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[GreenYes] Re: [ZWIA] Re: LA Zero Waste pans

This is a tremendously timely thread. Thanks to Eric for seizing the opportunity to suggest we generate a tool we can all use to slay the dragon of incineration.

I am picking up from many sources that "dirty" composting (such as AD of mixed residuals) is admitted (with explicit grudgingness!) to the list of acceptable practices even by folks who seriously pursue ZW ~ I'm thinking of Enzo Favoino here.

I have always wondered whether the rate of release of C isn't a critical advantage of composting over incineration, as I believe Neil pointed out earlier in this thread.

I have one naive question about carbon accounting. I understand from what you've said that organics are considered biogenic or current carbon, and thence the IPCC and others argue that it's a wash when they are incinerated, because they would have been released in the same year anyway. But how is embodied carbon factored in, when accounting for organics ~ especially food waste, due to fossil inputs during industrial food production?


At 03:52 PM 1/24/2008, Neil Tangri wrote:
Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the detailed reply. I would also like to hear from composters & soil scientists who could shed more light on the issue.

The reason that I think it could be a make-or-break issue (although the short time of sequestration certainly throws doubt onto that) is how the calculations are done on incineration. Incineration of fossil-fuel based waste creates more GHG per kWh than burning coal; so if we got all the organics out of the waste stream, incinerators would clearly be a dirty (from a strictly climate perspective) source of electricity. But if you incinerate a mixed waste stream and then deduct the CO2 that's of biogenic origin (however you estimate that), you can make incinerators look like they're more carbon-efficient than coal. Obviously, this is because you're getting electricity out of burning organics, but not counting the carbon released. This is the argument that the incinerator industry is using in Europe and under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism to get a hold of climate credits for incinerators. If we can show that the alternative (composting/AD) involves significant sequestration, we can undermine their arguments.



Jeffrey Morris wrote:
Good points.  My only issue with that approach is that we already know that
the fossil fuel content products release enough fossil CO2 to make them net
CO2 emitters even after deducting the avoided fossil CO2 from electric power
generation.  SO you're taking on a lot of climate change experts who've
attempted to determine what sources of CO2 should be counted as
anthropogenic versus the sources that go on naturally. 
Still your point about the rate of release may be a good one.  It's
complicated.  The grass and leaves portion of material composted or
incinerated is replaced on an annual basis.  So the incinerated amounts are
offset by the newly grown amounts each year.
The composted amounts are applied to gardens, lawns and agricultural fields
where EPA's WARM methodology says that about a third of the carbon in the
leaves and grass are sequestered.  And that's accounted for in the WARM
model. The rest goes up into the air during composting or is lost to the
atmosphere by soil critters and other mechanisms I know very little about.
Bottom line I think you'll have difficulty showing that any significant
amount above a third remains sequestered.  I guess you could look into the
difference between the carbon content of leaves and grass and the carbon
content of the compost they produce, see what that difference is.  Then
calculate the difference between what is lost in the first year versus the
33% that is sequestered.
My gut feel, which could be way off since I'm not a soil scientist, is that
you are after a small detail that won't make or break the composting versus
incineration case for organics, especially since the 33% number is one that
applies over a relatively short time frame anyway, say 5 years or so. Given
the 2040 tipping point for climate change that is now being discussed, the
less than five years sequestration of a little more carbon for the
composting life cycle versus the incineration life cycle doesn't seem that
If there are any compost and soil scientists reading this maybe they could
respond and educate us all on this matter.

-----Original Message-----
From: Neil Tangri [mailto:neil@no.address] Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2008 3:20 PM
To: Jeffrey Morris
Cc: eric@no.address; hspie@no.address; ricanthony@no.address;
gaia-zero-waste@no.address; GreenYes@no.address
Subject: Re: [GreenYes] RE: [ZWIA] Re: LA Zero Waste pans
Hi Jeff,
The reason I made a point about this is that I think we need to be a little more critical in how we treat biogenic CO2 releases. I know that the USEPA simply ignores all biogenic CO2 emissions, but I think that approach is both inaccurate and biased in favor of incineration.
If composting sequesters, for example, half its carbon content for an average of ten years, that results in a much slower release to the atmosphere over time than incineration of the same material, which releases virtually all its carbon content instantly. Yet most current calculations ignore both. If we can show significant sequestration in compost (or anaerobic digestion), that helps to undermine climate change-based arguments for incineration (and landfills w/ gas recovery). Sorry if this is all old news, but that's why I'm looking for primary research that shows such sequestration. I'd love to see a copy of your study when it's done, and if others have other sources, I'd be grateful for those as well. My internet searches have turned up very little.

Jeffrey Morris wrote:

The CO2 releases from composting are biogenic, the methane is not.  The
assumption is that a well-managed composting operation does not let the
compost pile become anaerobic if it's an aerobic compost process, or that
is enclosed if its an anaerobic digester that is intended to capture the
methane for energy use.

The EPA's WARM report provides an estimate of the amount that soil carbon
increased and sequestered through applications of compost.  That's one
source you can find on EPA's website.  You can find other sources as well
searching the web.  I'm currently doing a brief summary for Seattle Public
Utilities (SPU) of the carbon sequestration potential from a variety of
natural lawn and garden care practices.  However, it probably won't be
available for release for a few months.


Jeffrey Morris
Sound Resource Management 360-867-1033

-----Original Message-----
From: Neil Tangri [mailto:neil@no.address] Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2008 1:32 PM
To: Jeffrey Morris
Cc: eric@no.address; hspie@no.address; ricanthony@no.address;
zerowaste_sd@no.address; zwia@no.address;
gaia-zero-waste@no.address; GreenYes@no.address;
Subject: Re: [GreenYes] RE: [ZWIA] Re: LA Zero Waste pans

Hi Eric,

I'm glad to see this effort to put together a good "bridge" argument. As you note, we're running into this issue all over the world, and municipalities really do need practical answers for the medium term, even if they are sold on ZW in the long term. Here are some thoughts and questions to add to the mix:

1) Incinerators require a hazwaste landfill to handle the ash. If the residue isn't incinerated, a regular landfill is sufficient.

2) I think that understanding the residue composition is important. If there is an aggressive composting program in place, might there not be too few organics to make AD sensible? Conversely, without a good EPR program, I would imagine that much of the residue is precisely what we don't want to burn -- chlorinated plastics, paints and pesticides, for example.

3) Jeff, what sources do you rely on to show that composting releases few GHGs? Or do you mean that all the releases would be biogenic in origin? If there are sources that show significant (even short-term) sequestration of carbon through composting, I'd love to see them.

4) Any plan to incinerate establishes, for all practical purposes, a cap on diversion rates. In other words, if LA builds an incinerator for 30% of its waste stream, it can never divert more than 70%. An incinerator for 10% of the waste stream is going to be too small to be practical except in the largest urban areas.



Jeffrey Morris wrote:
Hey Eric,

Thanks for making the effort to put this argument together.  I would add a couple of points to your list:

1. Many of the products left in that 30% are in fact made up of fossil fuel material that will generate GHGs when burned - e.g., plastics, rubber, paints and pesticides.  This is why incinerators even with energy recovery are net GHG emitters even after taking into account the electric power grid offsets from the electricity that incinerators
2. Production of incineration equipment and emissions control equipment that make up the incinerator facility, as well as the fuel and other energy consumed in constructing the incinerator, are also sources of GHG emissions.

3. composting done correctly should emit little GHGs, although the equipment and energy to operate a compost facility will be GHG sources. 
However, the cost of a compost facility compared with the cost on an incinerator indicates the relative amount of GHGs for a composting operation versus an incineration disposal facility.


What do you think?




*From:* zwia@no.address [mailto:zwia@no.address] *On Behalf Of *Eric Lombardi
*Sent:* Thursday, January 24, 2008 12:36 PM
*To:* hspie@no.address; ricanthony@no.address; zerowaste_sd@no.address; zwia@no.address; gaia-zero-waste@no.address; GreenYes@no.address; crra_members@no.address
*Subject:* [ZWIA] Re: LA Zero Waste pans


Helen is right, and I just got an email from Scotland that their "ZW Scotland" will include 25% efw.


I suggest we come up with a position on how to build the bridge to a ZW Future.  Since 90%+ resource recovery isn't going to happen immediately, we need to advocate for a positive solution to the remaining mixed waste fraction.   "They" out there are saying "it's a waste to NOT make energy out of it". and in today's world that is a very compelling and logical position.  If we don't like that, than what is our alternative?


