Treasure for trash

Posted 11/29/22

MONTICELLO, NY — The Sullivan County Legislature heard a proposal at its November 17 full board meeting to address an approaching trash problem.

The discussion about trash was “a …

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Treasure for trash


MONTICELLO, NY — The Sullivan County Legislature heard a proposal at its November 17 full board meeting to address an approaching trash problem.

The discussion about trash was “a necessary conversation,” said chair of the legislature Rob Doherty.

The county puts 70 percent of its trash into the ground, a situation that will end by necessity in three to five years, Doherty explained. With the Seneca Meadows landfill (the dump that currently takes the county’s trash) nearing capacity, the county would have to spend three times the amount it currently does hauling its trash elsewhere. In addition, placing garbage in landfills creates methane gas, a pollutant Doherty called much worse than the better known CO2.

Hughes Energy presented the county with a proposal that purported to solve both the economics of trash-hauling and the environmental impact of trash-dumping.

The company’s proposal involves a steam autoclave system. That system takes municipal solid waste (MSW), heats and pressurizes it, and extracts the organic material as reusable fiber.

“This waste disposal crisis is not just about what’s environmentally friendly and correct… but it’s something that has a serious economic impact on the community,” said Hughes Energy CEO Dane McSpedon.

The proposal would benefit Sullivan County’s bottom line, according to McSpedon.

Sullivan County takes in a fee from the MSW haulers that use its transfer station, but it pays a large amount to haulers who take the waste from there to the landfill, McSpedon said. “Were we to put our facility at your landfill, in fact the process would simply be that you’re keeping part of the fee and we’re handling all of your waste.”

The proposal would (according to Hughes Energy representatives)reduce the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills, a reduction that has the potential for major environmental benefit.

Some amount of non-fibrous material does result from the process and makes it to a landfill, but that material is only between seven and 12 percent of the original, McSpedon said. “Those are inert materials that are non-organic and will not rot or create methane.”

Each of their facilities will offset between 100,000 and 200,000 tons of CO2 equivilant per year, McSpedon said.

The benefit for Hughes Energy is the fiber that results from autoclaving process.

“We are a fiber-production company,” McSpedon told the legislature. “We are not a waste management company.” Hughes has identified multiple downstream uses for the fiber it produces, including bio-ethanol and paper waste.

Track record

The promise and the pitch of the technology appeared obvious. The technology’s track record has come under scrutiny.

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther attended the Hughes Energy presentation on November 17.

“I know that you’ve presented this in front of at least six counties in New York State,” said Gunther. “What was the reaction of those counties—what is their hesitation, or are they excited about it?”

They had presented to many more counties than six, said McSpedon. “Every county is super-interested in a solution; they don’t want to be first.”

Hughes Energy has approached a number of towns in New York State with proposals similar to its proposal for Sullivan County. To date, none of those proposals have resulted in a completed, active facility.

Documents the company provided to Sullivan County (available at list two projects as in active development: on the border of Greene and Delaware counties at the Greene-Delaware transfer station, and one at a current mine quarry in the Town of Halfmoon.

The Greene-Delaware project engendered significant public concern, concern that centralized as the advocacy organization Don’t Trash the Catskills.

“This watershed-threatening facility would add significant traffic, noise, air pollution and water infrastructure burden to our communities by importing unregulated waste from a 50-mile radius,” according to material on the group’s website.

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) required Hughes Energy to submit a full environmental statement (EIS), a part of the State Environmental Quality Review process which asks an applicant to list the impact their project will have.

Over a year later, no EIS has been submitted, says Tracy Frisch, chair of the Clean Air Action Network of Glens Falls. “Are they doing it? We really don’t know.”

The Halfmoon project was a partnership with local material recovery facility Twin Bridges, said Frisch.

Area residents advocated before the town supervisor, who eventually wrote a statement identifying the potential for a significant environmental impact. Four days following that letter, the town forwarded a letter from a Twin Bridges consultant withdrawing the planned project, says Frisch.

The documents submitted to Sullivan County list the project’s status as “site owner reviewing timing and requirement to amend PDD from mine quarry to light industrial (application on hold).”

Advocates have followed a number of other Hughes Energy proposals aside from the Greene-Delaware and Halfmoon projects. “It’s a checkered history,” said Judith Enck, a former regional administrator with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the founder of Beyond Plastics. In her view, the company isn’t getting traction because its technology doesn’t make practical sense.

“This is technology that has failed,” said Frisch. “Pressure-cooking garbage is not the way to a zero-waste future.”

William Ortz, acting director of the United States Department of Agriculture bioproducts research department, contributed to a series of studies submitted to Sullivan County as supporting evidence for the technology. From 2005 to 2016, Ortz’s articles study a version of the technology developed by Comprehensive Resources, Recovery and Reuse (CR3), a Reno, Nevada-based engineering firm, and implemented in Selina, CA. Ortz appeared at the November 17 meeting of the legislature together with Hughes Energy representatives.

As of 2016, the CR3 autoclave is described as a demonstration system “used to evaluate potential end uses for the resulting MSW pulp.”

Hughes Energy stated in answers to the Sullivan County Legislature that funding for its plants is conditional on a number of approvals: “site permits; a long-term land lease; valid guaranteed waste contracts; and valid guaranteed customer contracts for the fiber produced from the plant.” Representatives have stated that the company would be exploring using the fiber from the Sullivan County plant for recycled paper products.

“It makes absolutely no sense,” said Enck; if you’re a recycled paper company, you have plenty of stock without relying on fiber from a plant like Hughes Energy.

None of the projects currently proposed by Hughes Energy for New York have reached the state where all their approvals are in order.

Sullivan County Legislature, Hughes Energy, garbage, trash


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