Oregon shoe companies big and small step up green initiatives

Tricia Salcido had a confession to make on a recent afternoon: She brought a single-use coffee cup to work.

Salcido owns Softstar Shoes, a handmade leather shoemaker that is one of Oregon’s greenest footwear businesses. She said her 32 employees would never carry in a single-use cup.

“No way,” she said.

Softstar, located in Philomath, a small town outside Corvallis, has long embraced sustainability as a key tenet of its operations. Now the company plans to try out reusable packaging. The company will ship buyers their shoes in reusable bags as part of a pilot program that launches July 23.

Softstar’s decision reflects a broader movement among Oregon footwear companies, big and small, to adopt eco-friendly business practices.

Companies have a vested interest in sustainability for two reasons: using fewer resources cuts costs and eco-friendliness can help sales, said Nathan Buehler, a spokesman for Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency.

In Oregon, the shoe industry has an outsized economic footprint.

“It is part of our brand,” Buehler said.

As they work to become greener, footwear companies have scrutinized every aspect of their business, from manufacturing to sales, said Matt Powell, a senior industry adviser for sports at The NPD Group, a market research firm.

Some manufacturers want to shift production closer to the United States, as shoes made in Asia can spend months on shipping vessels that spew diesel emissions into the air, Powell said.

To further reduce waste, athleticwear brands including Oregon-based Nike are changing how some of their shoes are made, Powell said.

“Quality has not suffered at all,” Powell said.

Salcido said she wants to create a sustainable company with products that are healthy for her customers. The company sells about 36,000 pairs of shoes a year that are made in its workshop located along Philomath’s Main Street.

The company sources leather from tanneries that don’t use formaldehyde, a move aimed at keeping their shoes as free as possible of chemicals. The leather comes from countries such as Germany and South Korea.

A pair of leather Chukkas runs $190, while the athletic DASH RunAmoc shoes cost $130. The company also offers some vegan shoes.

“It’s a very niche market that we are filling right now,” Salcido said.

As part of a pilot, the company plans to ship 200 buyers their shoes in the reusable packaging, from a company called RePack. The new reusable packages could reduce carbon emissions by as much as 80 percent compared to traditional shipping over the lifespan of the packaging, according to company documents.

In exchange for sending the package back to RePack, customers will earn $10 in store credit from Softstar.

Softstar’s sustainability efforts extend beyond shipping. The company gives workers a small pay bump for carpooling with colleagues to work. Drivers earn anywhere from $5 to $50 a week depending on how many rides they give to coworkers.

Softstar also sources all of its power from wind and solar energy. Inside a restroom, customers can use washable hand towels instead of traditional paper towels that end up in the garbage.

“It can be challenging because you’re never done,” Salcido said. “You can always improve.”

— Camila Adem, Parkrose High School

— Garon Jones, David Douglas High School

This story was produced by student reporters as part of the High School Journalism Institute, an annual collaboration among The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oregon State University and other Oregon media organizations. Donations in support of the High School Journalism Institute can be made to the OSU Foundation, 850 S.W. 35th St., Corvallis, OR 97333; 541-737-4218; or online at osufoundation.org. For more information, go to OregonLive.com/teens.

Let’s talk about Renewable Energy Certificates … for natural gas

This article is adapted from the Energy Weekly newsletter, running Thursdays. Subscribe here

Since Renewable Energy Certificates, or RECs, came onto the scene in the early 2000s, they’ve become one of the go-to instruments for companies to procure clean energy. The concept is simple: RECs are a certificate that verifies clean energy has been created. A company can buy that credit to offset any fossil-fuel energy it uses and, at least on paper, becoming an organization powered by clean energy. 

Say what you will about RECs, but they did something remarkable: They added value to clean energy, which at the time was quite expensive. Suddenly, clean energy had two value streams: the electricity and the environmental benefit. 

As a result, more clean energy went onto the grid and the cost of renewables fell. Fast-forward almost 20 years, and renewables are cheaper than fossil-fuel energy. 

What if there were a similar program for renewable natural gas?

The Midwest Renewable Energy Tracking System (M-RETS) wants to do the same thing for renewable natural gas (RNG), a.k.a. biogas, that RECs did for renewable energy. 

Similar to RECs, the idea would be to ensure that biogas comes from a renewable source and allow customers to pay to offset their fossil-fuel gasconsumption. Proponents of the trading scheme say the system will help avoid fraud in the renewable natural gas market. 

But there is a major difference between the potential for RNG and renewables

Unlike renewable energy, renewable natural gas is finite. It does not scale like renewable electricity. And many sectors are vying for its low-carbon benefits.

