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Zapping garbage can’t hold a candle for now to landfill at Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, City Hall on March 19, 2008 at 12:30 am

It’s unclear how much if any discussion would have taken place about zapping garbage in Cedar Rapids and Linn County in recent years if the city and county could have found a new landfill site without an ordeal that stretched over nearly nine years, at much cost of time, money, energy and emotion.

Finally, at the end of 2005, the cities of Cedar Rapids and Marion and the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency Board brokered a deal that permitted the expansion of the agency’s landfill north of Marion. The agreement came with an understanding that the communities and board would continue to explore technological options to placing garbage in landfills so that by the time the present landfill is full it won’t need to be expanded again.

On Tuesday, though, a Minnesota consultant advised the solid waste agency board to embrace its landfill for now while taking a “wait and see” approach for up to five years on a variety of waste-to-energy technologies, many of which have not proven viable to date in the United States.

Employing any of six alternative technologies — which heat, burn, gasify, zap or otherwise manhandle garbage and turn it into energy — would cost those dumping garbage at the landfill here four to five times as much as now, Curtis Hartog, a senior technical consultant with Foth Infrastructure & Environment LLC, Lake Elmo, Minn., told the solid waste agency board on Tuesday.

Many of those haulers would simply go to other landfills elsewhere in Iowa or Illinois if the local agency tried to raise fees in such fashion to employ new technology, Hartog said.

“Considering the relatively low tipping fees for landfills in Linn County and the region, it is unlikely an alternative technology could be developed by the (Cedar Rapids/Linn County agency) unless some form of flow control was enacted to ensure waste deliveries to the plant,” Hartog concluded in his report Tuesday to the agency.

One of the six technologies he studied, plasma arc, has been of particular interest to some in Marion and elsewhere in the metro area, and Charlie Kress, Marion’s representative on the solid waste board, is an advocate of the technology. 

Hartog put the cost to garbage haulers at $100 to $150 a ton to build a plasma arc facility in Linn County, where the solid-waste agency’s current per-ton fee to haulers is $23.42 plus additional costs to pay for the agency’s recycling and composting operations.

Kress told the board that Hartog’s numbers were too high for plasma arc. But Tom Podzimek, board chairman and a Cedar Rapids City Council member, and board member Pat Ball, the city of Cedar Rapids’ utility director, called Hartog’s number “a real number” based on a working plant in Japan. Kress disputed the suggestion his own numbers were speculation.

Many of the examples cited by Hartog of current waste-to-energy alternatives for garbage were in more-densely-populated Japan and Europe where per-ton fees for garbage can be five to 10 times as high as the fee at the Cedar Rapids/Linn County agency, he noted.

The City and County of Los Angeles is looking at the technology, but he noted that the per-ton fee there is five times what it is locally. Two cities in Florida also are exploring options, but they can’t bury trash in the ground because the groundwater table is so near the surface, Hartog said.

He told the board to continue to keep its eyes on plasma arc projects in St. Lucie County, Fla., and Ottawa, Canada.   

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