Too Good is Too Bad?
While Metro Vancouver is trying to travel a path for a "zero waste"¹ situation -- where nothing goes into a landfill to be "buried and forgotten" -- there are odd issues that come up en route.
En route, one hurdle is that not everything is simply recycled: Some items are contaminated and technology to reasonably decontaminate them to return them to the standard recycling stream do not exist. These can be things like paper that is contaminated with food waste. Some items are ones that there are no reasonable recycling stream for -- at the moment or very near future. Some items are made of complicated combinations of materials which would be difficult to separate to go into their individual recycling streams even while other seemingly difficult ones such as those tetra-brick packages already can be.
One solution to those problem materials is to use plasma-based technology to break the materials up into more elemental components. One municipality in Metro Vancouver -- the one I live in, Port Moody -- is seriously looking at some fairly new technology offered by a company called Plasco Energy Group². (image to left for illustration purpose only -- image from Zero Waste Vancouver)² Their solution uses the plasma-based technology to reduce the waste to its composite materials. It creates a number of byproducts including a bio-gas which is burned to fuel the plasma torch and generate "megawatts" of energy in the process. It does generate some carbon dioxide in the process, but reduces carbon emissions by two tonnes for every tonne of waste through the process with this energy production.
I can't say for sure how good the Plasco Energy Group process is, but if it is as good as they lead us to believe it introduces another rather obscure hurdle...
Will people -- if they know that anything not put into their recycling or compost bins but into their garbage bins will be plasma-torched -- stop sorting and simply toss things out into the general garbage and not other with the environmental "Three Rs" of "Reduce, Re-use, or Recycle"? (image to right from Chris Chen dot See Eh!)
I have heard one view that if we are able to generate net energy wouldn't we be better off to convert as much of our waste as possible to electrical energy and that smaller amount of "construction aggregate, salt, sulphur and clean water"² that the process produces in addition to the "synthetic fuel gas"²?
I would imagine it matters what goal you are looking at. If you look at a purpose of reducing waste of land you might see one thing. if you look at financial cost you might see another. Still others might look at ecological balance. I know of many who will not recycle because they have seen shows on TV which showed some recycling programs where much of the material sent to the program simply gets dumped into the landfill and they assume all recycling programs are the same. I know others who don't separate their recycling the way their municipality asks them to because somewhere else they did it different or they saw some show which showed it all getting mixed together anyway or they see how it all gets dumped into one truck. They don't realize the trucks have separate sections or that different municipalities might have different handling facilities or companies which do the sorting and recycling.
I must admit to be disappointed that the glass being recycled does not get recycled into new bottles and jars. I figured that would be a simple thing, just as recycling aluminum, steel, copper, or other metals to new metal products is. I do understand how each time paper is recycled it is degraded and how plastic might not be chemically reclaimable to be the same plastic... at least not easily.
Still they are for the most part made into useful products.
I guess energy is a useful product, especially if it reduces dependence on another source that might create greater cost and problem.
But the issue of one good program detracting from others is a new hurdle that I hadn't heard of before.
¹Recycling 101: The Zero Waste Challenge in Metro Vancouver | Chris Chen dot See Eh!