RNG is created by capturing biomethane — from sources such as agricultural waste and landfills — and processing it into a fuel source. But there’s a finite amount of biomethane and, in a perfect world, we would be reducing the amount of waste we make in the first place. 

By some calculations, all of the RNG resources in the United States would be able to meet only about a third of the current gas demands for California alone, even when factoring in energy efficiency. In other words, it isn’t feasible to swap out natural gas with RNG one-for-one at scale. 

How can we responsibly use renewable natural gas

Everyone agrees it’s a good thing to capture the methane that otherwise would be an air pollutant. But what application is the best use for RNG’s decarbonization benefits? In my view, the best use of RNG are the applications that are hardest to electrify. Here’s a look at the three sectors working hard to capture the RNG market.

Commercial and industrial manufacturers

For a corporate customer, an RNG market has some nifty implications.

RNG has the potential to decarbonize thermal energy, a term that refers to both industrial processes and the energy used for the heating and cooling of buildings. Currently, thermal energy is overwhelmingly powered by fossil fuel sources, with no viable renewable alternatives. That makes deep-decarbonization goals difficult to reach. Some estimates peg thermal loads as responsible for 39 percent of energy-related emissions worldwide. Offsetting them is a heavy lift.

Companies are starting to catch on. L’Oreal, for example, announced that it plans to achieve carbon neutrality this year for its 21 U.S. manufacturing facilities through RNG. Cargill is similarly investing in RNG to offset some of its natural gas needs. 

The ability to buy RNG credits could help make clear that corporates are clamoring for more renewable thermal energy solutions. There already is a Renewable Thermal Collaborative, a group of companies that want more options for renewable thermal energy. RNG credits may offer a bridge to other market-ready solutions. 

Transportation fuels

According to one seller of RNG, “Renewable natural gas can be used in nearly every application that gasoline and diesel vehicles can be. … Operationally, there is no limit.”

That’s a big claim. And California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), a market-based system that incentivizes cleaner fuels, credits fuels with lower carbon intensity. RNG, which technically has a negative carbon intensity, is considered among the cleanest fuel options around. That means there’s a big market for RNG as a transportation fuel in California, as producers can cash in on the LCFS credits

It’s smart business for RNG producers, and it helps California meet its climate goals. It makes sense why energy giants such as Chevron want it. But given the finite resources, it isn’t a silver bullet. Analysis shows that no single industry can rely entirely on RNG to run its transportation fleets. 

Meanwhile, the lure of the LCFS risks zapping RNG resources from other uses. 

Utility programs 

Gas companies are looking to offer RNG to customers at a premium to offset their conventional natural gas consumption. 

One program that has gotten a lot of press is SoCalGas’s RNG tariff. The company has invested in reports (PDF) and ad campaigns to show RNG can help put the company in line with California’s 2030 carbon-reduction goal (although not its 2045 goal). 

However, much of what consumers use natural gas for already has excellent electrification alternatives, making utility RNG programs more about the survival of natural gas companies than about a path to meet climate goals. 

At the end of the day, the limited supply of biomethane means no single sector can rely on RNG as a holistic solution. So, the search for clean energy innovations continues, and interest in RNG should be viewed as a signal that customers will be hungry for affordable solutions when they arrive.

Here’s What Renewable Energy & Eco-Friendly Buzzwords Actually Mean

Every industry has its fair share of jargon and there are plenty of buzzwords flying around when it comes to all things environmental. (So many, in fact, that a few years ago the Macmillan Dictionary compiled a list.)

But as new studies continue to highlight, the effects of climate change are worsening and we’re all feeling desperate to take action in some way to help our planet. Whether you identify as a lovocore, off-gridder, or are just a confused individual desperately trying to remember where you put your reusable coffee cup, you’ve probably heard of the following words. But what do they actually mean?

“Renewable”

This term has been around a lot in the past few years, but do you really know what renewables are? (It’s okay to not know, this is a safe space.)

Basically, renewable energy sources are natural resources: things like solar energy, hydropower, and wind power. They harness natural resources that won’t run out and don’t harm the earth. Conversely, non-renewable energy sources are things like fossil fuel, coal, gas, and oil. Things that will run out one day unless we develop alternatives.

As well as renewable energy, we can use renewable materials, and here’s where wood comes in to the picture. It’s renewable in the sense that, once trees are harvested, more are planted to replace them, and has other environmental benefits, too.

