Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson recently announced increased efforts to divert more city garbage away from landfills and into bio-energy plants that create compost. These plants use anaerobic digestion to process plant and food waste into methane gas and compost.
Vancouver hopes to divert up to 70% of waste into recycling and waste-to-energy plants by 2015, resulting in a major reduction in garbage sent to landfills.
Many companies and municipalities are getting involved as the economic and environmental implications become clear. There is money to be made and saved turning waste into bio-energy, fuel and compost. Some of the methane is to be burned to make electricity but Surrey plans to use the methane to power city trucks.
This is a far better plan than simply building a giant incinerator and burning all the trash.
Some companies are now developing technology that turns plastic back into oil.
The city of Whitehorse in the Yukon has north America's first plastic to oil machine, purchased for $200,000 with help from the federal government. The technology can convert 1 kg of plastic into 1 liter of synthetic diesel. It is estimated that the people of Whitehorse throw away 900,000 kilograms of plastic every year. If they could process all of it, that would be be almost a million liters of diesel produced each year. There really is money to be made processing trash into cash.
Each year cities must process millions of liter's of sewage before releasing it back into the environment.
This sewage processing consumes lots of energy which costs money, now several companies are developing technology to make money from human waste.
Some of these processes turn the sewage into bio-gas, others turn it into bio-diesel, while some are using advanced fuel cell technology to turn it directly into electricity.
All of these new sewage processing technologies generate income through the byproducts created from the sewage that is otherwise wasted. Bio-diesel, methane gas and electricity all have value and can be used to pay for the technology and the ongoing operating costs, unlike current systems which use lots of electricity but return no other value than clean water.
These new waste processing technologies are what cities need to adopt in order to create sustainable systems that minimize human impact on the environment and use the waste itself to pay for the processing, then it is truly sustainable.