If you have not taken notice, humanity creates a lot of trash. A LOT of trash. Sometimes, I sit back and think to myself, “so, we can land a spacecraft on the moon yet our best solution for trash is to dig a hole, bury it and hope it goes away. Am I over simplifying, kind of but not really. Ideally, waste from human consumption would be capable of breaking down and going back into the cycle of life. However, air doesn’t circulate much underground in a landfill, so none of the trash will actually breakdown or biodegrade. Second, we put a large portion of that trash in plastic bags which also lacks air circulation. Then polyethylene (common plastic) takes about 1,000 years to biodegrade if it ever does at all. Over time this accumulates to a huge problem.
How we manage the trash seems to be only part of the problem. Take a step back and think about the production of goods and our motivations. Today, we live in a system we created and it’s the economic system known as capitalism or the free market/enterprise. Has this served humanity, yes, it has tremendously. When I was a kid my training wheels also served me well at the time, and my braces served me well at the time. You get the idea. Nothing in the world stays frozen in time, nothing is static. The world is anything but that, right? It’s constant change. So, even though there was a time when a strategy like capitalism served humanity, it does not mean it will be appropriate forever. You outgrow things as you change and as conditions change, such as world population, you need to adopt new practices that are more relevant. But first you have to be able to recognize when something is no longer serving you. People tend to want to hang on to what’s familiar.
Today, we are feeling some of the adverse effects from capitalism more than ever before. For starters, the model itself creates an environmental circumstance and value system for people to navigate and live their life by. For example, if I make paper or cars as a company my goal is to make monetary gains because if I don’t I can no longer sustain myself as a company. So, that is my key to survival. The more monetary gain I make, the more power I get. To become more powerful I need to sell more paper or cars every year constantly. That means more resources must be consumed for the products to come to life. So, we are not necessarily using the resources because we “need” to, it’s because we are trying to sell more product so that our bottom line shows success. Aside from a mentality of “make more, sell more”, we also have aimed to ensure that nothing we make will last too long, also known as planned obsolescence. Yes, there are good products out there at a very high price that have a warranty; however the majority of our actions are based on developing solutions that breakdown so that more must be purchased. Think about everything in your life, your phone, your car, your kids toys, or shoes. The list goes on. Let’s not forget disposables. Think of diapers, plastic bottles, containers for your lotion, medicine, forks, plates, knives, straws, plastic chairs, pens and on and on. All are made as a cheap plastic that lasts forever and are thrown away very frequently on to be purchased again later. This is how people coined the phrase ‘throw away culture”. All of these things are just strategies for survival. It’s no fault of the business, it’s just a response to the conditions they are navigating due to the system we all agree to live by, capitalism.
More and more people are recognizing the adverse effects of this system because they are no longer a problem for the far future, they are here. Now people are finding ways fight these challenges through the use of technology and a change a in lifestyle. Hence the “green” era.
The decomposition of organic material from the landfills releases methane gas which is said to be a strong “global warming” pollutant. The modern transportation system today is powered mostly by fossil fuels and releases air pollution; however today two companies are turning those rotten goods (trash) into low carbon fuel for cars and trucks. Of course, this does not help us reduce the amount of trash we create and send to the landfills. The good news is, Clean Energy and Waste Management Inc. are looking to change our traditional management of landfill gas. Both are now capturing landfill gas and turning it into an economically valuable commodity that displaces gasoline and diesel fuel from our economy. Because processed landfill burns cleaner than petroleum based fuels, using it in cars and trucks can result in cleaner air and other major public benefits.
The Environmental Defense Fund has an innovators series which profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goal of AB 32. Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technology and ideas.
According to the EDF – “Clean Energy produces a fuel named Redeem, which is available in either compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG). The low carbon fuel receives carbon credits from the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) when it is used in the state, creating an opportunity for additional value. Waste Management, Inc., in partnership with Linde North America, a gases and engineering company, built a facility in 2009 at the Altamont Landfill in Altamont, CA, which produces liquefied natural gas (LNG) from biomethane. Of the approximately 1,500 natural gas trucks that Waste Management has in its fleet, approximately half use the renewable LNG. Where possible, Waste Management also makes LNG available to the public. In total, according to Waste Management, the Altamont Landfill is responsible for 33,000 tons of CO2 reductions per year, the equivalent of eliminating emissions from nearly 7,000 passenger vehicles. According to company representatives, one of the biggest reasons for their massive investments is California’s Global Warming Law, AB 32.”
According to Julia Levin, Executive Director of the Bioenergy Association of California, “The work by Clean Energy and Waste Management on biomethane is a triple win for California. They are demonstrating that we can produce clean-burning natural gas fuel that significantly cuts greenhouse gas emissions, reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and cleans up our air, while simultaneously closing the loop on waste.”[google-translator]