Compared to concrete or steel, using wood leaves a smaller or even negative carbon footprint. This is because wood stores carbon (half of the weight of dry wood is carbon, absorbed from the atmosphere and stored for life by a growing tree) and has low embodied energy (this refers to the energy used during production and transport – usually greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels). Trees provide the most environmentally-friendly building material at our disposal.

If you’re wondering what happens if trees run out, don’t stress! The Australian Forest Industry plants approximately 70 million trees every year – which works out to be around the size of 136, 000 footy fields. As it takes no energy to grow trees, switching to wood products is an easy and significant way to take action. (No actual tree-hugging required.)

“Eco-Friendly”

Here’s a buzzword used constantly in relation to… pretty much anything. You’ve probably noticed “eco” appearing in front of all sorts of words – including wedding dresses for the “eco-bride”. It might be used in an email footer of a small business that wants you to know they have recycling practices in place or it might be a term someone identifies as on a dating site.

Eco-friendly essentially means being conscious of – and not having consequences that are harmful to – the environment. There are no real regulations around which products can be labelled as “eco-friendly” if it can be backed up by some inkling of environmental awareness. When deciding where to splash your cash or spend your time, it’s worth investigating what actions that label actually translates to: does the business have minimum requirements or targets to meet? Is there a dedicated action plan in place? Are they signed up to some formal eco-labelling or auditing system? For wood and wood products, this means either Responsible Wood or the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), both of these should have logos on products or materials. If you can’t get answers from an employee, answers can often be found on websites or within official reports (if you’re looking for some light reading).

“Sustainable”

Sustainability can be broadly defined as maintaining a healthy environmental, social, and economic system – essentially, sustaining our planet and everything on it. James Cook University put together this handy diagram showing how all of those subsets interact. This can apply to relatively straightforward things like plastic bag bans or larger government initiatives to address long-term impacts of any number of things.

When you’re choosing a service provider or buying a product, it’s worth taking some time to research what will be the most sustainable option. It doesn’t have to be complicated: let’s say your friend is having a baby shower. Resist the urge to swing by a chain store for a piece of plastic and consider gifting the little bundle of joy a wooden toy set instead. The environment (and your friend, whose home is probably fast filling with colourful rubbish) will thank you.

“Green”

Here’s a fun fact: did you know whacking a green label on something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s eco-friendly? A survey from 2014 found that 30 percent of millennials believe that simple or green-coloured packaging indicates the product is made sustainably. You might laugh at first, but we’re visual creatures and our brains are wired to categorise things as quickly as possible. At first glance, a furniture store decked out with earth-friendly tones and minimalist aesthetics might lure you in… but it turns out they’re churning out flat-pack polymer nightmares. If you’re wanting a less disposable and better quality option, think renewable and sustainable, then consider wood and other alternatives.

“Free-Range”

More and more of us cringe when we see the “cage” label on a carton of eggs and reach swiftly for the free-range option instead. But what’s the real difference? In 2016, a definition was proposed that means these hens must have access to “meaningful and regular access to the outdoors” and, unfortunately, some companies have been found to alter this definition to suit their less-than-ethical practices.

To combat these creative interpretations, the CSIRO published a code of conduct that recommends farmers should have no more than 1500 chooks per hectare. (That said, free-range farms are sometimes still found to be guilty of other animal welfare issues.) It’s recommended you take a few minutes to fully research where your eggs are coming from, and not just grab a box of the shelf.

So what’s the bottom line? Words matter! A lot of power is expressed through the use of certain terms and these terms are used to influence policy, funding, and our individual choices. To truly make a difference we need to understand what these words mean. Environmental impact is an increasingly important issue and if you want to take action, ensure you’ve done your research.

Find out why they call wood The Ultimate Renewable™ at makeitwood.org

Brought to you by Planet Ark’s Make it Wood.

(Lead image: Raw Film / Unsplash)

Black plastics could create renewable energy: New research could help to reduce plastic waste in the future

While a small proportion of the hundreds of types of plastics can be recycled by conventional technology, researchers found that there are other things that can be done to reuse plastics after they’ve served their original purpose.

The research, published in The Journal for Carbon Research, focuses on chemical recycling which uses the constituent elements of the plastic to make new materials.

While all plastics are made of carbon, hydrogen and sometimes oxygen, the amounts and arrangements of these three elements make each plastic unique. As plastics are very pure and highly refined chemicals, they can be broken down into these elements and then bonded in different arrangements to make high value materials such as carbon nanotubes.

