In this project we will analyze some issues concerning waste removal and disposal with an ever increasing population in the state of Delaware. The available land available for future expansion and relocation of landfills in the state has all but disappeared and citizens are very reluctant to have one of these landfills near their neighborhoods for various reason. This creates a NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitude that is hard to overcome by government officials. We shall try to give a general overview of where Delaware is today with waste disposal, including recycling, and outline some possible solutions to the increased problem of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in an increasing population.
What is considered as waste?
Municipal solid waste, or MSW, is commonly known as garbage or trash. It consists of everyday items such as product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, food scraps, office and classroom paper, bottles and cans, boxes, wood pallets, newspapers, appliances, automobile tires, consumer electronics, and batteries.
1 MSW does not include construction and demolition debris, automobiles, bio-solids (sewage sludge), or industrial process wastes. Even though these materials may sometimes be disposed in municipal waste landfills, they are handled and considered separately from MSW. Sources of MSW include residential (homes), institutional (schools, libraries, prisons), commercial (offices, restaurants, small businesses), and some industrial sources. While the state’s landfills accept a small amount of non-MSW, for purposes of this report, all landfilled waste will be considered MSW.
What happens as a result of landfills?
As the population continues to grow the increase of waste continues to grow. Two main issues rise when it comes to landfills, the environment and sustainability. The first is ground water pollution. The liquid that breaks down from the waste runs off into the different water supplies that we end up drinking or using everyday. Landfills are usually located near large bodies of water so it is easy for toxins to go undetected. The second issue is air pollution. The Division of Air Quality for Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control says that we inhale daily anywhere between 750 3,500 gallons of air. When waste is taken to landfills it produces gases and a toxic liquid known as leachate. One gas that is produced is landfill gas (40-60% methane) which is made from the breakdown of organic matter, in this case Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) (trash). According to the 2012 Annual Report of the Delaware Solid Waste Authority 2
(DSWA), the Cherry Island Landfill site alone produces approximately 3,500 cubic feet of landfill gas (LFG) per minute twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. The total LFG produced at this site in 2012 was a whopping 1,933 million standard cubic feet (MMSCF) or the equivalent of 16 megawatts (MW) of electricity produced. According to this report, this is enough energy to energize approximately 4,218 homes.
Unfortunately, not all of the landfill gas is converted to energy. In 2012 the Cherry Island facility converted only 654 MMSCF to energy while “flaring” (burning off) 1,278 MMSCF. Flaring poses another issue concerning air pollution. On the one hand, the methane in the LFG is 22 to 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas as compared to carbon dioxide, so one might argue that it is better to burn off this gas then to let it escape into the atmosphere. This might be the case if it weren’t for the other impurities in the LFG. Landfill gas is about 40-60% methane, with the remainder being mostly carbon dioxide (CO2). Landfill gas also contains varying amounts of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, sulfur and a hundreds of other contaminants -- most of which are known as "non methane organic compounds" or NMOCs. Inorganic contaminants like mercury are also known to be present in landfill gas. Sometimes, even radioactive contaminants such as tritium (radioactive hydrogen) have been found in landfill gas.
Delaware Waste Today
In recent years, Delaware has been faced with a crisis with available capacity for growing amounts of MSW with population growth. The current population of Delaware is 935, 614 people.
4 In the latest reported figures from the Delaware Solid Waste Authority from 2012, 5 Delawareans generated 1,013,492 tons of MSW with an estimates population of 920,000. Of that total tonnage approximately 40% was diverted to recycling, leaving 574,206 tons of MSW to be disposed of in the Cherry Island Landfill facility. The rate for recycling climbed to 44% in 2014 according to a News Journal article in February. So, can recycling help Delaware extend the life of its only landfill? Due to recent legislation and a public advertising campaign, recycling has become popular in Delaware with an attempt to extend the life of Cherry Island landfill. In recent years the percentage of material diverted from MSW to recyclables has steadily risen. In 2006 the percentage of material recycled in Delaware was at a rate of 23.2%. This percentage jumped to 40.1% in 2012 thanks to the Universal Recycling Law enacted on June 8, 2010 which mandated that all trash removal companies in the state offer receptacles to their customers for recycling in a single-stream process (no sorting). State officials had forecasted a recycling rate of 50% by 2015 but they are now skeptical that that rate will be reached by the end of this year. So, how much MSW capacity is left in Delaware?
The landfill at Cherry Island reached its previous capacity of 2.6 million tons in 2010. From its initial construction in 1985, state legislators had to raise the allowable height limits for the site many times the latest being raised from 170 feet above sea level to 195 feet above sea level. With capacity dwindling the state elected to increase the capacity at Cherry Island with an 86 million dollar expansion project that was completed in 2009, just before reaching the original capacity of 2.6 million tons. The project extended the capacity up to 10.8 million tons with a projected end-of-life in 2026.
MSW after 2026
After 2026 the state of Delaware will encounter a dilemma in waste handling. The Delaware Population Consortium 7 projects the population in the state to grow to 1,011062 by 2025 or 7.4%. If we have the same rate of growth between 2026 and 2036 the state’s population will reach 1,086,062, with 74,831 more Delawareans generating trash. If one uses a 50% recycling rate and calculates tons of trash per person in the state currently it would equal approximately .62 tons per person. With a projected population of 1,086,062 in 2036 the amount of MSW slated for landfill disposal, after the 50% recycling, would reach approximately 673,358 tons per year, a 17.2% increase. Obviously, the state of Delaware will confront a major problem in 2026 with developing a plan for landfill disposal.
How Can We Solve This Problem?
