Monthly Archives: July 2013

New York City’s Final Frontier

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New York City is on a mission to define their ‘Final Frontier’ in recycling.  The plan is looking to mandate residential composting for all food waste. Citizens will be required to separate their food scraps ranging from wilting romaine to week-old pizza, store it in their homes until picked up before it is transported to a large-scale composting facility many miles away. If citizens fail to comply, they will be slapped with a fine.  Will the fear of penalty get New Yorkers to follow the rules? Is this the best solution?

This do-or-die situation was created for good intentions but good intentions are not enough to be successful. Composting may not be the only answer.  Composting is in no way the enemy and has been successful in small-scale cases, but when composting increases in size, so do the problems associated with it.

One of the many issues with composting exists in its reliance on transportation. In order to get the compost from one location to the next, it has to travel on multiple trucks to remote composting facilities creating additional unnecessary air pollution. This would not be an issue if composting facilities were right down the street, but in reality, these stations are most frequently located hundreds of miles away from civilization. So, the wilting romaine or uneaten pizza will be transported more than 200 miles roundtrip for its final frontier.  New York City is hoping to compost 100,000 tons of food scraps a year – almost the same distance Captain Kirk traveled in his final voyage.

Many question as to why Manhattan’s closest compost facility is so far away. Simply put, composting can generate a lot of smells, and no one wants that problem in their backyard. Although superficial, it is nearly impossible to convince NYC residents that large amounts of odor-releasing waste will improve their quality of life.

There is also the issue of what to do with it all. Composting facilities do not represent the end of the cycle. They produce – you guessed it – compost. And that compost has to go somewhere, as it cannot just sit and pile up at the facilities. Therefore, New York has to prepare for a healthy end market for this product. In order to do so, not only do they have to the pay for the extensive, yearlong process of separating, turning, and tilling the food waste, but now they have to exert the energy to actually prepare it for sale.

But the world can only take so much compost. Not everyone is looking to grow organic gardens. When composting exists on a large scale, the amount of compost in circulation will increase drastically, meaning a greater supply. And as high school economics taught us, when supply goes up, demand plummets. This makes for a major economic plight for the NYC government and will result in nothing but more and more unused, unsold compost.

The entire process of composting is a very long and expensive one that requires a lot of time and attention. Not only does it mean paying for the land and workers, but there are also additional costs for maintenance of trucks, re-packaging the compost for sale, etc. If this process isn’t completed properly, someone will have to pay.

Another challenge is contamination which runs rampant in composting trucks, as separation by individual residents will not always be performed properly. If plastic water bottles are discovered in a truck of food waste, then the entire load has to be driven back to a landfill and rid of there. This means more money, more time, and more resources that the city doesn’t have.

New Yorkers bury 1.2 million tons of food waste in landfills each year, and although we completely agree  that that this volume needs to be diverted from landfills, but  the best solution may just be the combination of a few solutions not just one. BioHitech America has proven that alternate technology exists that is much more beneficial economically, socially, and environmentally. The Eco-Safe Digester is able to divert as much, if not more food waste from landfills and is able to do it with less complications.

We hope a combination of on-site and off-site solutions are offered to make NYC’s “final frotier” as successful of a voyage as it was for Spock and McCoy.

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Natural Pollutants

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Contrary to popular belief, water pollution is not solely caused by trash on the street or the dumping of toxic chemicals into our oceans. A large majority of this pollution is caused by natural substances found in our everyday environment. The three leaders of natural pollutants include; agriculture runoff, metal mining, and fat, oil, and grease (FOG) disposal. These substances have become harmful solely due to their excess. Remember when your mother told you that too much of something isn’t good for you? The rule still applies.

Thankfully, scientists and businesses, with the help of technology, are making it their mission to take these substances out of the water supply and turn them into something useful essentially developing new ways to make the best out of a bad situation.

One of the major pollution contributors today is from agriculture.  Specifically, the excessive amount of nitrogen as a result of our farmers overuse of ammonia-based fertilizers on their crops with the run-off going into the water stream.  When the tainted runoff meets a body of water where plant and animal life exists, the oxygen becomes quickly depleted killing plant  and marine life.  This problem is replicated in large numbers all over the country every day.

In an effort to combat this issue, scientists at Stanford University have developed a system intended to remove the nitrogen out of the water and convert it into energy. When ammonia is converted into nitrous oxide (N2O) and burned along with methane, an energy source is created that can power wastewater treatment facilities. This innovative process will not only remove the harmful pollutant from the water, but it will also create a valuable source of energy to the facility which will no longer rely on a third party for energy.

Another relevant ‘natural pollutant’ is created by metal mining.  The need for metal is increasing drastically thus causing big problems for the environment.  Environmental issues can include erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water from the mining processes. Contamination resulting from leakage can also affect the health of the local population if not properly controlled.  An extreme example of pollution from mining activities include coal fires, which can last for years or even decades, producing massive amounts of environmental damage.

The University of Colorado has begun using a new technology which uses environmentally friendly compounds that targets over 40 different metals and removes them from the water to rid our water supply of metal contaminants.  This cost-effective technology makes the water easier to treat.

