president of the Plastics Division at the American Chemistry Council, spoke to about the push to make waste-to-energy technologies go mainstream.

“The processes now exist to turn municipal solid waste, the garbage we take to the curbside every week, and turn that into energy,” Russell said.

A recent American Chemistry Council study conducted with Columbia University showed that the municipal solid waste landfilled in 2011 could generate enough electricity to power nearly 14 million homes.

“There’s plenty of waste that’s not being converted into energy right now, so there’s tremendous potential,” Russell said. “If the waste is converted into an ethanol or other synthetic gas, we can get about $250 per ton out of that.”

Russell said non-recyclable plastics are especially promising as a renewable energy source.

“What’s really exciting is the plastics-to-oil technologies, because they operate primarily off of plastics that aren’t first recycled,” Russell said. “For the plastics that get separated, but not recycled, that’s perfect feedstock for plastics-to-oil, and from that, we can make either a drop in diesel fuel or crude oil, depending on what the best economic output is.”

With the U.N. Climate Summit in full swing, Russell said he hopes the dialogue includes short-term solutions, as well as long-term goals.

“The good news for the technologies we’re talking about here is that they can be implemented in the short term, and they’re a lot more easily scalable than other solutions,” Russell said. “We think that a good mix of short-term, good first steps and engaged long-term dialogue over long-term solutions is what probably will provide the best solution for everybody.”

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