In our house as I was growing up, January 1 was marked by three major events: the Rose Parade, removal of the Christmas tree, and its replacement by a small statue of double-faced Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings. It was a time, my father informed us with a solemnity quite far removed from the festivities of the season, for assessing the year that had just passed, and then looking to the opportunities that lay ahead. Each of us had to relate an experience and a goal, and since we knew from prior years that we could not escape to savor the joys of the holiday until we had come up with something worthy of paternal approval, all of us spent some portion of New Year’s Eve preparing for the moment. It was, upon reflection, not such a bad idea, so maybe it’s time to put Janus back up on the mantle and do my duty.
Dealing With the Hardball Stuff
It’s tempting to join the parade of pundits announcing that the worst of the recession is behind us, but this seems to me to be a little premature. I’d feel a little more secure counting on Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction about the upcoming spring, but perhaps that’s a reflection of my choice of experts. So until I see a significant decrease in private-sector unemployment and a firm indication that the USEPA is serious about its stated focus on full system materials management, I see this as a time to concentrate on efficient operations.
MSW Management hosted a colloquy on the subject of transformation technologies more than a decade ago, and at long last we’re actually seeing movement in the arena. What is important is the fact that, ready or not, politically correct or not, economically viable or not, the doors to the conversion of the unrecyclable fraction of the wastestream are beginning to open. The pacing item in this is—and will continue to be—concern over energy, both in terms of fuels and efficient systems for their use, but following in close formation is the emerging recognition that traditional recycling will not carry us to the diversion goals many jurisdictions have set for themselves, much less those that RCRA had in mind at the outset. Already we have seen landfill gas playing an increasing role in a variety of internal-combustion, turbine, and microturbine applications, but as more conversion systems come online, these applications will move farther up the food chain … almost certainly to the MRF/transfer station level, where organic wastes heretofore headed for landfills can be converted and used to power facility systems or perhaps even local microgrids.
So, could 2011 be the year in which MSW is managed as much for its material value as for its affront to the sensitivities of those who are offended by the presence of waste? You bet, if for no other reason than that the public has given firm notice that it is more interested in addressing the pressing concerns of the economy and energy than achieving artificial diversion goals. But it’s possible that the strongest driving force might be the reduction in transfer emissions—perhaps 20% to 30%—this might achieve.