Finally, FOG, short for fats, oils and grease.  Major breakthroughs have come forth in the means of ridding the water stream of FOG.  Technology exists that is capable of removing nearly 100% of this ‘natural pollutant’ from wastewater. This means that industries may no longer have to deal with clogged drains, incur costs to clean out grease traps or endure failed FOG regulation consequences.  Some companies have even recognized the value of this waste by recovering this byproduct from the wastewater transforming it in a low-carbon biofuel.

The journey is a long and rigorous one to find the value in those natural pollutants and capture them before they reach our waters.   Although we are currently facing many natural occurring water pollution problems, technology and business are working together to build innovative solutions to those problems.

Tsk, Tsk, Tsk

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It’s hard to imagine something worse than a landfill, but what about a landfill that meets no legal requirements? The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) has discovered that Rhode Island’s Central Landfill has been operational for nearly 16 years without limitations, and has filed a lawsuit against the company.

How does business, life work without rules? Simple answer: it doesn’t and more importantly it shouldn’t.

For the past 16 years, Rhode Island’s Central Landfill has been fully operational without a permit. Back in 1997, the state of Rhode Island was supposed to apply for a Title V operating permit with the state Department of Environmental Management, as outlined by the Clean Air Act. This permit would mean that the landfill would be monitored month-by-month and that it would have to follow specific guidelines as to hours of operation, emission limits, odor management, etc. Without this permit, the facility should not have been functioning at all. But that minor detail did not stop the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, the owners and operators of this landfill, to continue to operate.

Because landfills generate various gases that can be harmful to humans and the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated specific regulations on emissions, ones in which the owners and operators of this landfill didn’t feel obligated to adhere to. The neglect for these laws and the non-existent regulated monitoring has, as suspected, resulted in irreversible problems.

For example, a 100 ton standard has been set on the emission of sulfur dioxide. The Rhode Island Central Landfill emits 913 tons – more than nine times the legal limit. Oxygen-monitoring data shows that the O2 levels have also exceeded limits in 145 different wellheads.  Within each landfill there needs to exist wellheads to trap the gases and push them through a series of pipes, in the case of the Rhode Island Central Landfill, these pipes were unable to perform even close to full efficiency and after having been inspected were determined to be not up to par.  Lastly, during the period of only one month, there were 23 separate occasions in which the released volume of methane also exceeded legal limits.

There were also numerous complaints made by citizens of the surrounding areas in regard to the smells coming from the landfill. Due to the release of hydrogen sulfide, the stench of rotten eggs filled the daily air.

As a result of the disregard for regulation, all of these harmful gases and distasteful odors were simply released into the air.

The CLF is coincidentally suing the local power plant, which has literally been kept together with duct tape, broomsticks, and rope. A recent explosion at the plant is what finally brought attention to these illegal practices at the Rhode Island Central Landfill.

Just when we thought landfills couldn’t get worse, a story surfaces that depicts numerous and repeated violations of federal laws and regulations that are designed to protect our health and the environment.  States need to impose harsher penalties for those that put us and the environment at risk and also find a better solution that moves us away from such an antiquated, potentially harmful, and inefficient system to one that utilizes clean, efficient alternatives.

In the case of the Rhode Island Central Landfill, guilty as charged.

PIG FARMS

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Pig farms produce much more than pork. In fact, the number one product of these farms is not the animal itself, but its feces. Each pig produces more than ten times its own weight in its lifetime; that means over 343 gallons of manure per pig!

Over the past year, 4.7 billion gallons of pig manure in the United States came from our nation’s leading pork producer, Smithfield Foods. That already alarming number is set to rise with the coming merger between U.S.-based Smithfield Foods and China-based Shuanghui International.  Once the deal is made, the number of pig farms in both China and the U.S. will increase to fill the high demands for pork in China. This means more pigs and even more feces. Therefore, this merger will intensify the already-worsening problem that comes along with pig farming; the disposal of the pig waste.

In order to get rid of the endless amounts of feces, Smithfield dumps the stuff into earthen lagoons where it sits and ages for a year before it can be used as fertilizer. These large amounts of manure pile up in locations all over the United States, creating terrible smells, risk of enormous health issues, and dangerous environmental problems.

The quality of life for those located near pig farms has dramatically decreased because of the massive manure output. There have been increased complaints regarding respiratory issues, as the emissions and odors from the lagoons spread throughout these areas. More and more people are beginning to report asthma symptoms, breathing troubles, etc. as the years go on. And not only are the methane emissions bad for human health, but they also present a danger to the environment, as methane is one of the most efficient greenhouse gases at trapping heat.

In addition to this, as the stereotype suggests, pigs are dirty. They live in extremely crowded environments, which create an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. In order to reduce the amount of bacteria and increase the size of the pigs, overseers are using greater quantities of antibiotics. Although beneficial on the surface, the overuse of antibiotics can actually cause major problems. Antibiotics travel through the pig, into their waste stream and end up in lagoons and other areas. Once this happens, those same antibiotics seep into the water supplies, air supplies, and the bodies of people in surrounding areas. There have been numerous tests that have discovered high concentrations of both antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in locations downstream from such pig farms. Such “super-bacteria” pose a major threat to human health, as they have become resistant to most of the antibiotics used to kill them off. This propagates a major problem in the medical world, as our medicine is becoming increasingly inefficient.

