January 22, 2007

BIOwaste Energy as Explained on the Energy Kid's Page

The U.S. Department of Energy has an educational service operated by its Energy Information Agency. Since most adults are a lost cause, they have a spritely and simply written lesson site called the "Energy Kid's Page". If you are a science teacher of any age, you might want to direct your students to this reference site. If you want to bone up on how far educators will have to go to turn novices into decisionmakers you might also want to take a gander.

The Energy Kid's Page is, of course, hundreds of pages long. It contains energy facts, history, games, a glossary, and classroom activities. It also has a handy Energy Calculator with common units and conversions.

Here's a sample:
If you bury these items in a landfill, how long would it take them to decompose?
Diaper: 500-600 years,
Cotton Sock: 5-6 months,
Styrofoam Cup: 1 million years or more,
Glass Bottle: 1 million years or more,
Leather Belt: 40-50 years,
Wooden Block: 10-20 years,
Banana Peel: 3-4 weeks,
Paper Box: 1-2 months,
Plastic Bottle: 1 million years or more,
Aluminum Can: 200-500 years.

On the subject of Waste-to-Energy plants
Because of our limited exposure to waste-to-energy plants, we have some negative assumptions about the utility and harmful effects that could be possible. Turns out we are way behind the technological curve when it comes to our deployments of clean waste-to-energy facilities:
Many countries have built waste-to-energy plants to capture the energy in their trash. There are more than 600 waste-to-energy plants in 35 different countries. For example, the use of waste-to-energy plants in some European and Asian countries has grown, in part because they have little open space and few energy resources. The U.S. burns 14 percent of its trash in waste-to-energy plants. Denmark, on the other hand, burns 54 percent.

On the subject of Recycling

Some critics of waste-to-energy plants are afraid that burning waste will hamper recycling programs. If everyone sends their trash to a waste-to-energy plant, they say, there will be little incentive to recycle.

Recently, a study of cities that have both recycling programs and waste-to-energy plants showed higher recycling rates than other cities in the U.S. Why would these cities recycle more when they burn their trash? The results showed that people living in cities with waste-to-energy plants are more educated about municipal solid waste and strongly support their recycling programs.

So, while at first glance, recycling and waste-to-energy seem to be at odds, they can actually complement each other. That’s because it makes good sense to recycle some materials, and better sense to burn others.

It is all about the kids after all. They will inherit the legacy we leave them - and will probably pay for it as well. In the meantime, we need to educate them and ourselves if we are going to, in addition, leave a legacy of hope for their children.


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