Ever since the infamous garbage barge incident in 1987, state and local governments have been trying to figure out cost effective ways to extend landfill life through waste reduction and recycling programs. The "garbage barge" left the town of Islip, Long
Island on a journey down the Atlantic coast to Venezuela and returned home... twice, and underscored America's inability to properly manage its solid waste.
In 1988, the Ohio General Assembly adopted H.B. 592 which forever changed the way we handle solid waste in Ohio. This forward thinking set of laws requires each county (or group of counties) in Ohio to work together to plan and manage waste and to assure long-term disposal capacity for its citizens.
Now, two decades later with government budgets stretched thin, and limitless entities fighting for those funds, recycling and waste reduction programs are being dismantled, scaled back or delayed.
In order to simply accomplish the goal of "reducing reliance on landfills," and instead, actually reduce, reuse, recycle and minimize the waste, we need to consider much more than the obvious environmental benefits of waste reduction. If we begin to consider waste materials a resource, we can also add to the ledger the benefits of job creation and energy production derived from the opportunities of the resource and its transformation into energy.
According to Rick Brandes of the U.S. EPA Office of Solid Waste "Converting waste into energy can turn a waste management problem into an energy generating solution."
Biomass, which is living and recently deceased biological material can be used as fuel or for industrial production. Much of this biomass waste which is growing in proportion to our population is destined for landfills, yet there is significant energy stored in these waste materials that can be converted safely under the right set of economic and regulatory conditions.
While the United States strives to become more energy self-sufficient we must continue to evaluate, develop and move towards commercialization technologies such as anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis that are just outside the laboratory door.