NE Expanding Waste Management Program

In places like Nebraska, a city’s trash could become one group’s treasure. A new project from Nebraska Organic Waste Energy (NOW) and Uribe Refuse Services Inc. is looking to turn a portion of the city’s organic waste into energy, compost and fertilizer.

The project will take 1,450 of the 52,000 tons of organic waste produced by Lincoln residents and convert it into electricity, as well as compost and liquid fertilizer for lawn care, gardens and golf courses, reports The Journal Star.

Uribe Refuse predicts that the project will save them $39,000 in landfill gate fees and $20,000 in electricity bills per year. The overall return from the 20-year project is estimated to total $1.2 million.

Currently, Nebraska is a net-exporter of energy. But the state’s energy expenditures have been steadily rising over the last decade, from $4.4 billion in 2000 to $9.1 billion in 2008. The total cost for the Lincoln project is unknown, and the verdict on the efficiency of waste-to-energy programs is still out. If the profits outweigh the costs, the program could be a good way to generate clean energy and eliminate waste.

The project intends to target commercial customers, including restaurants, schools and corporations, and will offer sign-up incentives to customers who commit to becoming “zero waste” businesses.

Another aspect of the project excites city planners: the corporate involvement. As part of the state’s energy plan, Nebraska is seeking to address more energy issues through public-private partnerships. Gene Hanlon, Lincoln’s City Recycling Coordinator, says he’s pleased to see private companies taking initiative.

“Local governments can’t do it alone,” says Hanlon. “We need to work in full partnership with the private sector to develop innovative efforts to conserve resources and reduce waste sent to the landfill.”

To get the project up and running, NOW Energy has applied for a $735,000 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust to cover its start-up costs. Uribe Refuse and NOW intend to push through with a scaled-down version of the project if the grant doesn’t come through.

Megan Simons is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis

Comments (4)

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  1. Elizabeth C. says:

    This is a very interesting post but raises many questions about the proposed conversion plan:

    How are the waste materials turned into energy?

    What kind of organic waste are we talking about here?

    How will they determine success? You mention a goal of profits outweighing costs but would that be with or without the grant monies? Ideally this kind of project would pay for itself without grant support.

    • Megan says:

      Hi Elizabeth,

      First of all, thank you! Second, I have the answers to a couple of your questions:

      1. The project utilizes a small-scale anaerobic digester system, which you can learn more about here:

      2. The program intends to start with yard waste, then move up to food waste.

      3. The program itself doesn’t seem to have specified its method for determining success. That’s definitely something I would like to see NOW do as they move forward.

      I agree that this project should ideally pay for itself. I suppose we’ll have to see as we learn more about the project.

      I hope that helps! Thanks for reading.

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