Dr Alvin Orbaek White, a Sêr Cymru II Fellow at the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Swansea University said: “Carbon nanotubes are tiny molecules with incredible physical properties. The structure of a carbon nanotube looks a piece of chicken wire wrapped into a cylinder and when carbon is arranged like this it can conduct both heat and electricity. These two different forms of energy are each very important to control and use in the right quantities, depending on your needs.

“Nanotubes can be used to make a huge range of things, such as conductive films for touchscreen displays, flexible electronics fabrics that create energy, antennas for 5G networks while NASA has used them to prevent electric shocks on the Juno spacecraft.”

During the study, the research team tested plastics, in particular black plastics, which are commonly used as packaging for ready meals and fruit and vegetables in supermarkets, but can’t be easily recycled. They removed the carbon and then constructed nanotube molecules from the bottom up using the carbon atoms and used the nanotubes to transmit electricity to a light bulb in a small demonstrator model.

Now the research team plan to make high purity carbon electrical cables using waste plastic materials and to improve the nanotube material’s electrical performance and increase the output, so they are ready for large-scale deployment in the next three years.

Dr Orbaek White said: “The research is significant as carbon nanotubes can be used to solve the problem of electricity cables overheating and failing, which is responsible for about 8% of electricity is lost in transmission and distribution globally.

“This may not seem like much, but it is low because electricity cables are short, which means that power stations have to be close to the location where electricity is used, otherwise the energy is lost in transmission.

“Many long range cables, which are made of metals, can’t operate at full capacity because they would overheat and melt. This presents a real problem for a renewable energy future using wind or solar, because the best sites are far from where people live.”

14 apps to help you live a more eco-friendly sustainable lifestyle

So you’ve made the choice to start living more sustainably. That’s great! Figuring out how to start can be daunting, but luckily technology is here to help.

These handy resources can fit in your pocket and serve as a reminder to continue your journey towards a more sustainable, greener life— whether you’re an experienced advocate for sustainability or just starting out.

Related: The pros and cons of online versus in-store shopping

Forest

Forest lets you combine mindfulness, productivity and focus with real-life tree planting. By not checking your phone for a designated amount of time, the app lets you grow virtual trees, which can then be exchanged for actual trees planted throughout five African countries by Trees for the Future.

smartphone with app showing blue pinpoints on a map

Tap

Plastic bottles are one of the greatest sources of plastic pollution in our oceans, and switching to a reusable water bottle is a simple way to reduce waste. Tap accesses your location and lets you find water refill stations nearby so you can fill up without creating any plastic garbage.

HowGood

HowGood has a database of 200,000 food product ratings to help users make more sustainable choices. With each product rated by growing guidelines, processing practices and company conduct, this app is a great tool for users who want to be more mindful about what they eat by choosing food that is ethically produced and environmentally friendly with minimal processing. 

JouleBug

JouleBug combines the best parts of sustainable living with social interaction and saving money on your utility bill. The app allows users to competitively track and score their sustainable habits and share them with friends. JouleBug also includes suggestions and tips for small changes that can help you live a more sustainable lifestyle

ThredUp

Making sure that less of your used clothes end up in a landfill by offering them up to other consumers first is a no-brainer. ThredUp is an online consignment store where you can take pictures of your clothes and sell them through the app.

Related: Your guide to eco-friendly toothpastes

smartphone with app used to sell unwanted items

OfferUp

A simple way to buy and sell used items, OfferUp lets users find a new home for their unwanted items instead of the trash can. It only takes a few minutes to snap a photo of your item, post it on the app and connect with potential buyers. You can securely message through the app and check people’s profiles and transaction history as well. 

PaperKarma

Not only is junk mail super annoying, it’s wasteful and bad for the environment. With PaperKarma you can stop the actual physical junk mail that shows up in your mailbox and forces you to throw away good paper for no reason. Within the app, you simply snap a photo of your junk mail and received an unsubscribed notification about 24 hours later.

smartphone with app displaying tomatoes

Olio

We throw away billions of pounds of food away every year in the United States— equal to 30-40 percent of our food supply. With Olio, users can connect with neighbors and local businesses to share food. Whether you’ve bought too much of something, prepared too much dinner or purged your fridge before vacation, making sure precious food doesn’t go to waste is easier than you think.

DoneGood

DoneGood helps you find ethical brands with ease through both an app on your phone and an extension for your internet browser. As you search and shop for products, DoneGood will create pop-up suggestions for alternatives offered by ethical stores. You can also align suggestions based on your personal passions. DoneGood selects their businesses based on things like eco-friendly, non-toxic, cruelty-free, organic, diversity and giving back. 

smartphone app displaying an inventory of food

No Waste

Track and reduce your food waste with No Waste, an interactive organizational app that lets you make an inventory of the items in your fridge, freezer and pantry. You’ll be able to sort and search for food by category or expiration date to ensure that nothing goes to waste and share your lists with friends or family. 

