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Apples and oranges: comparing waste management technologies



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Decision-makers often face old, incomplete, or conflicting data when asked to evaluate waste management options. Here are some things to look for to ensure fair and equitable assessments that lead to better decisions.

Apples and oranges: comparing waste management technologies

  1. 1. How to compare apples to oranges when evaluating choices for organic waste management
  2. 2. Apples and oranges are both classified as fruit, but the similarities end there.
  3. 3. Management technologies for organic waste are much the same.
  4. 4. There’s a lot of noise these days about “waste-to-energy” or WTE.
  5. 5. But, the truth is, every mainstream option for organic waste management can be used to generate electricity. Landfill + gas recovery to electricity WTE/Incineration to electricity Anaerobic digestion + gas recovery to electricity Composting + heat recovery to electricity
  6. 6. Some just make more economic and/or environmental sense than others.
  7. 7. When trying to decide on the best technology, the key is to balance dollars and benefits.
  8. 8. Thanks to the internet, the depth of readily available research and statistical data is vast.
  9. 9. But that’s where the difficulty lies.
  10. 10. The use of old data can be just as misleading as faux research.
  11. 11. Even recent studies can be based on old and outdated data sources,
  12. 12. antiquated technologies,
  13. 13. statistically-flawed or intentionally-misleading research,
  14. 14. modeling or bench-scale studies,
  15. 15. or other factors that present a distorted view of current realities..
  16. 16. Recent research can be based on layers of older studies stretching back 20 years or more. 1996 1999 2003 2005 2009 2011 2012 2016 Referenced study dated 2018
  17. 17. While the results of some older research may be just as valid now as when new,
  18. 18. others won’t reflect a picture of the real world as it exists today.
  19. 19. Computer modeling, bench-scale studies and other research conducted outside of actual field conditions may not be realistic, either, because they might not produce the same results under full-scale operations.
  20. 20. Presentation can also influence your perception of research findings.
  21. 21. This chart looks like there’s a big difference between the orange and green bars. 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 This one? Not so much.
  22. 22. Yet, both present the same information. 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
  23. 23. When your consultant hands you the results of a feasibility study, the report can be overwhelming. But there are a few things to look for that will help separate wheat from chaff:
  24. 24. • Disclose funding sources • Base findings and recommendations on -- ✓ Recent research ✓ Statistically-representative data ✓ Science, not opinions • Base cost projections on modern, full-scale operations using state-of-the-art systems of the type under consideration • Adjust out-dated numbers for inflation when current figures are not available Give preference to findings from studies that –
  25. 25. Technically sound Proven technology for MSW management Long-term operations at scale Economically sensible Competitive capital cost per ton of capacity Competitive O&M cost per ton processed Profitable Environmentally preferred Reduces greenhouse gases Protects surface/groundwater Mitigates odors Recycles organic matter back to the soil Give preference to solutions that are –
  26. 26. Look for these benchmarks when comparing systems: • Capital cost per ton of capacity • Annual O&M per ton processed • Energy cost per ton processed • Energy value per ton processed when sold • Net energy consumption/output NOTE: All energy should be converted to the same equivalent units (ex: Btu to kWh) for calculating dollar values
  27. 27. Insist on a level playing field for the most accurate assessment.
  28. 28. Of the most common waste management options ... • Anaerobic digestion • High-rate composting • Landfill • WTE/incineration
  29. 29. Fluidized bed High-rate composting Pyrolysis Anaerobic digestion Thermal Landfill with gas recovery RDF Conventional gasification Mass burn Plasma arc only one will hit all marks for economy, efficiency, and organic matter recycling:
  30. 30. LEARN MORE Browse additional PPT and blog titles about recycling urban organics here. CREDITS Production costs for this title were underwritten by McGill. Its use is permitted for educational purposes if presented in its entirety and without editing or other alteration. ©McGill Environmental Systems of N.C. Inc. Questions? Call McGill HQ at 919-362-1161 or use a contact form at