From Trash To Treasure
● By Aimee Cormier
By Shanna Perkins • Photos Submitted By Angela Cutrera, A Solid Waste Employee
Just behind a well manicured Acadian style cottage, towering green hills are freckled with tractors climbing over and combing through mounds of trash. A steadfast gas flare radiates as enormous ebony buzzards swirl, landing fastidiously on barbed wire fences. This seemingly ominous scene is the setting of the St. Landry Parish Solid Waste’s fully integrated approach to waste management.
The St. Landry Parish Landfill, 417 Solid Waste Road, Washington, has an acceptance rate of 350 tons daily, equaling 100,000 tons annually. The St. Landry Parish Solid Waste Disposal District, a political subdivision that was created by the state and consists of nine commissioners, is using their efficient facilities and operations to create a cleaner and greener tomorrow.
“About eights years ago, the facility matured enough to generate enough landfill gas for the district to install a gas collection system and flare that gas,” explains Executive Director Katry Martin. “At the time, and still, the destruction of that gas was a positive environmental function, because it reduced the greenhouse emissions by collecting and destroying the gas.”
During this process, the methane in the gas is destroyed, making it a renewable energy source like wind or solar. To reap the full benefits, the district implemented the necessary equipment to condition the gas to be used as vehicle fuel. “For every gallon of gas that we consume, we substitute it for an otherwise fossil fuel and take the diesel or gasoline off of the highway,” Martin states over the unmistakable beeping of a reversing dump truck that is leaving the onsite BioCNG, compressed natural gas, filling station. “It’s a much cleaner burning natural gas fuel.”
The BioCNG system is capable of producing 250 gallons of gasoline equivalent compressed natural gas a day at less than half the cost of gasoline. The biogas-based fuel is used to power the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Departments vehicles, light duty trucks, a light duty van and the solid waste district’s utility trucks.
“We have developed a revenue stream for the district,” Martin explains of the BioCNG’s benefits. “It gives us the opportunity to use what otherwise would be a wasted energy source.”
Trash To Treasure
The St. Landry Parish Solid Waste took a proactive approach to monetize the carbon destruction occurring at the facility. “We registered the destruction with the California Climate Action Registry and converted that work into what is called a carbon credit,” Martin details. “We sold those credits to pay off the gas system.”
The innovative and efficient means in which St. Landry Parish Solid Waste produced carbon credits caught the attention of a lesser-known company by the name of Google. Martin explains that the services of a “carbon broker,” a company that buys and sells carbon offsets, were solicited. Institutions that are seeking to reduce their carbon footprint will purchase these carbon credits. While introducing a documentary-style clip featuring the St. Landry project, one member of Google’s Carbon Offset Team wrote, “The first project is located at the St. Landry Parish landfill in Louisiana. This landfill is a perfect example of how big reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can pop up in some out-of-the-way places.”
The landfill’s decision to voluntarily destroy the carbon, CH4, found in the methane is what makes the act so beneficial. Martin explains the intricate and detailed process associated with the wheeling and dealing of carbon. “The voluntary act is beneficial, because if you were required under law by certain regulatory requirements, it would have no value. Because we do so voluntarily, we can monetize it. A carbon credit equals one ton of carbon that is destroyed voluntarily. In order to get it registered as a credit, there has to be a third party auditor in the mix. We have meters, data collection devices and records to show exactly what we’ve collected and destroyed. Once it’s audited, they issue a credit per ton of carbon. Then, that credit is verified and made available for a third party buyer, i.e. Google.”
Initially, it was unknown what type of impact, if any, landfills would have on their surrounding environments. As a permitted facility designed to protect and preserve the environment, St. Landry Parish Solid Waste Disposal District created an onsite 80-acre wildlife refuge and facility. The adjacent refuge has 19 acres and 80 duck houses dedicated to migratory birds. An onsite biologist monitors the refuge and reports his findings to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. As a result of the research, no known impact has been associated with the landfill’s proximity to the wildlife refuge.
The facility is also deeply embedded in the community, and the best interest of the community is at the heart of their unique and integrated approach to waste management. “The district has been providing collection and disposal services for nearly 30 years without increasing the tax rate,” Martin states matter-of-factly. “We operate on 1/8th of one penny sales tax in the Parish. It’s been the same rate for 30 years.”
The disposal site is one of the district’s two main facilities. The other is a processing and recycling center in Opelousas that annually receives nearly 4 million pounds of traditional fiber, plastic and aluminum. The management of recyclables is meticulously managed. The scarp metal and cardboard that are kept out of the recycling process, generate an additional $40,000 in annual revenue. Recyclable materials are collected from nearly 100 customers and 50 schools within the Parish.
Recycling isn’t the only alternative means of reuse employed. St. Landry Parish has an abundance of equine facilities, which allows the facility picks up 250 tons of compost each month. Annually, 3,000 tons of stable bedding is diverted from the landfill to the compost site. This nutrient-rich compost is made available to the community at no cost.
Through multiple outreach programs, the district provides educational tools and experiences to elementary schools, particularly the students in the second and fifth grades. The facility host tours, of both the landfill and the recycling center, for students, but anyone is welcome to tour the facility throughout the year. The educational aspect offered acts as a supplement to science courses, focusing on preservation, conservation, resourcefulness and recycling. It isn’t just grade school students who the site influences, UL Lafayette’s Department of Engineering – Environmental Engineering courses use the facilities as a resource in their education.
The BioCNG project received national acclaim when it earned the United States Environmental Protection Agency Landfill Methane Outreach Program 2012 Project of the Year Award. And the project continues to build steam; construction is underway to install a BioCNG satellite location adjacent to the processing plant on U.S. Hwy. 90.
As for the landfill, the rate of decomposition is shrinking. Meaning that what was originally intended to last 40 years, could potentially last for 75 years. There are 80 acres permitted for waste, after 30 years, only 45 percent of that acreage is full.
Martin explains that it’s the fully integrated approach to waste management that has sustained the landfill for the past 30 years. “We devote as much energy and as many resources to our diversion projects as we do to landfilling,” he stresses. “We move huge quantities of material and we use that as an alternative to landfilling. For instance, we will move 40,000 cubic yards of wood waste. We process it and we move 250 tons a month of compostable material that we provide to the residents of St. Landry. That’s in addition to 4 million pounds of tradition recyclable materials we handle. There is a tremendous amount of effort made to educate the students and the general public on all of these processes.”