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
How to compare apples
choices for organic
Apples and oranges are both
classified as fruit, but the
similarities end there.
Management technologies for organic
waste are much the same.
There’s a lot of noise these days
about “waste-to-energy” or WTE.
But, the truth is, every mainstream
option for organic waste
management can be used to
Landfill + gas recovery to electricity
WTE/Incineration to electricity
Anaerobic digestion + gas recovery to electricity
Composting + heat recovery to electricity
Some just make
sense than others.
When trying to decide on the
best technology, the key is to
balance dollars and benefits.
Thanks to the internet, the depth
of readily available research and
statistical data is vast.
or other factors that present a
distorted view of current realities..
Recent research can be based on layers
of older studies stretching back 20 years
or more. 1996
While the results of
some older research
may be just as valid
now as when new,
others won’t reflect a picture of the
real world as it exists today.
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
Presentation can also influence your
perception of research findings.
This chart looks like
there’s a big difference
between the orange
and green bars.
Not so much.
Yet, both present the same information.
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
• 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 –
Proven technology for MSW management
Long-term operations at scale
Competitive capital cost per ton of capacity
Competitive O&M cost per ton processed
Reduces greenhouse gases
Recycles organic matter back to the soil
Give preference to solutions
that are –
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
Insist on a level playing field for
the most accurate assessment.
Of the most common waste
management options ...
• Anaerobic digestion
• High-rate composting
only one will hit all marks for economy,
efficiency, and organic matter recycling: