In Brief / en bref...

  • Congratulations to the Rich Earth Institute (REI) and lead author Abe Noe-Hays for an article on their Brattleboro, VT – based urine diversion program and research that appeared in WEF’s Water Environment & Technology this month.  NEBRA has been following REI's work for a couple of years and supports the concept of urine diversion as having the potential to provide a cost-effective way to capture and recycle to soils the nitrogen and phosphorus in human excreta.  REI is conducting research on the potential with support from the WERF, and that research includes evaluation of the fate of traces of pharmaceuticals land applied in diverted urine.

  • Two wood-to-energy plants in Maine will close in March, according to an online WasteDive report.  Covanta, the owner of the plants, cites low energy prices as the driver behind the closures.  The impacts of these plant closures will be lost jobs, not only at the plants, but in the forest products industry that provides them wood-chip fuel.  The closures will also affect the market for wood ash, a by-product of wood-to-energy operations that is a widely-used, recycled soil amendment that increases soil pH.  
  • Food scraps & other organic "wastes" are a tough market, subject to wild swings in supply and demand and pricing. Bans on landfilling food scraps and other organics - as in MA and VT - have created challenging changes in their value and management.  And incentives for increased anaerobic digestion and composting capacity have only added to the confusing pressures regarding the best and highest recycling options for organics.  Those investing in new capacity or facilities to recycle organics are faced with great uncertainty regarding the future cost and availability of organics. And a recent WasteDive article notes yet another factor that further reduces their confidence in future supplies of organics: efforts, led by EPA, to keep food waste from occurring.
  • Philadelphia is now requiring new home construction to include installation of in-sink food disposers that grind food scraps and send them into the wastewater collection and treatment system, according to recent news reports.  InSinkErator (a NEBRA member) has encouraged cities to adopt this technology, arguing that it is more efficient than consumer separation of food scraps and curbside collection for recycling via anaerobic digestion or composting.  Philadelphia's decision follows a pilot study in one Philadelphia neighborhood.  In contrast to Philadelphia's new direction, some cities argue adamantly for curbside collection of food scraps, and there has been some opposition in Philadelphia.  The debate is likely to continue for some time.  An important assumption in the arguments supporting use of in-sink food disposers is that the receiving treatment plant must treat solids by anaerobic digestion, utilize the biogas produced, and recycle the resulting biosolids to soils.  Many cities do not have these systems, and, in those locales, food scrap management via disposers would likely be less environmentally friendly than curbside collection and recycling via composting or anaerobic digestion.