Thou Shalt Consider the Life Cycle

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The last of the commandments is that life cycle economic, environmental, and energy costs must be considered when decisions are made for the management of municipal solid waste. If

'Chlorinated dioxin has 72 isomers that vary in the number of chlorine atoms and their placement in the molecule. 2,3,7,8-Tetradibenzodioxin is the most dangerous of the chlorinated dioxin molecules. The next most significant molecule is 100 times less dangerous. Further, dioxin is degraded by sunlight, with concentrations dropping below detection limits in 6-8 hr.

Table 5 Energy to Remanufacture Versus Fuel Energy [mJ/kg (Btu/lb)]

Energy to manufacture

Energy saved in remanufacture

Fuel energy

Paper Newsprint Cardboard Boxboard Plastic Steel

Aluminum Glass

there is one thing to remember, it is that everything goes somewhere. For energy, economics, and the environment, we must think in very broad terms. Few understood when very tall smoke stacks were constructed on electric generation plants in the Ohio River valley to disperse pollution as far as possible, that those plants would be later found to be responsible for acid gas depositions on the east coast and in Canada. We must honor all of our environment and not just the part in our backyard.

There's a significant energy supply and a significant energy demand reduction opportunity available to the nation. Supply and demand are not opposites; they are complements. Both must be pursued. Experience is proving that the use of waste as fuel and as a raw material are complementary. Introducing both into the solid waste management system improves each. Removing grass and other wet yard waste for composting and cans and bottles for recycling actually improves combustion. Where there are recycling and energy markets for paper and plastic, the recovery for both uses is enhanced. The construction of oversized energy plants seen in the late 1970s has not been repeated, and the conflict between energy and recycling does not exist.

Table 5 summarizes energy values. Should we burn all our waste? No. Should we burn some of our waste? Yes. Should we recycle all of our waste? No. Should we recycle what we can? Yes. Can we do without a landfill? No. The most useful system combines the advantages of use as fuel and use as raw material to minimize discards.

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