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How do they recycle in New Jersey?

A couple of times recently I’ve touched on the issue of definitions in the waste industry, and how things might not always be how they initially seem. In the US, the New Jersey state legislature recently passed a new bill to deal with the state’s food waste. Under it, any establishment generating more than 52 tonnes of food waste per year will have to send this waste to an ‘authorised food waste recycling facility’. The only exception would be if the waste generator is not within 25 miles of such a facility.

The above probably conjures up images of anaerobic digesters and the like, and indeed these do form one type of authorised recycling facility. However, the legislation also mandates other types of disposal. Landfill sites are also acceptable, as long as they have gas collection facilities for the purpose of electricity generation. Also included are waste incineration facilities, with the proviso that these begin using anaerobic digestion methods within four years. Here then is another great example of the problem of defining anything in the waste industry, where New Jersey has created an extremely wide definition of ‘recycling’ indeed.

Whatever their merits, it’s unlikely that either landfill or incineration would be high on most people’s list when it comes to recycling. Indeed, recycling campaigners have criticised the bill for failing to promote recycling, in favour of established methods of waste disposal. Why the dispensation for incineration in the bill, given that it isn’t widely-adopted in the US? Well, New Jersey is one of the few US states to make much of WtE incineration; Covanta has its headquarters in the state and operates three WtE facilities there, at Camden, Newark and North Rahway. None of these currently operate anaerobic digestion facilities.

In the case of landfill, these sites are publicly-operated in New Jersey, and there seems to be a reluctance to lose tonnage throughput. This is quite the opposite of the situation in Western Europe or China, where landfills are either full and/or being phased out. Is landfill a better alternative to AD/biogas when dealing with food and other organic waste? I don’t think it’s an argument you will hear made in the UK or Europe. Maybe things just are different in the US, which has plenty of open space for landfill.

AcuComm currently lists 17 active waste sector projects in New Jersey. These are worth a total estimated US$846 million, or US$50 million each. Seven of these, valued at US$172 million, are principally classed as recycling. AcuComm classes WtE and landfill separately! These account for 16% and 6% of new project investment respectively, since 2013. Check all the projects out here.

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