The American Bar Association’s Section of Environmental, Energy, and Resources is hosting is 28th Annual Conference virtually, October 19 – 27, 2020.
SCS Engineers Senior Vice President of Environmental Services, Mike McLaughlin, PE, JD, will participate in the conference, which will consist of a series of webinars, networking events, fun activities, a keynote address, expert insight panels, and 15 individual panels, scheduled so you can participate in all of them. Attendees will also have access to a bonus ethics panel, which will be held the week after the conference. In addition, two panels will be featured as free pre-conference webinars.
This virtual conference experience will feature a comprehensive program addressing a wide range of pressing issues facing environment, energy, and resource practitioners, such as:
The ABA will seek 21.5 hours of CLE credit in 60-minute states, and 25.8 hours of CLE credit for this program in 50-minute states. Credit hours are estimated and are subject to each state’s approval and credit rounding rules.
To balance out all that time at your computer, organizers are offering fitness options with a virtual SEER Run Club, yoga, and group bike rides. Returning to the conference this year is the round-table committee networking, the Public Service Project, and “Taste of SEER.” For something more relaxed, you can also connect with fellow attendees during the virtual wine-tasting event.
For more information, visit https://www.americanbar.org/
Co-authors: Karen Luken of Economic Environmental Solutions International, an SCS consultant with Krista Long, Mike Miller, Anastasia Welch of SCS Engineers.
In 1987, the Mobro barge was carrying six million pounds of New York garbage. Its final destination was North Carolina, but the state turned it away. The Mobro barge spent the next five months adrift – rejected by six states and three foreign countries. The plight of the “Garbage Barge” was covered by the mainstream media throughout the summer. This unprecedented attention to trash generated a heated national debate about landfill capacity and recycling to reduce the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream. This dialogue swiftly and permanently transformed recycling in the U.S.
Between 1988 and 1992 alone, the number of curbside recycling programs increased from 1,050 to 4,354. Today, 49 U.S. states ban at least one product from landfill disposal, and twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have at least one mandatory recycling requirement. The U.S. recycling rate has steadily increased from the Garbage Barge era; by 2017, the U.S. recycling rate reached 35.2 percent, with more than 94 million tons diverted from landfill disposal (67 million tons recycled and 27 million tons composted).
The U.S. was becoming increasingly proficient at collecting recyclables; however, our performance in domestically remanufacturing these resources into valuable commodities was less than stellar. China was the main destination for U.S. recyclables for most of the early twenty-first century. A number of factors contributed to this, including:
By 2018, China was the top importer of U.S. fiber recyclables, buying 2.73 million tons of U.S. corrugated cardboard during the first half of 2018 and 1.4 million tons of all other U.S.-sourced recovered fiber during the same time. The U.S. became dependent on China to process fiber recyclables, which contributed to the closure of 117 American fiber mills and the elimination of 223,000 jobs since 2000.
Sending plastics to China also impeded the U.S. progression of advanced plastic-recovery technologies, such as gasification and pyrolysis. Products created by these technologies can have a market value that exceeds the cost of collection and processing. This was not always the case when selling plastics to China, as this market could be highly volatile. Even with unpredictable revenues, recycling companies perceived China as an eternal end market for their plastics. With China basically locking up the plastic supply chain, advanced plastic recovery technologies in the U.S. could not secure sufficient quantities of feedstock and, consequently, could not demonstrate financial viability for commercial-scale facilities.
Not only did China enthusiastically accept our recyclables, but they also turned a blind eye to the large quantity of trash (contamination) mixed in with the recyclables. This lenient policy validated the U.S. preoccupation with collecting as many recyclables as possible without really considering their quality, potential to become a valuable commodity or the carbon footprint created by using fossil fuels to transport them halfway around the world. Some in the environmental community began to question the net ecological impact associated with transporting recyclables to developing countries for remanufacturing, especially with the limited environmental regulations in these countries related to processing them into a new product. However, state recycling goals are typically based on the quantity of materials collected (rather than if they actually become a marketable product), and local recycling programs were only turning a small profit, or barely breaking even. Thus, no one wanted to “rock the boat.”
However, in 2018, China introduced the “National Sword” that almost sunk the U.S. recycling boat for the short term. The National Sword banned many scrap materials from entering China and required other materials to meet an extremely strict (low) contamination level of only 0.5%. To put in perspective, contamination rates of U.S. recyclables before processing (directly after they are collected) can reach 25% or higher. Processing removes some of the contaminants, but not typically down to 0.5%. After the National Sword, U.S. recycling companies started looking for new markets in other Southeast Asia countries. However, one by one, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and India also shut their doors by introducing new restrictions on waste imports. So far, there are few signs that any of these countries intend to relax their standards on contamination levels again.
