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San Diego Demolition Contractor and Junk Removal Services  //   CSLB #1101347   //   Available Seven Days a Week!

It’s Sunday, 12:17 am

San Diego Demolition Contractor and Junk Removal Services
CSLB #1101347 // Available Seven Days a Week!

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San Diego Recycling

The Myth of Zero Waste

Why do garbage companies perpetuate the myth of Zero Waste? Here's why 100% diversion will need more action than ever...

Waste needs a final resting place. But there are so many forms of waste–not to mention the materials that comprise these forms–that choosing how, where, and by what method can be a complicated process.

Commercial companies that specialize in waste removal disagree: they want it buried. Preferably for as cheaply as possible.

Waste is big business. One form of waste is called inert waste, which largely comes from construction and commercial sources, and is comprised of metal, wood, asphalt, cement, plaster, drywall, siding, shingles, insulation, glass, soil, concrete, and brick rubble. It is “inert” because it is unlikely to react toxically with other materials, making it safer to handle. By definition, inert waste does not form contaminated leachate when disposed of or serve as “food” for decomposition. Nearly 40% of the total material landfilled in California is comprised of these inert materials.


Stepping back for a moment, the average consumer can probably identify other forms of waste that overlap with this inert waste category simply by observing the colored bins used for weekly trash pick-up. Metal, glass, cardboard, and plastic for recycling share similarities with inert waste–in opposition to the organic and green waste which may go into a compost bin. In reality, it’s a complex network that enables certain materials to be buried, others to be turned into compost, and still more to be processed and re-used. Unfortunately, as a percentage, only about 35% of the total amount of waste generated actually gets recycled or composted. Much of that has to do with convenience, contamination, and cost (with an emphasis on cost).


For large haulers responsible for pick-up and disposal, sorting these materials is much more expensive than dumping them in the landfill. Only a certain class of franchised companies can earn contracts with the communities they serve to pick up household and commercial waste regularly–cornering the competitive market. Additionally, the corporate junk removal companies that dominate the market-space for more comprehensive services profit by the sheer volume of their collections, not their environmental practices. It’s no wonder why these waste-removal business race to pad their bottom-line: the more homes served and the more waste collected, the more they can charge for their services.

These profits have enabled the largest hauling companies to control the real estate dedicated to sorting and storing their waste. Transfer Stations, Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs), and Landfills are almost entirely owned and operated by the same corporations that offer pick-up services. To compound profits, these locations charge the public (in California, nearly one-third of all waste is self-hauled) a tipping fee for drop-off. These fees aren’t regulated and can vary depending on location, capacity, or form of waste.


The difficulty with a single enterprise controlling not only the logistics of removal, but of the enforcement of decomposition, means that nearly everything is ultimately landfilled. And as waste is directed to a landfill, it becomes its own energy commodity.


As waste compiles, the various states of matter involved with decomposition allow toxins, leachate and greenhouse gases to accumulate; organic waste offers bacteria a host to break down the waste. Decaying rubbish produces weak acidic chemicals which combine with liquids to form leachate and landfill gas. Coupled with toxic items such as televisions, computers and other electronic appliances (which contain a long list of hazardous substances, including mercury, arsenic, cadmium, PVC, solvents, acids and lead), these toxins leach into the soil and groundwater and become environmental hazards for years. Leachate is the liquid formed when waste breaks down in the landfill and water filters through that waste. This liquid is highly toxic and can pollute land, ground water and local waterways perpetually.


Depending on rainfall, a single landfill site can easily produce several Olympic-sized swimming pools of leachate each year. Some leachate is reabsorbed when passed back into landfill, but the rest filters through again, picking up more toxins with each pass.


Not to be outdone, greenhouse gas production is perhaps the biggest environmental threat posed by landfills. As organic material is compacted down and covered, oxygen is displaced, causing the waste to break down in an anaerobic process. Eventually this releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It’s also flammable and can become dangerous if allowed to build up in concentration. So how much methane is produced by a typical landfill site? Enough to fuel a power station.


Landfill gas is comprised of 50% methane and 50% carbon dioxide, and its capture is an additional challenge. Landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 14.5% of these emissions in 2020. The methane emissions from landfills in 2020 were equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from about 20.3 million passenger vehicles driven for one year. At the same time, methane emissions from landfills represent a lost opportunity to capture and use a significant energy resource.


As far as waste-to-energy processes go, decomposition in a landfill requires a low investment for a stable benefit. Instead of escaping into the air, landfill gas can be captured, converted, and used as a renewable energy resource. But with current emissions data, it’s clear that waste companies could do more to comprehensively capture this gas (the highest percentage of captured methane gas for modern landfills is only 85%). Instead, these companies are looking to add in MORE decomposition for profit: various landfill gas incentives exist for United States projects at the federal and state level. The Department of the Treasury, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Commerce all provide federal incentives for landfill gas capture projects. Typically, incentives are in the form of tax credits, bonds, or grants. For example, the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit (PTC) gives a corporate tax credit of 1.1 cents per kWh for landfill projects above 150 kW. With benchmarks set, the larger the landfill the more energy captured. It’s no wonder that the largest garbage companies in America are converting nearly their entire vehicle fleet to run on “clean” captured landfill gas.

As a general recap:


  • Disposing of waste properly is a complex process.
  • To maximize profitability, the largest waste companies prioritize landfill use.
  • These companies control the market for removal and public access: focusing on volume and premium fees.
  • They also own the real estate used for disposal.
  • Additionally, landfilling is not only convenient and profitable, but also provides an energy source.
  • Still, landfill gas is dangerous and difficult to capture effectively.
  • So, federal, state, and local governments reward these companies for landfill gas capture.
  • These companies, having monopolized the industry, are now using landfill gas energy incentives to fuel their collection fleets and grow their landfill operations even larger.


Why Does Impact Environmental Company Care?


Simply put, there has to be a better way.


A self-fulfilling feedback loop that incentivizes landfill use is not a sustainable solution. First, landfill space is limited. Second, fair-market competition suffers at the expense of corporate greed. Third, the gradual domination of a handful of actors within the space promotes the interests of those same actors, stymying progress and outside innovation (if there ever was motivation to develop innovative and market-changing strategies, the major names in waste hauling were not hurrying to demonstrate it). Finally, landfilling is expensive to customers and damaging to the environment.


As a local, full-service demolition and junk hauling company, Impact is prepared to remedy this. For Impact, there was no corporate agenda. They knew it was advantageous to the customer to charge them less for disposal, because Impact could sort and store material instead of landfilling it. One of the earliest measures taken by Impact Environmental Company was to partner with the Mattress Recycling Council: a national agency run by mattress manufacturers to collect, break down, and recycle the majority of material composing mattresses and box springs. Drop off was free for the public, and profitable for Impact.


Ultimately, Impact made strides to recycle or donate an average of nearly 80% of all material they collected. Then, after attending the Waste Conversion Technology Conference, further inroads were made to develop a public-facing facility focused on processing “inert waste” for even greater landfill diversion. Impact was one of the few businesses from the hauling sector who attended the conference, and the first in San Diego to apply for such an ambitious solution.


Undoubtedly, more will need to be done to remedy the issues with landfills and “big garbage”. But eventually, with programs that encourage recycling and re-use, coupled with better systems of implementation for diversion, a dent can be made to lower our dependence on landfills and their accompanying problems.


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