At a recent Border 2020 conference held in Tijuana, Mexico, Barnes Johnson, Deputy Director of the EPA’s Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation (OSRTI), noted a very distinct difference between recycling and fuel blending/energy recovery.
What’s the difference?
When an unwanted byproduct that is created from a manufacturing or other process, the recycling goal is to keep that product being used for its intended purpose.
A simplified explanation would be…if you typically only print on one side of a sheet of paper and then dispose of it in a container that is destined for landfill, you have ended the usable life of that sheet of the paper.
If you instead turn that sheet of paper over and print on the other side, you have just doubled the life of that sheet of paper by recycling it. If after you have used both sides of the paper you send it to a facility that will convert its thermal properties to some form of energy, you have utilized recycling and energy recovery.
That’s true recycling!
Looking at it from a manufacturing point of view, if you have a manufacturing process that utilizes acetone to clean assembly parts, the acetone eventually breaks down and becomes spent with oil and other contaminants. The spent acetone has become a manufacturing byproduct.
The disposal of this byproduct now becomes an issue. Sending the acetone across the United States for H061 fuel blending generates a huge carbon footprint and misses a real recycling opportunity.
If instead, you recover the acetone by distillation, the acetone goes back into industry for its intended purpose.
If recycling is not available because you have some electro plating waste that contains cadmium, chrome or other metals in <1% quantities, the value of the metals is not worth the cost of extraction. The next best option is energy recovery. Energy recovery seeks to extract the available BTU or heat value from the unwanted byproduct and use the heat value to derive an immediate benefit.
As is the case with certain recycling plants, the immediate benefit is the production of steam that is used to power recovery stills. Using steam instead of propane or natural gas provides a cost benefit, but also prevents the extensive use of a natural resource.
Both types of recycling are good. Recycle first and then recover energy. If the process of recycling is not a viable option for items such as rags and debris, since there is no liquid to recover, then going straight to energy recovery is the best option.