This is part of a series of interviews with NRC members. The purpose is to provide insights into materials management programs and best practices of member municipalities, businesses, and service providers.
By Carina Olivetti
Melissa Mercier, Director of Organics & Sustainability for Uribe Refuse Services, and manager of Waste to Energy Lincoln, LLC. answered questions and shared details about their waste to energy program.
Mission: Uribe is dedicated to providing quality waste management service to the residents of Lincoln and the surrounding communities. Our mission is to develop new, innovative, and economically reductive ways to implement sustainable waste management solutions.
In 2015, Waste To Energy Lincoln (WTEL) was formed when Lincoln Public Schools sought a partner for their compost pilot program. WTEL’s food waste route has grown to include 62 Lincoln Public School Facilities, plus 205 commercial and residential customers. Our mission is to develop food waste management solutions through the recovery of energy and nutrients from organic waste.
What are the future goals of this program or other Uribe programs?
We aim to reach over 150 wet tons per day of diverted waste. To achieve this, we are currently working to build Nebraska’s first stand-alone digester, which will convert organic waste into renewable natural gas (RNG) that will fuel vehicles and heat area homes and businesses. RNG produced from organic waste produces seven times fewer lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than diesel fuel. Over 25 years, conservatively, the digester will divert over 1,000,000 wet tons of organic waste from the landfill, conserving 650,000 million MBTU energy and reducing local greenhouse gas emissions by more than 550,000 million tons of CO2 equivalent.
How does digestate compare to compost?
Digestate is a nutrient-rich substance consisting of leftover indigestible material and dead microorganisms. Like compost, it is a soil amendment used to replace synthetic fertilizers. Digestate has similar characteristics to compost and can be very beneficial when mixed with the composting process. Combined, we believe that anaerobic digestion and composting create a powerful solution to the food waste problem.
How is digestate applied in the field?
Digestate can be used whole and land applied or injected in liquid form. Alternatively, it can be dewatered into a solid and land applied. Both application methods are used in Nebraska.
What are some of the challenges and barriers that you have faced?
We have invested a considerable amount of time and money in creating a comprehensive plan for the facility to ensure the development of a successful project. The most significant ongoing challenges we’ve faced are finding the right community partners and identifying the best location for the facility.
What are some lessons learned that you think others could benefit from?
We are still in the development process, so we continue learning lessons. Our lessons learned come from our challenges. Large innovative projects like this rely on collaboration. Getting out and telling your story and ideas to people within and outside your community who share common goals is essential.
Thank you, Melissa Mercier and NRC member Uribe Refuse! Shout out to the WTEL program from NRC but remember to focus on the food recovery hierarchy (see image below). Always aim for the reduction of food waste first and foremost. There will always be some waste and there are many reasons to diversify techniques for recycling food waste and other organic materials. Anaerobic digestion is a beneficial technology for organic waste recycling that serves just as well as composting operations. Stay tuned to future NRC newsletters, as there is more to be shared on this topic. Those of us in Lincoln, NE are fortunate to have an organic waste recycling program and it is only going to grow from here. I’m hopeful that WTEL’s digester will be up and diverting that million tons of organic waste soon!
Find out more about WTEL here: https://www.uriberefuse.com/waste-to-energy-lincoln/
If you want to learn more about anaerobic digestion go to the links below.
How Does Anaerobic Digestion Work?