Issues pertaining to waste were covered in Curbed, a part of New York magazine, as part of their ‘Hot Garbage Month’ (August 2022). From this article series, Professor Castaldi consulted on and was quoted in an article that the captures the waste issues in NYC quite accurately. This article also includes many other experts and practitioners in the waste management area that clearly have extensive knowledge and practical experience trying to sustainably manage the trash NYC citizens produce every day. The full article can be found here: https://www.curbed.com/2022/08/nyc-trash-landfill-incineration-recycling-compost-voyage-gross.html.
Professor Castaldi, in collaboration with former CCL and EEC alumnus Jeffrey LeBlanc, publish in Mechanical Engineering Magazine (Waste to Energy as a Substitute for Landfills – ASME) on the attributes of waste to energy for sustainable waste management. The article was also co-authored by Mr. Tony Licata, Fellow ASME. That publication resulted in the interest of other articles (Sustainable Plastics) that cite some of the main benefits.
CNBC offers coverage of the various waste management strategies in California, highlighting, in particular, Waste to Energy. The video features technical experts in the field including Susan Thorneloe of the U.S. Environmental Protection agency (who has published policy analysis work such as “Is It Better To Burn or Bury Waste for Clean Electricity Generation?”), and Professor Marco J. Castaldi of CCNY.
Viewers get an inside look at a Covanta Waste to Energy facility, the Stanislaus Resource Recovery Facility, that operates at net energy output of 20 megawatts and takes in nearly 30,000 tons of waste annually. This capaicity is sufficient to power approximately 18,000 homes.
When asked about the relative merits between landfill and Waste to Energy, Susan Thorneloe pointed to the merits of Wate to Energy being the extraction of the energy value from the waste, the metal recovery, and the avoidance of methane that is produced in the landfill alternative scenario.
A recent guest opinion piece in The Post-Standard newspaper (web address syracuse.com) discussed advanced recycling of plastics. That article can be found here. In an effort to disseminate accurate scientific and engineering information, Professor Marco J. Castaldi has written a letter to the editor in response to the original opinion, specifically drawing distinction between various technologies which are sometimes conflated, misunderstood, and/or mischaracterized. The full text of this letter is reprinted immediately below.
To the Editor:
Recent op-ed writers went to great lengths to mischaracterize emergent technologies that are developing to manage nearly 90% of plastics that do not get recycled today (”Plastic burning ‘has no place in climate-forward NY’ (Guest Opinion by Judith Enck and Tok M. Oyewole),” March 14, 2022).
Advanced recycling technologies focus on hard-to-recycle plastics such as flexible pouches, films and tubes, converting them back into their raw materials to be used to make new plastics. This process allows plastics to be recycled each time a product is disposed by the consumer.
The writers call this “burning,” which is completely incorrect. Their characterization represents a clear misunderstanding of technologies and thermodynamic principles. Typical advanced recycling technologies operate with no oxygen or air to convert post-use plastics to a liquid or gaseous state. Incineration destroys waste materials by burning, without recovering energy or materials. This is entirely different from advanced recycling.
Advanced recycling technologies today are being deployed by both large plastics companies and multiple entrepreneurial enterprises to “remake” once non-recyclable plastics. These technologies will divert non-recycled plastics from landfills and the environment.
Advanced recycling enables the creation of new plastics from used plastics, displacing the need to extract fossil feedstock. Importantly, they operate like other manufacturing facilities, subject to federal, state and local regulations. A recent study found air emissions from a typical advanced recycling facility to be roughly the same as familiar facilities such as hospitals, universities and food manufacturers.
Innovative technologies need time to mature and often are confused with existing ones, and the op-ed authors have added to that confusion. It is not helpful when mischaracterizations and poor understanding are disseminated. As New York state considers how to recover its non-recycled plastics, it would be sensible to listen to scientists and engineers who understand advanced plastics recycling technologies.
Marco J. Castaldi, Ph.D.