Let me share what I've been saying to counter the efw proponents . (just did it this morning) . and I know this isn't the preferred future we are all working for, but I do present it as a "bridge" strategy:

   1. Source separated community MSW is the cleanest and cheapest way to
      manage 70% of the community's discards, and this has been proven
      in numerous communities;
   2. The remaining 30% of mixed waste will be gradually phased down to
      only 10% over about a ten year period (in truth no one has done
      this yet so we don't know how long it will take), and while we're
      getting there we will process the material at the landfill either
      through (1) an energy-producing anaerobic digestion system and
      then using the stabilized digestate as daily cover (this approach
      is for big cities that can afford it); or (2) a simple windrow
      composting system that will stabilize the biowaste fraction of the
      mixed waste, and then again use as daily cover.   After ten years,
      there will no more than 10% mixed waste, maybe even zero (but I
      doubt it), and it will continue to be processed and stabilized.    3. This approach will triple or more the life of the existing
      landfill infrastructure in America, and it's possible that no new
      landfills or incinerators need be built for the next 100 years, if


Since there is a flood of new incinerator and "bioreactor" proposals popping up all around us, I suggest that the above argument combined with a moratorium for five years on new incinerators and landfills is a winner.  We need to argue that there is no sense in moving forward with the multi-million dollar facilities to bury and burn our resources until after a serious pursuit of 70% has been implemented.  


Feedback?  Where is this argument weak?  My goal is to stop the flow of investments into the new bury/burn facilities, so what else can we do to accomplish that?




Eric Lombardi

Executive Director

Eco-Cycle Inc

5030 Pearl St.

Boulder, CO. 80301

303-444-6634 <>


*Vote for Eco-Cycle, Help us win $5,000*

To celebrate their new store opening in Boulder and continue their tradition of environmental activism, *Patagonia <>* will donate $5,000 to the local environmental organization that gets the most votes in their Voice Your Choice contest. Cast your vote online <> for Eco-Cycle *before March 29!*



-----Original Message-----
*From:* zwia@no.address [mailto:zwia@no.address] *On Behalf Of *Helen Spiegelman
*Sent:* Thursday, January 24, 2008 10:24 AM
*To:* ricanthony@no.address; zerowaste_sd@no.address; zwia@no.address; gaia-zero-waste@no.address; GreenYes@no.address; crra_members@no.address
*Subject:* [ZWIA] Re: LA Zero Waste pans


There is a dragon coiled in these paragraphs.

Our metro politicians made a momentous decision this week to cancel a huge landfill project. The political buy-in was achieved through the promise that we can build a suite of 3 - 6 waste-to-energy plants here in the region to manage "what cannot be further recycled or composted..." Our regional staff have even hijacked the "Zero Waste Challenge" issued by our politicians and are saying that WTE is a component of ZW.

Citizens in our region are getting organized to challenge this. We all know that an incinerator ~ or any facility that turns waste to any kind of* "fuel" *~ is a tapeworm that will suck more and more resources that are needed to build a healthy economy (or needed to stay right where they are in nature...)

Activities that facilitate the transformation of material to energy is what is driving climate change.

Please assure me and the citizens of LA that your Zero Waste plan doesn't have a waste-to-"fuel" provision.


At 08:44 AM 1/24/2008, ricanthony@no.address wrote:

Whatever cannot be further recycled or composted from the department's 750,000 weekly customers could be *turned into alternative

fuels, *such as biodiesel or electricity to power our grid, said Alex Helou, assistant director for the city's Bureau of Sanitation.

"Instead of just burying it in the ground and creating greenhouse gases, we could use it as a resource to recycle, reuse and convert into a resource that could create clean energy," said Helou.

It's too early to say how much money the city could make from these alternative fuels, but there is definite potential to generate revenue, Pereira said.

Already Long Beach converts garbage into electricity for its residents. And it uses about 100 tons of trash from Los Angeles a day to do it and also charges $42.50 a ton to take our garbage, said Helou.

But by using Los Angeles garbage to create energy for our city, we can also reduce our costs instead of subsidizing Long Beach, Helou said.


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