Oroeco

Oroeco puts a carbon value on everything from what you buy to the food you eat and even to the appliances you use at home. The app has partnered with UC Berkeley’s CoolClimate research group to compare their users’ carbon values with their neighbors and friends, while providing them with personalized tips to help reduce their energy use and carbon footprints. The app also works with Impact Carbon, a non-profit that helps underdeveloped countries access energy-efficient appliances. 

tablet with a teaching app for kids to learn about the environment

Sustainability Aware

In order to ensure a brighter future for the earth, teaching our children about green living and sustainability will be paramount. That’s where Sustainability Aware comes it. A series of educational apps designed for children that teach about the environment and human impact, all in a fun, engaging way. Each app is made for a specific grade level and age group.

iRecycle

Proper recycling is a simple concept, but isn’t always simple to execute. The iRecycle app finds the closest opportunity to recycle based on your location. Whether you are looking for a recycling center near your home or find yourself walking down the street with an empty water bottle, iRecycle can help. 

smartphone with app for information on poverty and climate change

SDGs in Action

Keep up to date on worldwide sustainable development news and learn about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with this app. The SDGs are basically a world to-do list to address poverty, climate change and inequality by the year 2030. Users can personalize the app to receive notifications about specific goals and find nearby events to help show support.

Screenshots via Inhabitat. Image via picjumbo.com

Windsor approves $100M apartment complex featuring advanced energy efficiency

After five years of planning, Windsor officials have approved construction of an apartment complex that will be the town’s most eco-friendly housing community.

Called The Mill, it will include 360 apartments built over the next two years with all electric mechanicals such as heat pumps for water and cooling and appliances powered by solar panels installed throughout the 20-acre property. Also, residents will have electric vehicle charging stations and the ability to store excess solar energy, among other amenities. There will be no gas lines anywhere in the apartment community.

Town leaders touted the $100 million housing development as being zero-net energy, meaning energy used by apartment tenants on an annual basis will be renewable and generated on-site. It is believed to be the largest apartment project with such aggressive energy efficiency set for construction in Sonoma County, said Peter Stanley, a project manager with ArchiLOGIX, a Santa Rosa design and consulting firm.

Stanley is working with Bob Bisno, a Southern California developer that recently got the go-ahead from Windsor Town Council to build the housing project on the south end of Windsor River Road.

It will be walking distance from the planned Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit station.

The development represents another key piece of the town’s leaders renewable energy agenda to contend with climate change. Last month, Windsor officials said the town will use solar energy to power its water facilities, by teaming with a French company that’s installing floating solar panels this summer across a large pond on the town’s public works property.

The town council approved The Mill in hopes Windsor will get ahead of a California state law that will require all building permits issued for most new homes and multifamily residences after Jan. 1, 2020 to include rooftop solar panels. Also, state officials last year announced a goal of having all new commercial construction achieving zero net energy by 2030.

“Zero-net energy is a fairly new initiative that came on the scene only about six to eight months ago,” Stanley said. “This is a game changer and it is very complicated.”

Last month, The Mill project got a green light from council members after a strenuous process of many discussions between the town’s leaders and the developer and adjustments to the development plan. Councilman Sam Salmon scrutinized the project closely, focusing on whether the apartments would be affordable for people in the town earning the median annual income. The median annual household income in Windsor in 2017, the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau, was $91,032.

“We have been trying to get this approved for five years and when you are in the midst of a housing crisis that is a long time,” Stanley said. “This is a big thing for a small community to take on and zero-net energy is new to all of us.”

Earlier this year, Councilwoman Deborah Fudge led discussions about the importance of Windsor integrating greater energy efficiency in residential development.

The council also has approved The Oaks, a 32-unit apartment complex slated to have advanced energy efficiency.

Fudge recommended months ago that Stanley and his team at ArchiLOGIX collaborate with Sonoma Clean Power to create an initial strategy on how best to build The Mill apartments with no gas utility service and no fossil-fuel emissions.

Disputed ground: The future of landfill gas-to-energy

Operators champion landfill gas as a source of renewable energy and revenue. But as communities seek to divert more organics and climate anxiety intensifies, the practice has been decried as greenwashing.

The full story of landfill gas (LFG) is complicated.