In the short term, there is no question that the National Sword severely disrupted recycling in the U.S. The Chinese market for recyclable commodities was greater than the next 15 markets combined, leaving the U.S. with little in the way of backup to accept this commodity. Thousands of tons of recyclables are now in a landfill rather than becoming a new product. Some municipalities have stopped collecting recyclables (or specific items) altogether, and many more, both public and private, have been stockpiling collected materials in the hope that markets return.
In the long term, the National Sword may be the most significant catalyst to transform recycling since the Garbage Barge started its journey over 30 years ago. In 2019, seventeen North American paper mills announced an increase in their capacity to process recycled paper. Also, and somewhat ironically, Chinese paper companies have begun investing in North American mills because they could not import enough fiber feedstock. Experts anticipate the domestic market for fibers mills to improve for at least another three years.
Chemical companies have also begun investing in advanced plastic recycling technologies, improving recycling systems, and creating bio-based polymers since 2018. In April 2019, Brightmark Energy announced the closing of a $260 million financing package to construct the nation’s first commercial-scale plastics-to-fuel plant, which will be located in Ashley, Indiana. The plant is in a testing phase, and Brightmark anticipates bringing the facility to production-scale in 2021. Now, rather than using fossil fuels to ship plastics to China, more than 100,000 tons of plastics from Indiana and the surrounding region will become feedstock to produce fuel and other intermediate products.
While the U.S. recycling industry was busy making a comeback from the National Sword industry-wide disruption, in came another setback in the form of the 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic. Shelter-in-place orders began in March 2020 in many states, which resulted in families spending more time in their homes than ever before. As of August 2020, many businesses, schools, and governmental entities are still allowing or requiring their stakeholders to work or learn remotely from home.
This work or learn from home phenomenon has resulted in massive increases in MSW and recyclables placed at the curb for collection. From March to April 2020 alone, U.S. cities saw a 20% average increase in MSW and recycling collection tonnage. Struggling restaurants have to offer takeout and delivery services, which is further contributing to a rise in paper and plastic packaging waste. COVID-19 restrictions such as mask mandates have resulted in higher amounts of personal protective equipment in the waste stream, and many items that previously could have been recycled are now discarded due to sanitary concerns.
The higher volumes of MSW and recyclables encountered at the curb during a pandemic present both challenges and opportunities. Challenges include budget cuts due to lower tax revenues, adequately staffing and ensuring the safety of waste-handling employees, and preventing the spread of COVID-19 through the waste stream. During this unprecedented time where municipalities face complex decisions on how to manage their MSW, the opportunity for innovation within the solid waste industry could not be greater.
Cities have begun to “right-size” their recycling systems by evaluating the usage of community recycling containers and reducing/redistributing containers to maximize the quantity of recyclables each site receives. Communities are evaluating curbside recycling programs to increase efficiency, and decreasing contamination is a priority. “When in doubt, throw it out,” has replaced campaigns such as “Recycle more, it’s simple.”
Cities are embracing the concept of public-private partnerships with their recycling processors as they recognize the vital and interrelated role of both the public and private sectors in recovering recyclables. Lastly, the U.S. is beginning to drive manufacturing and end-use markets domestically to stimulate demand for recyclable materials – materials for which we have become so effective at collecting.
There is little doubt that through leadership, innovation, and strategic planning, cities will continue to help lead the way on recycling to achieve landfill diversion and provide for a more environmentally and financially sustainable solid waste management system for the next 30 years.
In the wake of COVID-19, the ability to remotely access and control critical processes is not only recommended for industrial organizations — it has become absolutely essential. Ignition Premier Integrators, such as SCS Engineers, make it seamless to set up remote control on any systems used at landfills; however, you should take the proper steps to keep your process safe from threats.
In this timely webinar, experts from Inductive Automation and SCS Engineers will show you why Ignition is such a powerful platform for remote process control solutions, and they’ll share best practices for getting the most out of it.
As reported in the July 29, 2020, digital news by Environmental Business International
Electronic waste represents billions in lost value
A record 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2019, up 21% in five years, according to the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020. Only 17.4% of 2019’s e-waste was collected and recycled, meaning gold, silver, copper, platinum and other recoverable materials conservatively valued at $57 billion were mostly dumped or burned rather than being collected for treatment and reuse. The report predicts global e-waste will reach 74 Mt by 2030, making e-waste the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream. Global E-waste Statistics Partnership is a collaboration between UN University, International Telecommunication Union, International Solid Waste Assn. and the UN Environment Programme.
What can consumers do to help protect human health and the environment?
We can’t simply toss phones and electronics into our trash or recycling bins at home. To protect our health, water resources, and our communities we can reuse many of our devices and electronics. Try these; the links help you find local resources.
