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 Govts buried under trash scheme / Garbage-fuel quality so low, private factories can't even be paid to use it

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PostSubject: Govts buried under trash scheme / Garbage-fuel quality so low, private factories can't even be paid to use it   Sat Oct 30, 2010 6:24 am

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Once seen as a potential solution to the question of how to recycle garbage, refuse-derived fuel (RDF) has become a public financial burden, as the resulting fuel is substandard for industrial use, according to the results of a recent survey by the Board of Audit.

More than half of the nation's 50 local government-run facilities used for turning burnable garbage and discarded plastics into fuel have paid steel and paper companies to use the RDF they produce.

Production costs also run high: It costs more than twice as much to turn garbage into fuel than it does to merely incinerate it. Many local governments have discovered the more RDF they make, the more it costs. In light of this, operations at some of the facilities have been suspended.

RDF is made by crushing and compressing flammable garbage--such as household kitchen refuse and paper--into cylinders between one centimeter and five centimeters in diameter.

Each pellet is equivalent to about one-fifth of the original volume, and is meant to be used at electric power plants, ironworks and factories.

These RDF processing facilities were built with state subsidies by municipal governments unable to afford to build large garbage incinerators that met the stricter dioxin regulations that began going into effect in 1997.

By fiscal 2006, 88 municipal governments had used a total of 58.4 billion yen in state funds to build 50 RDF facilities, at a total cost of 198.8 billion yen, according to the audit survey.

The audit board surveyed 46 of the 50 facilities were surveyed--the remaining four were out of service. Twenty-six were found to have paid private sector businesses, such as ironworks and paper mills, to use the RDF after failing to sell it.

The gratuity ran anywhere from 500 yen to 15,000 yen per ton, averaging about 9,000 yen per ton. Still, some of the customers opted to dispose of the fuel with general waste instead of using it, according to the audit board.

The remaining 20 facilities were selling RDF fuel for 500 yen per ton.

RDF once had boasted an energy output equivalent to that of coal. However, that efficiency has decreased due to fewer highly combustible plastics making their way into the trash because of increased public participation in recycling programs.

Another drawback to RDF is the salt contained within the original garbage. Sodium damages the incinerators at facilities that use RDF.

On average, RDF costs 62,000 yen per ton to produce--more than double the 20,000-30,000 yen price tag for burning garbage.

At one facility, that cost jumped to as high as 170,000 yen per ton. The price of the process can increase when bits of metal slip through the separation process, resulting in mechanical problems, according to experts.

In light of what is happening, the audit board is planning to ask the Environment Ministry to find ways to reduce the financial burden on local governments.
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