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County Looks At Gas Generation And Steps Up Recycling Program

By Jenny Callison, posted Mar 31, 2023
The New Hanover County landfill might be getting ready to step on the gas.
At their meeting Monday, the county commissioners are expected to consider entering into a contract with Archaea Energy to develop a landfill gas-to-renewable natural gas facility. The project has been in the works for several years, according to Joe Suleyman, the director of New Hanover’s Recycling and Solid Waste Department.
“The process started probably four years ago when we started installing landfill gas collection wells in the northern [landfill] property,” Suleyman said, explaining that earlier in the landfill’s life most of its waste was ash from the old trash incinerator. That waste would not generate enough methane gas to interest a developer. When the incinerator closed and the landfill began taking solid waste, the prospects for trapping methane and converting it to natural gas improved.
The northern landfill site, which is closed to new deposits, has its full complement of gas wells, and now wells are being dug in the southern landfill property, Suleyman said.
“If the commissioners approve the contract before them on Monday, the developer will have two years to construct and test the [landfill gas-to-renewable natural gas] facility to meet contractual requirements,” he said. “Once the plant is commissioned, Archaea will condition the gas to remove trace elements and bring it up to pipeline quality. Then they will inject it into the Piedmont Natural Gas pipeline.”
There is an existing PNG pipeline running along N.C. 421; Archaea would build a new spur to connect the landfill gas plant to that line, Suleyman said.
Developers can expect gas to flow from methane collection wells for about 30 years. As solid waste decomposes, it goes through an aerobic phase, which generates very little methane. During the second – anaerobic – phase, gas emissions spike, according to Suleyman. And the more solid waste in the landfill, the more gas is generated.
The board of commissioners has been supportive of the project, and there is plenty of demand for the created gas, according to Suleyman. Onslow and Sampson counties are among several in North Carolina that operate such facilities.
“Up until a few years ago, the normal [gas-to-gas] process was to make conditioned gas that would be used to fuel a generator set to generate electricity that was sold to the grid,” he said. “Now, with carbon credits, it’s more cost-effective to go the renewable natural gas path.”
While they hope to make the landfill’s solid waste work harder for its living, Suleyman and his crew also plan to pare down what does end up in the landfill. The department announced this week that a new partnership between NHC Recycling and Solid Waste and the Foodservice Packaging Institute will enable county residents to recycle single-use paper products often associated with the packaging used in the food service industry.

Included among the materials that will now be accepted for recycling are paper-based items like to-go cups used at restaurants and coffee shops, along with cartons used to hold liquids like juice, milk or stocks and broths. It’s a way to lengthen the life of the current landfill, Suleyman said.

“This new partnership is very exciting, as it will help keep everyday containers so many of us use out of the garbage and our landfill, while also giving them a second life as a reusable product.”

Another common item, No. 5 plastic containers, are also now recyclable in New Hanover County. These containers are often used for hygiene products like shampoo, lotion and soap, as well as takeout food containers and tubs used to hold things like yogurt or sour cream. These plastics can be identified by the number 5 inside the recycling triangle logo on their surface. Spiral-wound containers, like the tubes used to hold stacked potato chips or unbaked dough, can be recycled as well.

To reduce possible food contamination, people are asked to wipe out or lightly rinse any residue in the containers before recycling them, Suleyman said.

Suleyman is on a mission to dispel the myth that items put in recycling bins end up in the landfill.

“Last year, the team at New Hanover County’s Material Recovery Facility sorted and packaged more than 42,000 tons of recyclable materials which was shipped off for processing to be reused at facilities around the region,” he said.

The county has seven recycling drop-off locations that can be used by all residents. In addition, residents in the Wilmington city limits can recycle through the city’s curbside recycling program. Kure Beach and Carolina Beach also offer curbside recycling residents, and there are private recycling services that residents can contract with directly. More information is available here.
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