Tuesday, April 21, 2009

RECYCLING AND RESOURCE RECOVERY - Recycling and resource recovery is the other sustainable method of dealing with waste. In the 1970's, the U.S. EPA took the lead in helping to promote recycling and resource recovery. This included funding demonstrations of curb-side recycling and the construction of resource recovery plants that separated waste and burned what remained as a form of waste-to-energy. The U.S. EPA even funded the construction of a pyrolysis system which converted municipal garbage to oil. This was after the first Earth Day and the Arab oil embargo under the Carter presidency. Unfortunately, despite what other positive accomplishments that President Reagan might have achieved in helping bring about the end of the Cold War, Reagan eliminated the federal government's involvement in municipal garbage, including recycling and resource recovery programs, and furthermore eliminated all alternative renewable energy programs. Reagan even removed the solar panels on the roof of the White House that had been installed by President Carter. The consequence is that all the advancements in recycling and resource recovery since then have been undertaken by the individual states and municipalities. In this regard, while most cities in Europe and Japan have since then built waste-to-energy resource recovery plants as an alternative source of energy, the United States with its up-to-now cheap sources of energy has not built any new municipal waste-to-energy plants since the early 1980's (though industry has built many such plants). Instead, the focus in the United States has been our source separation and recycling. This still leaves, however, the greater bulk of municipal waste that has to be landfilled. As such, to make our cities and urban areas more sustainable and to decrease our dependence upon foreign oil, perhaps it is now time to renew our research and other efforts to find clean ways to convert waste to energy. One promising technique would eliminate all carbon emissions is plasmas gasification. Pyrolysis has also been used not to simply burn garbage, but to convert it to charcoal. The charcoal is then used in agriculture to enrich the soil. This has an added benefit of serving as a carbon sink to capture carbon and put it back into the soil.