Capturing LFG creates beneficial use opportunities and earns operators revenue, in addition to reducing the global warming potential of the gas that is successfully captured. However, the system may be imperfect from an economic and environmental standpoint. Other forms of electricity generation from waste have efficiency advantages, and the ability of LFG capture systems to effectively mitigate net greenhouse gas emissions is contested. 

Still, major landfill operators often refer to the positive effects of their LFG projects as being on par with other renewable sources.

[Landfills] really are fantastic in that we generate energy from them that really meets the same needs that the solar industry or the wind industry [meets], and we need to take more credit for that and be really proud of the work we’re doing as a business,” Waste Management CFO Devina Rankin said at a WasteExpo panel in May. 

Anne Germain, NWRA’s vice president of technical and regulatory affairs, explained that LFG is considered renewable because the carbon dioxide emissions generated by organic decomposition at landfills would happen as part of the natural breakdown of recently-living biomass regardless. Because landfills are covered, however, anaerobic digestion happens instead of aerobic digestion, meaning methane, a more potent greenhouse gas, is produced. Operators capture the gas and burn it, rendering it back into carbon dioxide that would have been produced had the waste degraded on the surface, and create energy in the process. 

“The energy [captured] is brand new energy that is displacing potential fossil fuels. That’s how we look at it,” Germain said. 

But environmental groups, including Sierra Club and others, have argued that landfill gas capture systems are not effective at mitigating net emissions, because any escaped methane poses a risk. 

“The bottom line is, landfill gas-to-energy is hijacking concern for climate change for a technology and process that actually makes the climate condition substantially worse,” Peter Anderson, president of RecycleWorlds Consulting, told Waste Dive.

LFG 101

Buried underground, the organic component of the waste decomposes in the absence of oxygen and produces a combination of carbon dioxide and methane which gradually escapes. Capturing the gas is important because methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, with 28 to 36 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, according to the EPA

The EPA has established rules which require monitoring and installation of gas collection and control systems if emissions exceed a certain threshold. Thus, many large landfills are legally obligated to capture the gas, but have a variety of opportunities when it comes to how to use it. 

Gas can be flared (rendering it less potent by conversion to carbon dioxide and water), used directly on site or nearby, or upgraded for sale as renewable natural gas, among other uses, according to the EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP).

Electricity generation is the most common use by far: according to the NWRA, 74% of U.S. LFG projects generate electricity. Nationwide, about 2.44 GW of capacity are currently installed, enough to power more than a million homes.

Even so, LFG remains a small component of total U.S. electricity generation, accounting for just 0.3% of the total in 2018. Non-landfill municipal solid waste is close behind among biomass sources, at 0.2%. Covanta, which operates many of the country’s incinerators, reported 1.62 GW of installed capacity in 2018.

?While LFG and incineration have grown slowly in recent years other renewable sources have taken off. According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. had 51 GW of solar capacity and 94 GW of wind capacity as of 2018.

Economic and environmental factors

Among waste-based electricity generation sources, landfills are not the most efficient. 

“Landfill biogas systems produce about half the amount of biogas from a given volume of organic material that an anaerobic digester does,” said Patrick Serfass, president of the American Biogas Council. 

Serfass said this is because digesters are optimized to maximize the conversion of organic material to biogas, whereas landfills are not. Digesters are also sealed facilities, so all the biogas produced is captured. 

According to LMOP information, 1 million tons of municipal solid waste produces about 0.78 MW of electricity. The capacity of individual landfills varies, but sites with millions of tons of waste often have capacities similar to just a handful of 2 MW wind turbines – and smaller than many incinerators. 

13.7 billion tons of waste undergird the 2.44 GW of installed landfill generation capacity in the U.S. By comparison, only about 26 million tons of waste were burned for electricity at the 2.3 GW of incinerator capacity installed in the U.S. in 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration.

This suggests a much higher efficiency for incinerators, although direct comparisons to incineration are difficult, because landfills cannot measure MWh/ton processed directly.

“… the amount of LFG generated at a specific landfill is a function of multiple factors, including waste quantity, waste composition, and the amount of time since the waste was disposed,” according to the EPA. That makes MWh/ton processed a less useful metric for LFG projects.

While proponents acknowledge that landfills may be less efficient, they also point out landfills have economic advantages that can make them attractive compared to other forms of energy generation from waste. 

“[Digesters] are very expensive as compared to landfills. And so in order to do something like that, there’s going to be a huge capital investment,” Germain told Waste Dive. Germain noted incinerators can be more expensive upfront, and that few have been built in the U.S. since the 1990s.

The outlook for landfill gas

Despite limited efficiency, gas capture systems provide a return on investment for landfill operators, as a component of overall sustainability efforts and as a source of revenue. 