This merger calls for $385 million a year to be used for the construction of large-scale pig farms in the United States. Once the merger is completed and the farms are built, the problems that we are facing in the United States will increase here and spread to China.

Although pig farms are seemingly doing the world a very big favor by feeding pigs our discarded food waste, diverting it from landfills, they still pose a serious threat to both our environment and our health. Clearly, these farms need to shift to a new, cleaner solution for getting rid of the pig waste. If the farms could convert the manure into energy to power the farms, that would be a great step forward for the pig business and would transform a problem into a  cleaner, greener process improving the lives of so many.

Water’s Definitely Worth It

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Although water covers more than 70% of the Earth, only 1% of the Earth’s water is available as a source of drinking, about 97% is salty sea water and 2% is frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps. So, that 1% represents a precious commodity necessary for survival and necessary to protect.

We use water every single day for drinking, bathing, washing, and more. Our world, our society could not survive without water. That is why we need to protect this precious resource. But in order to do so, we must first help spread the word.

The Water Environment Foundation (WEF) has made a goal to do just that. With the creation of it’s “Water’s Worth It” Program, the WEF is on a mission to educate citizens about the importance of water and how we can help preserve it.  WEF Executive Director stated, “It [water] is an issue that demands attention, understanding, and support. Water’s Worth It was created to address that compelling need and to raise the profile of the water professionals who are on the front lines every day protecting public health and the environment.” Their ultimate goal of spreading awareness represents a greater call for environmental protection in today’s society.

Aside from informing readers that Americans use more water in a shower than citizens of developing countries use in a day, the Water’s Worth It program also calls for members of society to “make a splash” in their local communities. On their website, the WEF outlines their passions and gives community members the tools to go out and make a change. The campaign will provide the communication tools to help community leaders build alliances at the state and regional levels and to help all the community members understand the importance of creating a personal connection with water.   This kind of movement is an excellent example of taking action in the environmental community.

Water is the foundation of life. And still today, many people around the world spend their entire day searching for it while others are close to running out of it.  This problem continues to grow as more people put ever increasing demands on limited supplies, the cost and effort to build or even maintain access to potable water will increase over time. Recycling our food waste into new water has a long term impact that will benefit future generations.

Water is a vital resource, yet we take it for granted, waste it and even pay too much to drink it from little plastic bottles.  We need to make smarter choices in regards to how we use it. BioHitech America and the Water’s Worth It program share the similar goal of paying attention to the importance of our water supply. While the Eco-Safe Digester generates new water the WEF explains how we can use this new water more efficiently.

BioHitech America proudly supports the Water’s Worth It program and all that it is doing. For more information about Water’s Worth It please visit http://www.waters-worth-it.org/

You Need Yard Waste

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A solution for food waste and the proper management of it has been under a great big microscope for all kinds of environmental and social reasons lately. Diversion of food waste from landfills is a top priority for many cities and states, but what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate to a practical solution.

Simply adding food waste to a compost facility that already processes yard waste sounded like a brilliant idea to Highland Park’s city officials.  However, understanding how the composting process works before leaping would have possibly turned this failure into a success.

A healthy compost program needs a variety of ingredients that contain carbon and nitrogen.  Meaning you should have equal amounts of yard debris and food scraps in order to manage this task correctly.

Highland Park Illinois joins a long list of failed attempts country-wide.  It seems they had a poor understanding of the composting process and are now trying to re-launch the idea for an eight-month period, April through November.  The issue is that in the winter months there is no yard waste pickup so this particular site couldn’t accept the food waste during those months.  Since the food waste cannot sit around for obvious reasons, the program would only be able to run for the eight month period.

Compost programs often fail because without yard waste you can’t process food waste alone.   It sounds like Illinois found out the hard way.

A Successfull Barter System

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Mexico City Officials Encourage Recycling by Providing Organic Produce for Recyclable Trash

The “Mercado de Trueque”, or barter market, gathered thousands of people in Mexico City on Sunday.   For a second year running, the city council was able to collect tons of recyclable material, which otherwise would be sent to landfills.

Barter, by definition, is a system of exchange by which goods are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money.  In this case citizens, who brought cans, paper, milk cartons, glass, and broken electrical appliances,  to the market were given green points, which then can be spent in a nearby organic produce market.

The project was launched by the government of Mexico City in their attempt to clean up one of the most polluted cities in the world and to help divert as much trash from their landfill sites which have reached capacity.

It is clearly a win-win for all parties involved.  Recyclable materials are carefully weighed and transported to a local recycling company, the local farmers have their organic produce bought by the government for higher than the market price, and the citizens get high-quality fresh produce in return for their trash.

The popularity of the event is great. The barter market is organized every month at various locations around the city.  Each month, more than 2,000 citizens take advantage of the opportunity to exchange trash for food and have as a result understood the value of separating the materials.

Although the market alone is far from solving the recycling problems of the city, it does raise awareness while encouraging people to do something good for the environment.