Creating energy from our garbage? That’s a bright idea | Guest Column

Washington residents are really good at recycling. We recycle nearly 50 percent of our waste, well above the national average of 34.6 percent.

That’s something to celebrate this Earth Day.

But what about the stuff that isn’t recycled, recovered or reused? Things such as plastic forks, discarded carpet and broken toys present a bigger challenge. In fact, here in Washington, each of us creates about three and a half pounds of garbage every day, according to the Washington Department of Ecology.

Just as we’ve figured out how to successfully reclaim the valuable material from our soda cans, old newspapers and yogurt containers, innovative green technology now offers a way to get a sustainable benefit even from our trash.

How? By extracting energy from our garbage. This is happening at facilities across the country, including Waste Management’s Columbia Ridge Landfill located across the Columbia River in rural Gilliam County, Ore.

Here’s how it works: Garbage decomposes inside the landfill creating a gas, which is collected, treated and then used to run engines that generate electricity for the power grid.

At Columbia Ridge, the system collects 5,400 cubic feet of gas per minute, enough to power approximately 12,500 homes in Washington state.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has even endorsed the use of landfill gas as a clean energy alternative to fossil fuels. The EPA classifies landfill gas as a “renewable,” the same as wind and solar.

Extracting energy from garbage also reduces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. It is a constant and reliable resource that is not dependent upon whether the sun is shining or wind is blowing.

Beyond generating electricity, new technology makes it possible to convert landfill gas to natural gas, producing a cleaner burning fuel for cars and trucks.

Nationwide, Waste Management already runs nearly 6,000 recycling and garbage trucks on compressed natural gas for a smaller carbon footprint. Beginning this year, the company started powering some of our trucks in the Pacific Northwest with natural gas recovered from landfills.

Over the past two decades, Waste Management has spent $600 million to advance garbage-to-energy technologies. We have invested in and incubated dozens of innovative processes. As an example, we are now partnering with local governments and businesses to make food waste part of our future energy mix.

That’s not to say that there aren’t still hurdles to overcome. Most of the emerging technologies are still prohibitively expensive. There are also challenges in scaling up processes. A technology that works at a pilot test site may prove unreliable and even generate negative environmental impacts when scaled up to meet the needs of an entire community or region.

Still, as we celebrate Earth Day and what we’ve accomplished, let’s also look for new ways technology can bring us together. Let’s turn our trash into a valuable, renewable energy resource.

Michelle Metzler is Waste Management’s team leader for public education and outreach.

More in Opinion

On the more subtle forms of discrimination | Guest editorial

By Kathy Lambert Many people are speaking out about inappropriate physical contact… Continue reading

Standing tall behind our reporting and writing | Editorial

This is not an easy job. We don’t wave a magic wand… Continue reading

Emerald Heights concerns | Letter

Emerald Heights concerns The Emerald Heights concerns recently addressed in the Redmond… Continue reading

Michelle Metzler
‘Tis the season for sustainability | Guest Column

Ready or not, the holidays are here! That means it’s time for… Continue reading

Unanimity rarely results in good outcomes | Letter

I agree with Redmond City Council member Hank Myers’ letter that the… Continue reading

Couple doesn’t see officers writing traffic citations | Letter

My husband and I live in unincorporated King County. We drive to… Continue reading

Democracy’s cornerstone: a free press | Letter

Every time Trump proclaims something as “fake news,” he is attacking truth… Continue reading

Stop Interstate 405 tolls | Letter

Vast gloomy skies greet thousands of white exhaust clouds. A sea of… Continue reading

Concerned citizens desire democratic, transparent NAFTA negotiations | Letter

Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is underway. Concerned… Continue reading

Competitive elections are essential to properly operate city government | Letter

With city council elections over, I would like to thank Redmond citizens… Continue reading

Kids need good influences | Letter

Regarding “Kids in King County Jail are punished harshly for pranks and… Continue reading

Promises kept: Reflecting on 45 years of serving our community | Health Column

By Bob Malte Forty-five years ago, the founders of EvergreenHealth made a… Continue reading