As electronic devices are becoming faster, smaller and cheaper, many consumers are opting to scrap their old, outdated computers and televisions for the latest technologies. But as a recent report shows, as people throw out these products, a new legacy of waste is piling up. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erika Johnson reports:
As electronic devices are becoming faster, smaller and cheaper, many consumers are opting to
scrap their old, outdated computers and televisions for the latest technologies. But as a recent
report shows, as people throw out these products, a new legacy of waste is piling up. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erika Johnson reports:
Electronic waste – or e-waste – is what ends up in landfills when people throw away electronic
devices such as computer monitors and television sets. The report by the Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition tracked the amount of e-waste that ends up in landfills. Researchers found there’s more
e-waste than waste from beverage containers and disposable diapers. Electronic products can
threaten human health because they contain toxic heavy metals.
Sheila Davis headed up the Coalition’s report:
“People are starting to sit up and take notice and especially when you start having large volumes
of the material. So many states are taking notice. For example, California, Massachusetts,
Minnesota and Maine have all banned these products from landfills, e-waste from landfills.”
Yet Davis says many people in other states end up pitching their used electronics because many
recycling programs are often inconvenient and expensive.
But for now, Davis suggests people contact their local governments for more information on
where to take their used electronics.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erika Johnson.
A company in the Great Lakes region wants to convert trash into fuel. You might have heard of plants that burn garbage to create energy. But this plant is different. This plant would convert organic trash into ethanol. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
A company in the Great Lakes region wants to convert trash into fuel. You might have
heard of plants that burn garbage to create energy. But this plant is different. This plant
would convert organic trash into ethanol. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie
The walls of Genahol, Inc., are covered with pictures of Donald Bogner’s wife and
children. Bogner is a ruddy-looking man with a friendly attitude. He’s the kind of guy
who likes to get things done. He started Genahol seven years ago, with the idea that he
could turn paper, leaves, and grass clippings into fuel.
“The green waste is such a problem, because, what do you do with it? Well, you chop it
up, you mix manure with it, you package it, and sooner or later you finally say, hey, I
can’t sell this stuff.”
Bogner says Genahol can make fuel out nearly any plant material. A lot of green waste
winds up in landfills. But Bogner patented a new kind of process. It converts green and
paper waste to sugar, distills the sugar into alcohol and transforms the alcohol into
ethanol. Until now, ethanol has usually been made from corn or other grains. Bogner
says they’ve been surprised by how many products they can re-use to make ethanol.
Anything from stale beer, to old perfume, or factory-rejected candy…
“You just can’t imagine the volume when you start talking about Christmas candy canes.
And a bad batch of candy canes may be three million candy canes that a producer has to
destroy because they came out wrong in a batch or whatever. So, you know, three
million candy canes (laughs).”
If a Genahol facility is built, Bogner says it could convert anywhere from one hundred to
one-thousand tons of waste per day and make up to three million gallons of ethanol a
year. As long as the selling price of ethanol remains over a dollar a gallon, Bogner says
Genahol can make money. But he needs a deal. He needs a city that’s willing to let him
sort through the trash. It should be an easy sell, he says, because cities could save landfill
space and get a cut of the profits from ethanol sales.
“The hardest sell right now is that we cannot right now take them to a facility and show
them ethanol coming out of a spigot.”
And that’s the problem not only with Genahol, but with other companies that want to
convert waste to ethanol. Their ideas are theoretical. But Bogner says things are about to
change for Genahol. He’s negotiating a contract with the Solid Waste Authority of
Central Ohio, known as SWACO. It is in charge of trash in Columbus and owns one of
the largest public landfills in the country. Executive Director Mike Long is interested in
“We are always looking for new methods, cost effective methods to reduce, reuse and
recycle the waste stream to reduce reliance on landfills. That is our primary purpose at
SWACO, to reduce reliance on landfills.”
SWACO already diverts yard wastes and paper from the trash stream, but there hasn’t
been much of a market for those products. That’s why Long says contracting with
Genahol makes sense.
“It’s being approached on, I think, a very conservative point of view, small scale pilot
project. Trying to minimize the risk to SWACO and the public from a financial point of
It might be a bit of a risk. SWACO and other trash managers got burned in the mid-
1990s by waste-to-energy facilities. Some plants were forced to close because they
emitted too much pollution. Genahol’s Don Bogner says the only emissions from his
plant will be carbon dioxide, which he plans to capture and sell for industrial use.
Bogner and SWACO are negotiating one of the first deals in the nation for a trash-to-
ethanol plant. Many entrepreneurs trying to sell similar ideas are having a tough time
making a deal. Monte Shaw, an ethanol industry spokesperson, says these companies
should hang on a little longer.
“It’s always harder to be first. It’s always harder to convince investors, and banks, and
government agencies, that this is going to work. ”
The government is considering tax breaks and financial assistance to encourage new
ethanol plants. One reason the government is interested is to cut dependence on foreign
oil. Another reason, is ethanol is a good replacement for MTBE in gasoline. MTBE has
been used to reduce ozone pollution, but the chemical has contaminated water supplies
and the government wants to phase it out. Don Bogner expects the move from MTBE to
increase demand for ethanol. He’s wondering if that means Genahol will be able to turn a
“That’s what my wife asks me, are we going to make money this year?”
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant in Kent.
