Monthly Archives: April 2014

L.A.’s $400 Million Trash Train to Nowhere


The Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County have spent a decade and $430 million building a railway system to haul trash to a desert landfill, but the system is sitting idle because it is too expensive to use.

Instead, Los Angeles County is dumping its trash in Orange County, where space in the Brea and Irvine landfills is plentiful and half the $80-per-ton cost of using the trash train.

County sanitation officials acknowledge that they miscalculated when planning the trash train, and they say it won’t be economical enough to use for at least five years, maybe not for 15 years. And an independent environmental engineer who monitors trash markets in California said it could take even longer.

“The market is over-saturated with capacity and is extremely competitive,” said Evan Edgar of Edgar & Associates Inc., a Sacramento-based environmental engineering and lobbying firm. “Southern California has 2 billion cubic yards of remaining disposal capacity that could easily last the next 100 years.”

When the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County started considering the rail system in 1991, the county appeared headed for a trash crisis. Landfill space was running out, getting more space looked unlikely, and the public didn’t want more dumps in L.A. County.

So the district came up with a plan: raise fees for trash haulers, which they passed on to the residents and businesses, and use the money to help pay for a railway system running to a huge new desert landfill.

But major changes in the trash markets happened — Local landfills got permits to expand their business, opening up lower-cost alternatives for trash haulers, the economic downturn caused consumers to buy and build less, meaning less trash overall, and the economy increased their recycling efforts.

There was no longer a need for waste-by-rail.   So, the new rail stations, bridges and track running 200 miles into the desert will remain on standby. Estimated cost: $300,000 per year.  The 4,000-square-acre Mesquite Regional Landfill will remain empty, save for a single geologist in charge of overseeing the property.

Making Power From Sewage


DC Water’s innovative $500 million project at the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, will implement Norway’s Cambi thermal hydrolysis process doubling digester throughput and making the treatment plant more economically viable.

For the citizens of the District and for some Virginians and Marylanders— 2.2 million of them — will get a monthly bill for the privilege of sending their thoroughly digested nutritional intake to the plant in Southeast Washington that will use it to generate electricity.

By converting poop to power, DC Water will require fewer digesters, cut greenhouse gases, produce more energy, create higher quality bio-solids, cut its electricity bill by about one third, and reduce by half the cost of trucking treated waste elsewhere.  DC Water is posed to save millions of dollars annually.

“This could be a game changer for energy,” said George Hawkins, an environmentalist who became general manager of DC Water. “If we could turn every enriched-water facility in the United States into a power plant, it would become one of the largest sectors of clean energy that, at the moment, is relatively untapped.”

The Cambi creates methane to generate electric power. The methane created will be used to fire three jet turbine engines that create electricity.  The process of creating it eats up 3 megawatts and the remaining 10 megawatts will be used up by operations at Blue Plains.

This project was not mandated by a federal court order.  D.C. Water’s board decided it was a worthwhile investment of ratepayers’ money at the tune of $500 million dollars because of a savings of electrical costs of about $10 million a year; lowering the cost of hauling away treated waste; and a reduction by one third in the plant’s carbon footprint.

Exactly the movement we at BioHitech America were hoping for.

A Documentary on Food Waste in North America


Just Eat It is a 75-minute documentary looking at the issues of food waste and food rescue.

The film makers try to explain that as a society, we consume countless cooking shows, culinary magazines, and foodie blogs, yet many countries throw nearly half of their food in the bin.

Just Eat It looks at our systemic obsession with expiry dates, perfect produce, and portion sizes, and reveals the core of this seemingly insignificant issue that is having devastating consequences around the globe.

The film follows the filmmakers as they dive into the issue of waste from farm, through retail, all the way to the back of their own fridge.

After catching a glimpse of the billions of dollars of good food that is tossed each year in North America, they pledge to quit grocery shopping for a six-month period, cold turkey and survive exclusively on foods that would otherwise be thrown away.

Adopting a life of freeganism, the practice of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded, often referred to as “dumpster diving” got its start int he 1990s.  Retail suppliers of food such as supermarkets and restaurants routinely throw away food in good condition.  By foraging, freegans believe they are keeping edible food from adding to landfill clutter.

The debut of the film is set for April 27th at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto.  Watch the Just Eat It trailer below.

The Latest Recycling Push


In 1980, Woodbury, New Jersey, was the first town to mandate recycling which quickly attracted the attention of state legislators who then set out to make recycling an important cause.  By the end of 1990, most states had responded by creating recycling laws of their own. These laws varied in the details, but they aimed to reduce the amount of waste generated, reduce the amount sent to disposal, and boost the amount recycled.

More than 30 years later it is safe to say that those laws did succeed in reducing waste and promoting recycling, but has recently not seen much change in diversion percentages.  With reengaged focus on the environment, reducing carbon emissions, and zero waste initiatives, legislators are once again furiously looking to improve recycling rates and are now focusing on the low hanging fruit, food waste.

As a country, we have been overlooking the largest sector of waste that is the easiest to recycle with the right solution.  Food waste represents the greatest opportunity for many municipalities and if we are serious about diverting waste from landfills it is imperative to take a smart leap towards the right solution for food waste disposal.  Many years ago, composting was deemed the only conceived solution, but was never wildly successful or accepted because of the many challenges that had to be overcome; educating the masses, citing and regulatory compliance, transportation challenges, and resale potential.

Hiding right under our noses, for much longer than 30 years, are wastewater treatment facilities.  Many have already realized that they hold the key to a successful food waste recycling campaign and process.  These facilities have the potential to turn the nutrient-rich remnants of waste into renewable energy and compost and many more are now upgrading their facilities to do the very same.  Some are even building on to be able to process and treat the excess food waste they anticipate to arrive shortly.  In addition to wastewater facilities, anaerobic digester (AD) facilities are slowly popping up in municipalities across the United States to accomplish the same results.

Our state legislators are once again setting out to re-promote and re-shape recycling laws to include food waste now that they have a better solution available.  Our WWT facilities should be reaching out to those same state legislators to make sure they have secured the available grant funding to upgrade their remaining locations to turn our food waste into a renewable energy.  This new approach will achieve far better results than composting has in the past, eliminate food waste disposal at landfills, and increase state diversion goals.

It only took 30 years for state legislators to devise a plan that can deliver results.  Sometimes you have to fail in order to succeed.  Good thing it’s not too late.