Discarded products with a battery or plug such as computers and mobile phones are electronic waste or (e-waste). Toxic and hazardous substances such as mercury, brominated flame retardants (BFR), or chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are found in many types of electronic equipment and pose a severe risk to human health and the environment if not handled in an environmentally sound manner.
While most electronics are not designed or assembled with recycling in mind, separate collection and recycling of e-waste can be economically viable for products containing high concentrations and contents of precious metals. Cell phones and computers contain base materials such as gold.
Recycling programs are often confronted with the costs of recycling vs material recovery markets, and because the recovery of some materials is especially challenging. Within the paradigm of a circular economy, the mining of e-waste can be considered an important source of secondary raw materials.
Thanks for helping us keep our communities safer!
For community recycling and reuse program development visit our Sustainable Materials Management website.
Utility Dive reports that Alliant Energy announced its commitment to net-zero carbon emissions from its electricity by 2050.
The “new aspirational goal” reduces carbon emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and eliminates all coal-fired power by 2040, 10 years faster than previously planned. Alliant owns or partially owns eight coal-fired power plants across Wisconsin and Iowa — three of which are slated for retirement or conversion to natural gas.
Alliant’s announcement follows growing commitments by investor-owned utilities to move toward a more low-carbon fuel mix. Xcel Energy, Madison Gas, and Electric and Consumers Energy are among the other Midwest utilities to have made such a pledge.
Alliant reached its 30% renewables by 2030 goal this year and its “intention is [to] keep adding renewables to our energy mix,” utility spokesperson Scott Reigstad said in an email.
Alliant also said it may keep some natural gas-fired plants online, retrofitted with carbon capture or some other emissions-reducing technology, or it could also use carbon offsets to reach that goal.
Dr. Iyer is a Staff Professional at SCS focusing on environmental research and engineering in water, wastewater, solid waste, and landfill design. Gomathy is another of our remarkably talented young professionals utilizing her expertise in leachate management and landfill design to support her clients.
We hope you will attend Gomathy’s presentation “Suitability of Un-Composted Grass Clippings and Biosolids as Biocovers for Biological Methane Removal from Landfills,” on Tuesday, February 25 at 8:30 am (Track B: Landfill Covers), at the 2020 Global Waste Management Symposium. Her presentation is based on a technical paper of the same name and co-authored with Melanie Sattler of the University of Texas at Arlington, and Darrin Dillah of SCS Engineers.
Landfill biocovers are widely used to oxidize methane emissions, a known greenhouse gas. The biocovers in use today are typically either fully or partially made of composts. However, the production of compost, although theoretically an aerobic process, also produces potentially substantial quantities of methane, from 3.2 to 362 kg carbon dioxide (CO2)-equivalents per ton of wet waste composted, depending on various factors, for example, the type of waste, and open or enclosed composting technology. This research explored the suitability of using uncomposted grass clippings as a biocover for methane removal from landfills, with the aim of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions.
Physical and chemical characteristics of grass clippings along with other components of yard waste were studied and compared. The use of biosolids and fly ash as potential bulking materials were considered since the physical and chemical characteristics of biosolids and fly ash complemented the grass clippings and biosolids were expected to provide a good inoculum of microbes for the biocover. Batch tests were performed on the grass clippings and combinations of grass, biosolids and fly ash mixtures for aerobic methane removal. Grass clippings were found to have a maximum methane removal rate of 2,121.7 nmol/kg/s, and a combination of grass and biosolids showed a maximum methane removal rate of 4,410.8 nmol/kg/s. Analyzing different proportions of grass, biosolids and fly ash mixtures, it was found that a 70% grass, 21% biosolids and 9% fly ash mixture exhibited the highest methane oxidation of 5,862.5 nmol/kg/s.
Column tests were performed on the grass clippings and on a combination of 70% grass, 21% biosolids and 9% fly ash by introducing a continuous flow of 50% methane and 50% carbon dioxide at the bottom of the column reactor containing 2 feet of biocover material. The column reactors with grass clippings showed a methane removal of 90-100% within the first 10 days, and the reactors with the combination of grass, biosolids and fly ash showed a methane removal of 90-100% within first 3 days. Biocover performance indexes were calculated based on the performance of each biocover. The biocover performance index for grass was found to be 20.8 µg/g/hr and that for the combination of 70% grass, 21% biosolids and 9% fly ash was found to be 43.3 µg/g/hr.
