Green Dream: Shrink-Wrapped Trash

marzo 24, 2007

By Alexander Gelfand

After toiling for years as an investment banker, David Stoller made a bundle in solid waste management. Now he wants to make another with giant bales of shrink-wrapped trash.

Stoller’s company, TransLoad America, ships municipal solid waste by rail. TransLoad operates rail yards in Michigan, Rhode Island and New Jersey, and owns landfills in Ohio and Utah.

Last November, TransLoad acquired a proprietary waste-disposal technology developed by German firm Roll Press Pack. Stoller plans to use that technology to create a vertically integrated trash-disposal service that will take a bite out of the United States’ $45 billion solid waste management business in an environmentally responsible way.

TransLoad’s equipment compresses tons of garbage into dense cylindrical bales and seals them hermetically in several layers of plastic film. The company intends to load those bales into boxcars, and ship them to its landfills.

TransLoad claims that the combination of compaction, shrink-wrapping and rail-based shipping makes the system cost-effective and eco-friendly.

“It’s a novel technology. I don’t know of any other companies that are using the same kind of baling and shrink-wrapping technology,” says James Thompson of Waste Business Journal.

Baling allows TransLoad to transport waste in high-side boxcars without first packing it in the expensive steel containers currently required to ship loose trash. (The company recently ordered 1,200 custom-built rail cars designed to speed the loading and unloading process.)

Compressing the garbage at a rate of 1,400 to 1,600 pounds per cubic yard prevents liquid from pooling in the bales, which in turn prevents putrefaction and foul odors.

Sealing the waste in impermeable plastic prevents the escape of groundwater-polluting leachate associated with standard landfill storage.

And shipping by rail eliminates the need for greenhouse gas-emitting trucks, a point the company’s PR firm is quick to emphasize in the wake of Al Gore’s Oscar win for An Inconvenient Truth.

One large semitrailer — the kind traditionally used to transport loose trash — carries approximately 22 tons of garbage.

But a single boxcar can carry 100 tons. So every rail car full of neatly wrapped bales takes four or five exhaust-belching big rigs off the road. And it only takes a pound or so of plastic to encase several tons of trash.

Garbage has traditionally been shipped by truck. But as fuel costs rise and landfills are located farther away from the municipalities they serve, shipping waste by rail is becoming an increasingly attractive option.

TransLoad is currently demonstrating its system in Long Island and California, and Stoller plans to have a fully operational baling-and-transport operation in place by early 2008.

Aside from providing a straightforward means of waste disposal, Stoller sees his baling system as a first step toward the holy grail of the waste business: the conversion of garbage into energy.

A variety of conversion technologies, including ones that use landfill gas to generate electricity, are being explored by garbologists in Europe and the United States.

Thompson notes that several bioreactors are already in operation across the country. And a company called Geoplasma plans to build a facility in St. Lucie County, Florida, that will use plasma arc technology to convert waste into gas that can be used to generate electricity.

Stoller looks forward to the day when TransLoad’s bale-stuffed landfills will function as enormous trash-powered fuel cells.

“Ultimately we’ll be depositing it in our own landfills or in facilities that will be converting that garbage into useful products: biofuels, electricity, heat,” Stoller says. “What you’d effectively create with these bale-fills would be energy reserves.”

WIRED

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