“Landfills are often not the most popular land use,” SWANA CEO David Biderman told Waste Dive. “Positioning yourself as a good neighbor from both an environmental and economic perspective is always a goal of landfills.” 

Among major companies, Waste Management has the most LFG use projects, with 130 (101 of which produce electricity). Republic Services and Waste Connections are second and third, with 75 and 52 projects respectively (electricity versus other uses not specified).

Companies often highlight that LFG can help make waste processing more circular by providing fuel for collection trucks or electricity to buildings, remitting the need to extract diesel and natural gas. 

As solar and wind have taken off, and natural gas continues to be cheaply available, the relative value of LFG has declined, according to Biderman. This means LFG plays a smaller role in renewable portfolios today than a decade ago.

“The number of new landfill gas projects installed on an annual basis has certainly decreased over the last few years, and I expect that absent new federal regulations, there will continue to be only slight increases in the number of landfills with new landfill gas facilities,” Biderman said.

Germain told Waste Dive the decline in the number of new capture systems is reflective of a decline in the number of new landfills, rather than a lack of interest in using gas where it is economically viable. She also highlighted the fact that local considerations might lead landfills to produce vehicle fuel rather than electricity or pipeline-quality gas, since this can be more cost-effective. 

“With CNG vehicles becoming much more common, it becomes a little bit more realistic,” Germain said. 

In August 2016, the Obama administration created emissions guidelines and source performance standards for landfills. The Trump administration has hedged on enforcement, leading to an ongoing legal back-and-forth.

For smaller landfills, the economics of installing an LFG capture system are not always as advantageous as they are at larger ones. Even where gas is captured, operators do not always take the extra step of converting it to electricity due to the high capital cost of installing the turbine infrastructure. Waste Management, for instance, uses only 55% of captured gas

The EPA estimates 60–90% of gas is captured at covered landfills, but this range has been met with skepticism by environmental advocates, who say optimizing landfills for gas capture can actually be counterproductive from an emissions standpoint.

“The reality is, in terms of the way landfills operate to produce usable commercial volumes of energy, you have to add a lot of moisture,” said Peter Anderson.

Adding moisture accelerates the formation of methane and increases the methane to carbon dioxide ratio. This is good for economic efficiency, but also means more methane has the potential to escape more quickly. Anderson said the 60–90% figure does not accurately reflect the methane capture rate over the entire lifetime of the landfill, since much methane forms and escapes before covers are installed and capture systems are active.

The IPCC has estimated that, depending on circumstances, lifetime LFG capture could be as low as 20% in some cases. According to Anderson, this has serious climate implications, because “even a [small amount more] methane than has been admitted is going to overwhelm whatever gains were promised on the carbon dioxide side of avoidance.”

Reached for comment, an EPA spokesperson provided multiple references for the 60-90% capture estimate via email. The agency told Waste Dive the U.S. currently has 46 LFG projects planned or under construction. Advocates also remain optimistic about LFG’s potential to serve as a renewable energy source.

“As we look to the future and variations in market conditions, we have over 2,500 MSW landfills in the U.S., and just over 600 right now at which we are currently using their organic resources as energy. The sustainable energy potential is something we should be running after right now, not walking,” Marcus Gillette, director of public affairs at the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas, told Waste Dive. 

Over the long term, the fate of LFG is linked to broader societal discussions about the relative value of different ways of handling organic waste and producing energy.

LFG-to-energy projects will continue as long as incentives exist and organics continue to be landfilled in large volumes. If LFG is downgraded as a renewable fuel source, or organics diversion rates start to climb higher, the proportional contribution of LFG to the U.S. electric grid could decline.

Lidl granted permission for new €1 million solar array

July 9th, 2019

Lidl Ireland has welcomed the granting of planning permission from Kildare County Council that will allow the supermarket chain to install solar panels on its distribution center in Newbridge.

The company has said that the energy-saving initiative will see an investment of €1 million at the site that is currently under construction.

The solar panels would improve the energy-efficiency of Lidl’s new 58,000 metres distribution centre in Co Kildare, producing an estimated 1,011,929-kilowatt hour of sustainable energy.

The sustainable scheme would reduce
the centre’s carbon output by around 473 tonnes annually, according to
Lidl. 

Alan Barry, Lidl’s Director of
Property and Central Services, said that the company “prides itself” as
eco-friendly and building a new distribution centre was an opportunity to implement
Lidl’s eco-conscious ethos in its construction.

“We were very clear when building
our largest distribution centre that we would integrate the latest
sustainability innovations that will generate ongoing energy savings,” Mr Barry
said.

