The conversation we need to have about Fiberight

By Shelby D. Wright

Most Mainers don’t question what happens after they put their trash and recycling on the curb or drop it off at the transfer station. At the Maine Resource Recovery Association, however, fostering professional solid waste management practices in the recycling and solid waste arena is the subject of daily conversation.

And lately, that conversation is about the proposed Fiberight project.

For years, we’ve discussed how to get Maine’s stagnant recycling rate moving forward in a cost-effective way. Communities across Maine have instituted programs such as Pay as You Throw, local transfer stations have compost programs for food and yard waste and curbside food waste pick-up is available in some areas, but still, for all of our best efforts, we as a state, can’t seem to get past a 40 percent recycling rate.

As a solid waste professional, nothing is more frustrating than looking at a transfer station’s waste stream and seeing, at a glance, that the majority of “waste” is not waste at all, but recyclable, recoverable material; if only we could find a new way, a new cost-effective technology to save Maine communities money by diverting recoverable waste from a landfill and help Maine reach its recycling goal.

Now, Maine has the rare opportunity to see this as reality, if we are willing to support the plan to get us there. The fate of this possible reality lies in the hands of the 187 towns that make up the Municipal Review Committee (MRC) as they decide what to do in 2018 when existing contracts expire with the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC).

The MRC has a history of working for the exclusive benefit of its members to provide unbiased and comprehensive representation in the matters of solid waste management. It has dedicated eight years of research, risk analysis and technical knowledge vetting numerous alternatives to ensure the best interests of its member communities are well protected. It chooses Fiberight as the best alternative.

An environmentally sound option, the MRC’s Fiberight project, coupled with existing local programs, may well be how we finally reach 50 percent recycling, as Fiberight’s technology supports Maine’s solid waste hierarchy to a much greater extent than any system proposed thus far in the state of Maine.

It does this by supporting local recycling and existing infrastructure by providing a new regional single sort recycling facility.

Additionally, the Fiberight process provides a second pass at household waste for recoverable recyclables, expecting to recover an additional 20 percent by weight as commodities that are currently incinerated. This process ensures capture of resources left behind by even the very best local recycling programs while further exceeding current recovery and recycling strategies by capturing and managing virtually 100 percent of the organics left in the waste stream and converting those food wastes into biogas.

Moreover, the process takes diversion further with the addition of an enzymatic hydrolysis process that will recover insoluble organics as short-chained sugars, which initially will be turned back toward biogas production. This product can be used as fuel for transportation, heat and electrical production.

While some promote large-scale composting of food wastes, it is MRRA’s experience that, at best, standalone composting solutions would capture only a portion of these materials and require significant local investment. Such programs are quite suitable for our neighbors in southern Maine, where curbside pickup is more appropriate, but less so in the more rural areas of our region.

MRRA believes that with a project such as the proposed MRC/Fiberight facility in place, beneficial spin-offs will facilitate a higher standard and more profitability for Maine in the areas of waste tire, textile and glass/mineral management, among others, as these materials are separated from the waste stream early and aimed at various markets other than incinerated or landfilled.

MRRA encourages MRC’s member communities to consider this as a rare opportunity to move Maine forward with a new and cutting-edge solid waste management facility. With increased education, strengthened existing recycling and composting programs, Fiberight can serve to be the added boost to facilitate a mission that MRRA shares with many in the state — to reach our as yet unreachable goal of recycling 50 percent of waste.

That’s the conversation we all want to have.

Shelby D. Wright is director of communications and development for the Maine Resource Recovery Association.

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