It is very costly to store waste, and it also affects our environment. Any of our nutrients that are taken out of the system are the same resources that we are losing. Waste causes water as well as land pollution. The problem is not just state wide but also nation wide. The world has a growing energy problem and what we need is technology that will be able to turn our waste into energy. According to UTAG Technology; “Energy recovery from problematic Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) can assuage significant portion of a city’s energy requirement whilst at the same time eliminating the problem of waste disposal. Reducing landfills will reduce ground and surface water pollution which can also help provide cleaner drinking water.
Additionally, a good solid waste management plan with cost recovery mechanisms can free tax payer’s money for other uses. In the case of India, sustainable solid waste management in 2011 would have provided: ● 9.6 million tons of compost that could have resulted in a better agricultural ● ● yield energy equivalent to 58 million barrels of oil from non-recyclable wastes 6.7 million tons of secondary raw materials to industries in the form of recyclable materials and livelihood to the urban poor
Conversion of waste to energy is an extremely valid and viable route for managing waste and utilizing its products.
Many former Delaware governors from the past 3 decades have once proposed "trash to energy ” for Delaware but met opposition from local environmental groups. In recent years, with land availability for waste disposal becoming a major obstacle, agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have taken a second look at “waste to energy systems” and their impact on the environment. These agencies have re-calculated air emissions to negate natural CO 2 levels produced by bio mass in MSW which brings incineration numbers below the levels produced by decomposition in landfills and reduces the methane produced in landfill processes. According to the EPA the major advantages associated with “waste to energy” systems are: reductions of waste volumes needing disposal, reduction of toxicity of waste, and production of energy.
8 The incineration of MSW involves the unloading of waste into an incinerator which heats a vessel of water to boiling turning it into steam. The steam is forced through pipes and builds up pressure to turn a turbine which turns a generator which produces electricity.
9 This is a typical system for generating electricity whether the fuel is coal, oil, gas, or uranium, they are all used to convert water into steam. There are over 85 power plants in the US using MSW as a fuel to produce electricity. It is estimated that these plants produce 2720 Megawatts of power per year processing more than 28 million tons of MSW per year. Approximately 10% of the combusted material remains as ash which is sent to a landfill.
10 The power produced from these plants could energize approximately 1.5 million homes. Not only is tremendous amounts of energy produced during this process but tons of metals are also recovered from the MSW that would normally be buried in a landfill for centuries. As long as people produce waste there will always be a steady stream of fuel for these plants, not to mention the buried fuel in landfills that an be recovered and used as a future fuel source.
An effective Utag Plasma Gasification WTE plant should be able to generate a number of revenue streams: gate fees for the waste it receives, generated electricity which is
sold to the local grid on long-term power purchase agreements, and potential revenue from the sale of recyclables removed or the sale of heat to co-located industries. This approach is of growing interest to the major European energy providers, who must boost their renewable electricity output 15%-20% to meet the targets. With commercial waste predicted to increase by 50% by 2020, the ability to build small plants in industrial areas could transform the energy landscape with local waste being used to produce local electricity.
Here we list just 10 benefits. (Credit to Melting Coal) 1. Production and use of energy: Electricity and heat can be generated from waste which provide an alternative and more environment-friendly source of 2. energy Reduction of waste going to landfill: Waste that would have normally gone to landfills is diverted to an energy processing unit thereby saving valuable land. A Plasma Power Plant can also utilize existing landfill content as a feedstock, thus cleaning up previously toxic sites and enabling them to be sold for other uses such as development. 3. Avoidance of disposal costs and landfill taxes: The cost associated with the transport of wastes to landfill is reduced and also landfill taxes imposed by governing bodies are avoided. 4. Use of by-products as fertilizers: The by-product of some waste to energy processes such as anaerobic digestion can be used as fertilizers and improves the nutrient content of soil. 5. Avoid methane emissions from landfills: When waste is delivered to a waste to energy facility, the methane that would have been generated if it were sent to a landfill is avoided 6. Reduction in carbon emitted: On generating energy from waste, the carbon emission that would have been generated from a fossil fuel source is avoided. 7. Reduction of reliance on fossil fuel: Fluctuations in oil prices and rising costs can be avoided. Waste to energy does not rely on fossil fuel hence the dependence on oil reduced.
8. Domestic production of energy: Plenty of waste is generated locally and hence there is no requirement of transportation of materials or this process from far out. 9. Benefit to the local community and economy: As waste to energy plants are generally setup locally it creates jobs, the local community benefits and materials are sourced locally. 10. Stability in availability of energy and its price: Using of waste to generate electricity can help reduce fluctuations of price. Also, there are no wide fluctuations and shortages in availability. The state of Maryland practices waste to energy with their waste . “There are currently three waste-to-energy facilities in Maryland —the Wheelabrator facility in Baltimore City, the Montgomery County Resource Recovery Facility in Dickerson, and the Harford County Resource Recovery Facility” (Maryland Department of Environment. 2008) Shown below is a diagram of waste generated per capita in several different countries, with U.S and Canada generating the most. The solution can help many other countries as well seeing that we are not the only country in crisis.
As Delaware approaches its next end of capacity dilemma in 2026, it may be time to start debating the pros and cons of “waste to energy” again as the many governors have done in the past. The numbers are clear and compared to burying our waste in the ground for centuries and creating many toxins going into the air, water and land, it seems clear that the advantages of “waste to energy” can sway even the staunchest environmentalists. The fact of the matter is Delaware may not have a choice in 2026 because there will simply be no land to put a new landfill. When the EPA and US Department of Energy list “waste to energy” processes as a renewable resource community groups would be hard pressed to fight the inevitability of such a system in Delaware.
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