Indiana recyclers concerned that waste-burning firms could gain status as recyclers--and vie for state grants and loans they've
relied on for years--now have a potential competitor on the radar.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management confirms that at least one waste-burning firm with plans for Indianapolis has expressed interest in a $1 million Recycling Promotion and Assistance Fund loan.
Northbrook, Ill.-based PEAT International has not yet submitted an application, however, said IDEM spokeswoman Amy Hartsock.
IBJ reported last month that PEAT is negotiating for land in Indianapolis to build a facility that would use heat from a plasma arc to virtually vaporize solid materials such as medical waste.
Organic molecules would leave behind gases such as methane, which could be used to generate electricity. Inorganic molecules break down into a glassy slag that could be sold for manufacturing and for use in road building, according to the firm. The process also separates out metals for their resale potential.
IDEM officials invited PEAT last year to a meeting of the Indiana Recycling and Energy Development Board, and asked board members to consider creating a "market-driven recycling system."
Department officials told the board that, although Indiana's recycling grant and loan programs have made significant progress in diverting waste from landfills, many community-based recycling programs operate at a financial loss and rely on state funding to survive.
According to records from the meeting, IDEM officials said many recycled materials "lack market demand, are costly to collect and sort, and have limited opportunities for cost-effective processing and beneficial reuse."
By contrast, the idea of broadening the definition of recycling would create "business opportunities and demand for recycled feedstock in Indiana.
"It can be said that bringing new processes should be regarded as recycling. It is time Indiana explores this new environment and looks to use its resources like the Recycling and Energy Development board to help fund and promote these projects."
That has alarmed the Indiana Recycling Coalition, whose members include companies and communities involved in recycling. Last month, the group launched a campaign to lobby Gov. Mitch Daniels against allowing waste burners to be counted as recyclers. Daniels' agenda is focused intently on business development and energy issues.
"We need to be really careful about getting a waste-to-energy plant designated as 'recycling'," said Melissa Kriegerfox, president of the Indiana Recycling Coalition.
The group, which says recycling employs 75,000 people in Indiana who earn $3 billion annually, warns that some recycling businesses may have to lay off employees and that towns might not be able to provide affordable recycling if the definition of recycling is broadened.
At stake is a pot of $3 million a year in grants and low-interest loans offered by the state for recycling projects.
Kriegerfox is dubious of claims by waste-burning firms that byproducts such as glassy slag have substantial commercial value.
"I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want a countertop made from hazardous waste. It sounds like a 'Simpson's' episode."
PEAT executive Daniel Ripes said plans for an Indianapolis facility are "in the infancy stage." Ripes said he suspects some of the opposition is because the technology simply isn't well-known here. His company operates a plasma arc facility in Taiwan.
If the state decides it wants to make funds available to waste destruction firms such as his, "it would be a poor business decision for us not to pursue those opportunities," he said.
At the same time, an Indianapolis plant could provide business opportunities for recycling firms, he said. For example, recyclers could supply materials for disposal.
"Having the collection aspect is very important. But making sure there's recycling and reuse is vital as well," Ripes said.
He also suggested that PEAT could make joint requests for state funding in a partnership with existing recycling firms here.
"We don't want to alienate anybody," he said.
But the recycling coalition said PEAT and other firms are trying to change public policy behind the scenes, without public input. The coalition is backing Senate Bill 154, by Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, that would direct the advisory group Environmental Quality Service Council to define the goals and structure of recycling in Indiana.
Kriegerfox, who also is recycling director of the Monroe County Solid Waste District, said she is not opposed to new recycling technology but that she doesn't deem waste-to-energy to be recycling
Gard isn't that dogmatic. She said waste-to-energy technology has advanced since recycling rules were defined in the early 1990s and that the rules should be revisited.
"What program do we have that we don't at least look at periodically?" she asked.
Conversely, she said it's worth looking at how state recycling money has been spent over the years and what benefits it's brought. She said recycling advocates should consider it an opportunity to showcase their accomplishments.
IDEM officials said previously they merely want the board to consider projects that reduce the overall amount of waste and can generate energy. In the past, some recycling funds have gone unclaimed, the agency said.
Grants awarded in recent years range from $1,030 for recycling bins at Decatur Central High School to $4,987 for a recycling trailer for Jasper County.