Technology’s impact on waste
Over the past 10 years major scientific advances
have been made to harvest alternative fuels.
To discuss how technological improvements
are helping to reduce energy consumption, harvest alternative
energy and improve the bottom line of waste management companies,
American Recycler sat down with Bruce Parker, the president and
chief executive officer of the National Solid Wastes Management
With the costs of waste collection and processing
increasing, how important is it for solid waste management companies
to share technological developments to reduce operating costs?
Parker: To the best of my knowledge, companies
in the solid waste industry do not directly “share” this type
of competitive knowledge but, that said, technological development
quickly becomes transparent throughout the industry for several
First, equipment manufacturers advertise
breakthrough or modifications that save fuel, reduce emissions,
increase payloads, reduce accidents and so on. The annual Waste
Expo Exhibition and Conference showcases these types of changes.
Secondly, innovation results from customer demand and need as
in most industries. Third, publications such as American Recycler,
write stories on significant technological changes in the industry.
To what extent are waste management companies
and manufacturers of trucks and other vehicles and waste processing
equipment – particularly equipment which reduces energy consumption
– working together to develop pilot projects to test equipment?
Parker: The Environmental Research and Education
Foundation (EREF) is one of the largest funding sources for solid
waste research in the United States. Some of EREF’s research
areas of specialization are landfills, transport/collection,
recycling and waste minimization, conversion technologies, life
cycle analysis and combustion/waste-to-energy.
The Foundation also works closely with major
universities, such as Michigan State, Florida State and North
Carolina State University, on funded (grants) projects. In addition,
NSWMA and EREF are responsible, in part, for assuring the success
of the Global Waste Management Symposium, an every-other-year
event that brings together solid waste academics, facility owners
and operators, vendors, and others to present peer reviewed papers
on new technologies, equipment and emerging trends.
In short, research and development is a very
important part of the industry, especially at this time of global
awareness and concern about greenhouse gas emissions, energy
consumption and other major environmental issues.
Do the federal and state governments offer sufficient
tax incentives and/or grants for waste management companies to
upgrade their fleets and facilities to reduce energy consumption,
improve environmental safeguards at facilities, and to help convert
waste into alternative energy?
Parker: Yes, but there can always be more!
There are many federal agencies that have programs in place to
assist waste collection fleets and waste management facilities
in reducing energy consumption and convert waste into alternate
energy. For example, the Department of Energy (DOE) has provided
Cummins Engines, Inc. with over $38 million in grant money to
develop and demonstrate a highly efficient and clean diesel engine,
among others things, and Navistar, Inc., has received over $37
million from DOE to develop and demonstrate technologies to improve
combustion efficiency, idle reduction and waste heat recovery.
Waste companies, big and small, have benefited
from both federal and state funding to convert their fleets from
diesel fuel to compressed or liquefied natural gas, and the Section
45 production tax credit for energy produced from renewable fuels
has been a major reason for almost 600 landfills extracting clean,
renewable energy (landfill gas) from landfills. The states also
have been giving grants to haulers to convert to natural gas
vehicles. A northern California refuse company recently received
over $400,000 from the Bay Area Quality Management District to
buy about 23 CNG refuse trucks.
What are the most compelling advances in terms
of equipment to derive alternative energy from landfills and
at specially designed facilities for waste-to-energy conversion?
Parker: I believe the two most notable developments
have been the continuing conversion from diesel fuel to natural
gas to power refuse collection trucks, and engine manufacturers
that are required to meet EPA’s 2010 emissions reduction mandate
for nitrogen oxides. The requirement will also reduce particulate
matter. The use of natural gas and other alternative fuels in
large part is being driven by municipalities, such as San Francisco
and New York City, as part of the request for proposal to manage
the city’s waste needs. Body manufacturers also are using higher
tensile steel to reduce truck weight.
Another important technology is a hybrid
truck which uses a lithium ion battery or a hydraulic system
to capture the braking energy. The greatest potential for fuel
savings is in lots of “stop and go” driving typical of curbside
trash collection. Volvo began developing a hybrid truck several
years ago, but I believe there are none, or very few, of these
trucks available now.
Is the public and the government aware of how
important technological innovation is to the solid waste industry,
and how new and improved equipment can reduce the environmental
impact of waste in general, waste collection and waste processing?
Parker: I am sure the general public is unaware;
reliable garbage collection is their major concern!
Without question local government is aware
of how technological innovation can reduce emissions, increase
operating and collection, processing, recycling and cost efficiencies.
NSWMA has materials and organizes educational sessions on advances
in technology at Waste Expo. The Solid Waste Association of North
America, representing the public waste sector, does an excellent
job of keeping its members up to speed.