“The installation of solar panels at
our distribution facility in Newbridge will generate over 25% of the buildings
energy requirements,” he added.

Mr Barry continued that the new
facility will have “a wide range of sustainability features”, including
charging points for electric vehicles, LED lighting, natural refrigerants as well
as “beehives, bat boxes and insect hotels” to promote pollination and preserve
biodiversity.

The supermarket chain has said that
the construction of its largest distribution centre is in line with “the
highest environmental standards” and would be certified to BREEM, the world’s
leading sustainable building certification.

Welcoming Lidl’s new energy-saving scheme, Dr Paul Deane of the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy at UCC’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI) said that other companies should kickstart similar projects to increase the country’s level of energy efficacy.

“We need of more of this leadership in Ireland,” he said. “It is great to see a company take this perspective and initiative, not only with efforts to reduce carbon emission but also plans to increase biodiversity and promote natural woodland.”

Shane McDonagh, a PhD researcher in biofuels at ERI also told The Green News that a “significant number of these kinds of projects are required if we want the economy to grow, without giving up on our climate targets”.

“This is not just a boost to Lidl’s green credentials, reduced energy bills make them more competitive,” he said. “Other companies will see through the PR and find there is a robust business case for these kinds of investments.”

Earlier in April, the supermarket
chain also rolled out new in-store recycling bins for its customers to dispose
of their excess plastic waste, but environmental campaigners later criticised the green initiative over its lack of compliance with State-issued recycling
guidelines.

Responding to the disapproval, the
company stated to The Green News that “clear guidance on what items can
be recycled will be displayed” on its recycling stations to avert confusion.

“The supermarket has also increased its loose fruit and vegetable range and continues to “test and trial the removal of packaging throughout the range”, the statement read.

About the Author

Shamim Malekmian

Shamim is a Senior Reporter at The Green News and a contributing writer to the Irish Examiner, Cork Evening Echo and the Dublin Inquirer.

Global Waste To Energy Market Is Estimated to Grow USD 28 Billion By 2025 | Top Companies are Abu Dhabi National Energy Company PJSC, Waste Management Inc., Covanta Energy Corp

PUNE, India, July 09, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Global Waste to Energy Industry to reach USD 41.7 billion by 2025. Global Waste to Energy Industry valued approximately USD 28 billion in 2017 is anticipated to grow with a healthy growth rate of more than 5.10% over the forecast period 2018-2025. Waste to energy involves processing municipal solid waste into heat, electricity, and refuse derived fuel. The concept has superseded the ‘garbage in – garbage out’ practice by facilitating efficient garbage management while simultaneously providing clean energy and deriving dollars out of waste. The Waste to Energy Industry is expected to witness significant growth over the forecast period. Increasing demand for renewable sources is anticipated to propel the global Waste to Energy Industry over the forecast period. A shift in focus towards substitutes such as coal with renewable resources to reduce carbon content is also projected to play a vital role in shaping the industry.

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The regional analysis of Global Waste to Energy Industry is considered for key regions such as Asia Pacific, North America, Europe, Latin America and Rest of the World. Europe Industry led the global industry in 2017. The region is projected to grow at a CAGR of around 6% over the forecast period. Stringent regulations to minimize industrial waste is expected to boost the growth in the region. Countries such as Germany, Austria and Netherlands have adopted WTE technologies to utilize industrial waste. Asia Pacific is projected to account for the second largest share of the Industry. China and India carry a huge potential for growth owing to increasing industrial and residential waste. Rapid industrialization coupled with growing importance for renewable energy generation is expected to drive the regional growth over the forecast period.

Major market players in Waste to Energy Industry are Abu Dhabi National Energy Company PJSC, Waste Management Inc., Covanta Energy Corp, CG Environmental Protection Holdings Ltd, Foster Wheeler A.G, Constructions Industrielles de la Mediterranee, China Everbright International Ltd., Veolia Environment S.A., Babcock Wilcox Enterprises, Inc, Xcel Energy Inc.and so on. Acquisitions and effective mergers are some of the strategies adopted by the key manufacturers. New product launches and continuous technological innovations are the key strategies adopted by the major players.

Waste To Energy Industry Segmentation:

By Technology

  • Thermal
  • Biological

By Region

North America

  • USA
  • Canada

Europe

  • Germany
  • U.K.
  • France
  • Italy
  • Rest of Europe

APAC

  • China
  • India
  • Japan
  • Rest of Asia-Pacific

RoW

  • Latin America
  • Middle East Africa

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