Advancing Alternatives to Landfills

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying “waste not want not” and it’s more true today than ever. In fact, these days, even ordinary garbage is too valuable to waste. Or maybe more accurately, simply putting it in a landfill is really too wasteful to be sustainable.

Over the past several years, CSAC has been working closely with the County Engineers Association of California (CEAC) to explore alternative methods to deal with our waste stream. These efforts are spurred by a number of factors, including a statewide goal to divert 75 percent of the waste stream away from landfills, California’s climate change goals to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and the goal to obtain 33 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2020. To help advance these goals, counties have supported a number of different efforts, including the model of extended producer responsibility, the concept that a producer of a product should be responsible for the life-cycle of the product and especially for its take-back, recycling and final disposal. CSAC has also supported commercial and multi-family recycling, limitations on plastic bags and other creative solutions to help reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills.

Despite these efforts, CSAC believes it is necessary to identify other potential alternatives of waste diversion. One such alternative, after we have reduced the amount of waste generated through education and producer responsibility, and recycled and composted to the maximum extent practical, is Conversion Technology. Conversion Technologies (CT) are processes that have been used for over 25 years as a valuable tool for diverting waste from landfills by converting it into domestic, non-fossil fuel, and renewable energy (biofuel and electricity) through biological, thermal or chemical processes. CT’s are designed to convert post-recycled residuals and can recover materials, such as metals, that are otherwise not feasibly recovered. Additionally, CT’s must process the waste prior to conversion which creates financial incentives to recover additional material for recycling, and CT’s prevent the contamination of our water and soil due to landfilling.

To help advance these technologies, CSAC has teamed up with Los Angeles County to co-sponsor Senate Bill 804, by Senator Ricardo Lara. SB 804 would take a modest step in advancing the use of CTs by adding them to the definition of biomass in statute. Current law defines “biomass conversion” as the controlled combustion of organic materials–such as wood, lawn and garden clippings, agricultural waste, leaves, tree pruning as well as non-recyclable paper–when separated from other solid waste and used for producing electricity or heat. This bill would simply include CTs in the biomass definition, allowing for cleaner and more efficient technologies to be used in the biomass process. Including CTs in the definition of biomass would provide a more clearly defined permitting pathway for these technologies.

In addition, SB 804 clarifies the definition of anaerobic digestion, a biological conversion process, for the purpose of determining how facilities should be permitted. Anaerobic digestion refers to the controlled biological decomposition of organic material with little or no oxygen. The decomposition of organic materials in solid waste landfills produces significant amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Anaerobic digestion conversion technology can help California reduce greenhouse gas emissions by diverting organic materials from landfills, generate low-carbon fuels, and assist with meeting the state’s 75% recycling goal. These changes will ensure that anaerobic digestion facilities are treated comparably to composting facilities.

Advancing CTs will have positive environmental impacts in California and give local governments another “tool in our tool box” of waste diversion. SB 804 will be heard in the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee on August 13, 2013. If you would like more information about SB 804, please contact Cara Martinson at 916-327-7500, ext. 504, or cmartinson@counties.org.

About: Cara Martinson:
Cara Martinson is CSAC's Associate Legislative Representative for Agriculture and Natural Resources. She can be reached at cmartinson.at.counties.org.

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