New York City is an island built on garbage. Dutch settlers constructed much of the southern tip of Manhattan by extending the shoreline with landfill. But today, waste management is a major issue--and we’re running out of room. New Yorkers generate at least 10,000 tons of solid waste per day, much of which is hauled out of the city by greenhouse gas puffing biodiesel trucks. It’s not exactly cost effective either, at $300 million spent on this export process annually. That’s why, as part of the city’s effort to double the amount of waste diverted from landfill, Mayor Bloomberg called for proposals earlier in the week for a “state of the art conversion technology facility” that didn’t feature mass trash incineration. So, what does “conversion technology” even mean? Here’s a list of 10 ways, some real and some imaginary, one might convert waste to energy, from oil rendered from denatured turkey guts to Back to the Future’s Mr. Fusion.
1) Anaerobic digestion
While burning municipal solid waste may be the most popular way of converting garbage to energy, it's certainly not the best idea for air quality. Anaerobic digestion breaks down garbage into fuel by making our bacteria friends do the dirty work for us. The result of this process is sludge (sometimes used as fertilizer), as well as a biogas combo of methane and carbon dioxide that can then be used to produce electricity and heat. As with most other progressive things, like eating normal-sized meals and providing healthcare to its citizens, Europe is way ahead of the game on this one, as Germany, the UK, Denmark, Spain and France already have successful anaerobic digester programs in place.