A company in the Great Lakes region wants to convert trash into fuel. This could be one of the first plants in the nation to convert organic trash into ethanol. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
A company in the Great Lakes region wants to convert trash into fuel. This could be one
of the first plants in the nation to convert organic trash into ethanol. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant reports:
The president of Genahol, Inc., says his facilities can make fuel out of nearly any plant
material. A lot of paper, leaves, and grass clippings wind up in landfills. But Donald
Bogner patented a new kind of process. It converts green waste to sugar, distills the
sugar into alcohol and transforms the alcohol into ethanol. Ethanol is usually made from
corn or other grains. Bogner says Genahol reuses other people’s trash.
“Genahol actually receives payment for its materials. Rather than going out and having
to pay a dollar fifty to two fifty a bushel for corn or something, we actually get paid on a
tonnage basis. So it can be very, very profitable.”
No Genahol facility has yet been built. Bogner and the Solid Waste Authority of Central
Ohio are negotiating one of the first deals in the nation for a trash-to-ethanol plant.
the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant in Kent.
More and more Americans have been taking recycling seriously over the last two decades. So much so that today, the EPA says about 30% of the trash Americans produce in their homes is recycled. And the recycling rate for most Midwest states is near that average, but while the agency expects that number to continue to rise, not everyone thinks more recycling is better for the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brodie takes a look at the economics of recycling:
More and more Americans have been taking recycling seriously over the last two decades. So much so that today, the EPA says about 30 percent of the trash Americans produce in their homes is recycled. And the recycling rate for most Great Lakes states is near that average. But while the agency expects that number to continue to rise, not everyone thinks more recycling is better for the environment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brodie takes a look at the economics of recycling.
A small bulldozer collects materials that have sprawled out across the floor of this recycling center…. it then pushes the mound up against a wall. The glass and plastic pile up almost to the ceiling of the building … some ten feet in the air. Welcome to the tipping floor, where workers collect and sort recyclables from the Albany, New York area. Joe Gieblehaus is the solid waste manager for the city. He says Albany officials hope to recycle between 30 and 35 percent of the city’s waste…
“The 30 to 35 gives us I guess the best bang for our buck, basically, recycling is a situation of declining marginal returns. If we try to go after another product in the waste stream, it just costs us more money, and more money, and more money and more money. 30 to 35 seems to give us an economic benefit, the best economic benefit available.”
Albany’s recycling target is similar to that put out by the EPA… and is about the limit that one former EPA assistant administrator says is necessary. Doctor J. Winston Porter was instrumental in starting curbside recycling in the United States in the 1980’s…. but now he says people are taking a good thing too far.
“The last few years, I’ve been somewhat concerned that people are, if anything, aiming too high. You know, I set a 25% goal and there’s nothing wrong with going to 30 or 35 or 40% if you can. But I think many states have set goals of like 50% and I think what we’re doing, we’re getting into an area that’s very non-cost effective and may even hurt the environment because you’re in effect trying to use too much energy and too much processing to recycle too much trash.”
One of those states that’s right about at porter’s limit is Wisconsin. Greg Swanson of the state’s department of natural resources says Wisconsin recycles about 40 percent of its waste. He says the state’s laws call for beneficial re-use. That means the state does not want to spend more energy recycling something than it took to make it in the first place. Swanson says that makes decisions about what to recycle and what not to recycle a little easier.
“You’d like to be able to recycle everything that’s recyclable, but you have to keep in mind the political and economic realities of being able to actually do something with it once you collect it.”
Swanson says that end result is crucial for recycling programs to survive. He says Wisconsin has budgeted more than 24 million dollars for recycling programs this year. That money goes to pay for trucks, drivers, and people who sort the recyclables, among other things. If a state or city recycles something, it has to be able to sell it. If the costs of recycling are higher than the profits from selling the materials, the city or state loses money on the deal. But not everybody believes more recycling hurts the economy. Will Ferrety is the executive director of the national recycling coalition. He says the more Americans recycle, the better it is for both the environment…. and the economy.
“At its fundamental basis, recycling is helping us eliminate the notion of waste because if we can turn what would otherwise be a discarded product into a useful product, we’re making for a more efficient system.”
Ferrety says states should try and recycle as much as possible. He says it’s preferable to many of the alternatives.
“When you look at that entire system, and compare that to what I would call a one-way system where we extract resources, make a new product, use them up, and simply throw them away in a landfill, hands down, there’s less energy used, there’s fewer air pollutants, there’s fewer water pollutants that result from that recycling system when compared to that one way system.”
Among Great Lakes states, Minnesota and New York have the highest recycling rates…at more than 40 percent each of their total waste. The EPA says other Great Lakes states recycle between 20 and 29 percent. Albany, New York’s Joe Gieblehaus says even though many officials on the state and local level would like to recycle more…. the green of the environment sometimes has to take a back seat to the green in the wallet. He says the market drives decisions about whether or not to recycle something. He says the city can only recycle materials that can then be sold to offset the cost of collecting them in the first place.
“There are so few end uses to close the loop; it’s hard for us at the beginning of the loop to find a market for this material…a sustainable market for this material.”
Gieblehaus says his trucks collect about 13 thousand tons of recycled materials a year. He says that’s just enough to help keep the environment green…. without putting the city into the red. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brodie.
Throughout North America, municipalities are struggling to find ways to
dispose of their trash. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium
commentator Suzanne Elston has discovered, there is one state that’s
actually welcoming its neighbors’ garbage: