I wrote recently about the folly of shipping hundreds of thousands of tons of Hawaiian garbage to landfills in central Washington. I wrote that the low cost – $99 per 100,000 tons, enables what is so clearly the unsustainable lifestyle that so many of us on this planet live. There are other issues – the garbage is shrink-wrapped, as if this will somehow prevent transmission of non-native species. As readers pointed out, excess packaging creates excess trash. And in that piece, I mentioned that Seattleites, not just Honolulu residents, must feel this pain, because our garbage also is shipped out of our backyard – not by barge, but by rail, to central Oregon, where it is piled in someone else’s big empty backyard.
Some good news is emerging from that big empty backyard this week. Turns out that methane gas created as garbage decomposes is being created for domestic use at half the cost of wind power and being sold back to Seattle from the same landfill in Oregon.
The energy plant in Arlington, Ore., where Seattle sends about 400,000 tons of trash each year, provides Seattle about 5.78 average megawatts – enough to power 5,625 homes, writes Emily Heffter in the Seattle Times. The energy produced costs half as much as wind power. What’s more, the city expects to be producing more renewable energy in this manner. By early 2012, writes Larry Lange in seattlepi.com, the city expects to begin using power produced from its West Point sewage treatment plant, where it will build another generator.
The effort is part of how the city is meeting the goals of Initiative 937, which requires that large utilities get 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. This is gas that previously just leaked out and was was burned off, Heffter writes.
In the past, the landfill burned off the methane produced by decomposing garbage. Now the methane is captured and piped to a plant where it powers combustion engines that generate electricity
It’s an important first step in turning around a process that began 19 years ago when Seattle first began sending trash to Oregon. The 700-acre Columbia Ridge Landfill in Arlington gets about 2 million tons of trash a year from Washington and Oregon.
Feel good, but not too good. It’s also important to interrupt that stream, to intervene before those rail cars leave Seattle or the barges leave Honolulu. The more each of us recycles and keeps material out of those rail cars, the better. The less packaging on the stuff we buy, the better. The less we buy, the better. And so on. But if we can burn a little of the methane and heat a home instead of burning that methane off just to get rid of it, yeah, I’m for that.
— Rita Hibbard