Finding Money in the Trash – Creating Energy from Waste

by Alison Lueders, Great Green Editing

Too often, people think that adopting sustainable practices means giving something up. That’s not necessarily the case.  Take, for example, the process of turning waste into energy.

Waste is a big problem – everywhere. Trash, garbage – that stuff you put out at the curb that magically disappears – has traditionally gone into landfills. Aside from being less-than-lovely, landfills also emit greenhouse gases, mostly methane. According to the EPA, landfills are the third largest, human-related source of methane in the US, accounting for 17% of all methane emissions in 2009.

Many companies now focus on creating less waste to begin with, both to save money and to protect the environment. But we are far from a “zero waste” society, and finding alternatives to landfills will remain an opportunity for some time to come.

If ever there was a win-win scenario, using waste to create energy is it. Waste Management (WM), America’s largest trash company, recognizes that “Picking up and disposing of peoples’ waste is not going to be the way this company survives long term. Our opportunities all arise from the sustainability movement.”

So WM nurtures a portfolio of small waste-to-energy companies – like Fulcrum Bioenergy – that process household garbage into transportation fuels. And it runs companies like Wheelabrator McKay Bay, here in Tampa, that process municipal waste into electricity. The plant’s capacity is not huge – enough to power about 12,000 homes. But it demonstrates the principal of creating cost-effective renewable energy while reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills.

May we all make like Waste Management – and find profitable business opportunities in the sustainability movement.