Director, Earth System Science and Environmental Engineering Program
The City College of New York
New York City
The Sustainably Speaking podcast series hosted by Joshua Baca from America’s Plastic Makers features conversations with key figures, including those in industry, government, academia, and the consumer circle, who are helping to create a more sustainable future. Episode 7 features Rice University’s Dr. Rachel Meidl and CCNY’s Dr. Marco Castaldi as they dive into the science behind advanced recycling. The podcast episode, titled Advanced Recycling: Combining Science and Sustainability, can be heard here.
Updated July 27, 2021
You may recall that we postponed our Fall 2020 EEC/WTERT bi-Annual Conference to this coming Fall 2021. Since that postponement there have been a few developments that require us to again postpone our meeting to Fall 2022. Currently, there is no firm new date but we are excited to share that the conference will occur in the Fall of 2022 as an in-person event. We have delayed this decision for as long as possible to incorporate the most updated and current information. New York has recently lifted all COVID-19 restrictions across all commercial and social settings, and several large (>800 people) events are set to take place here in NYC in the near future. We will monitor these upcoming events to provide us with some insight on the ability and willingness of people to travel and interact with colleagues from around the world. City College is also set to go to an in-person course structure for the upcoming school year, and by the end of Fall 2021 we will know how well that performed.
In addition, there have been some recent developments in the U.S. regarding interest in using MSW for energy and materials recovery. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has announced funding to several teams focused on advancing waste-to-energy technology. These teams are a part of ARPA-E’s Monetizing Innovative Disposal Applications and Solutions (MIDAS) and Waste into X (WiX) topics. MIDAS teams are developing technologies for the recovery and reclamation of critical materials (CMs) and other valuable elements from Municipal Solid Waste Incineration (MSWI). WiX projects are working to advance the improvement of the physical or chemical properties of MSWI ash into valuable products. Additional information on these projects can be found on the ARPA-E website. Similar efforts are also being developed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO). These projects are just getting underway this year; therefore, we anticipate that our postponement will yield some abstract submissions from that program enabling us to expand the presentation and networking.
Finally, we are committed to ensure that we can have the international participation that our conference normally enjoys. For example, in 2018 there were a total of 12 countries represented that spanned several time zones (Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Korea, Sudan, UK and US). Additionally, an important component of our conference is the person-to-person interaction that allows attendees to make new connections and collaborations that normally would not occur in other settings. That interaction cannot happen in a virtual environment and the spontaneous discussions on the scientific topics also cannot occur via an on-line format.
Therefore, please look toward to Fall 2022 to be in New York City for the bi-annual EEC/WTERT conference. We will have a new call for abstracts and will provide updated information throughout the year.
The EEC Team
The latest publishing by Dr. Marco J. Castaldi has received wide news coverage for providing the most up-to-date scientific data on waste-to-energy technologies. The report provides an extensive repository of data on waste-to-energy research which can be used to understand and contextualize the complex life cycle of municipal solid waste, as well as to determine the evidence based benefits of waste-to-energy. This report was covered by News 12 Long Island’s Geoff Bansen, found here. For more information about this important topic, please read the original report at this link.
Anna Naumova is an undergraduate student at the City College of New York and is graduating in Spring 2021 from the mechanical engineering program. She was awarded the Floyd Hasselriis Educational Support for her interest and work in solid waste management at the Earth Engineering Center (EEC|CCNY). Anna was involved in work investigating methods of repurposing ash coming from Waste-to-Energy plants into a product for the construction market.
Professor Castaldi has been interviewed on some of the thermal conversion aspects related to waste film plastic. EEC has done some research in the past related to non-recycled plastic waste and recently focused on film plastic (i.e. wrapping, flexible contaniers, etc) demonstrating that thermal conversion processes are likely the best technology for treating that stream thus diverting from landfills. For example, The range for the lower heating value for plastic waste was experimentally determined by EEC|CCNY to be between 22.9 and 41.0 MJ/kg (19.7-35.3 MMBtu/ton). Evan after long term exposure the original heating value was reduced by less than 5% making thermal conversion technologies well-positioned to recover the inherent energy and residual metals. Please see the excellent article done by Karine Vann of Waste Dive (The unfulfilled promises of plastic film recycling | Waste Dive)