Representative samples were taken from the column reactors to analyze for the presence of methanotrophs involved in the methane removal process. A PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) analysis was performed on these samples with A189 (forward) and A682 (reverse) primers. The evidence of pMMO PCR amplification products was seen in all column reactor samples, indicating the presence of the pMMO gene, which is found in methanotrophs and hence confirmed the presence of methanotrophs. A BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool) was performed on the sequence obtained from the PCR analysis confirmed methalocystis and type 2 methanotrophs. Figure 1 shows the gel picture of the PCR analysis of the column reactor samples. #1
LEAF testing was conducted to analyze the leachability of fly ash in the biocover. It was seen that silver, arsenic, cadmium, chromium and thallium exceeded the permissible level in drinking water. Hence, it was concluded that the grass clippings by itself or a combination of grass and biosolids can be used as a biocover for biological methane removal.
Global Waste Management Symposium 2020
February 23 @ 8:00 am – February 26 @ 5:00 pm
2020 GWMS Information
Article published in the January 2020 edition of Waste Advantage Magazine.
At the Federal level, GHG emission reporting has become part of the standard regulatory requirements; however, on the west coast, GHG programs continue to develop and evolve from reporting to reduction programs beyond federal requirements. Solid waste facilities can be impacted by all of these reporting mechanisms directly as a landfill located in the state in question, opting in for C&T as part of the LCFS in California, or in limbo, as the courts work out the legality of Washington’s Clean Air Act. More stringent federal GHG requirements are unlikely with the current administration, however, that could change with the 2020 election. In general, GHG rules and legislation keep developing and updating to account for and reduce GHG emissions.
Cassandra Drotman Farrant is Project Manager with SCS Engineers. She has nine years of experience in environmental consulting, specializing in environmental assessment and greenhouse gas (GHG) verification. Cassandra has participated in many GHG verification projects throughout the U.S. and has completed approximately 70 Phase I Environmental Assessments (ESAs) in California, Oregon, and Washington. Phase I projects included research and review of geologic and hydrogeologic conditions at project sites and in the surrounding areas and evaluating the potential for soil and groundwater contamination from on and offsite sources. Cassandra has completed emissions estimates and inventories and has prepared numerous permit-to-construct/operate permit applications. She prepares compliance reports, which includes reviewing and maintaining records and regulatory deadlines.
SCS Engineers provides engineering, consulting, operations and monitoring services to report and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Select a service category to learn more.
The International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) has determined that uncontrolled dumpsites hold 40% of the world’s waste and that the world’s 50 biggest dumpsites (identified through a voluntarily survey conducted by D-Waste in 2014) directly affect the daily lives of 64 million people, equivalent to the population of France.
The ISWA reports (2014, 2015a, 2015b, 2016) showcase how eliminating dumpsites is an urgent issue, affecting local, regional, and even global health and the environment. Important findings indicate that 38 out of the 50 biggest dumpsites directly impact marine and coastal areas and can become sources of disease outbreaks and the release of wastes (particularly durable plastics) to waterways and the oceans.
Studies suggest that non-engineered dumps and uncontrolled landfills are the third largest source of global anthropogenic methane, a greenhouse gas about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), accelerating climate change. It is estimated that open dumps emit the equivalent of more than 20 million metric tonnes [tons] of CO2 per year. Without any action, it is projected that existing open dumps will account for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
If open dumps instead were replaced by engineered landfills with state-of-the-art landfill gas collection and destruction systems, it would be like removing five million cars from the planet.
In 2018, ISWA’s Working Group on Landfill (WGL) developed a Task Force on Closing Dumpsites (TFCD) and presented its dump closure initiative as one of its flagship projects for the future at the United Nations (UN) Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development – Habitat III.
Please read this important ISWA Editorial by James Law and David Ross on this significant issue. The editorial contains a link to the full article available on open access through ISWA’s Journal, Waste Management & Research here.
SCS Engineers brochure – Closing Dumpsites is also available.
This article discusses global air quality and how the collaboration between policy-makers and the scientific community can have a continued positive impact on air quality in the U.S. This collaboration has been the primary cause for the improvements observed in air quality over the past few decades.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs, such as the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), New Source Review, and Maximum Achievable Control Technology standards, have all had a significant impact on improving air quality by lowering the ambient concentrations of NOX, VOC, CO, SOX, and PM.
Some areas, such as southern California, have committed to working toward electrifying the transportation network, implementing more stringent standards on diesel fuel sulfur content, and encouraging heavier utilization of public transportation.
Author: SCS Engineers’ Ryan Christman, M.S., is an air quality engineer and environmental management information systems specialist with experience in the oil and gas industry and the solid waste industry. He is just one of SCS’s outstanding Young Professionals.
“This program directly supports the county’s Roadmap to a Sustainable Waste Management Future by helping businesses to implement recycling programs,” says Leonard. “And not only recycling but waste reduction, as well, all of which, of course, contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, resource management and sustainable materials management.”