The transition of the global economy to renewable energy is the big story of the day, but there is another, related transition that is just as significant. The nature of environmental remediation is also undergoing a sea change. Scoop-and-dump is giving way to “green remediation,” a remediation technique which employs sophisticated recycling and resource reclamation technologies as well as renewable energy. This tension between old and new remediation concepts is clearly illustrated by the numerous bids for contracts in the ongoing Gulf oil spill cleanup.
A New Technology for Cleaning Up Oil Spills
The new technology is represented by Scott Smith, who was recently profiled in an interview at travelsofjohn.com. Smith has developed and patented a number of new specialty remediation products. Among them is Opflex, a foam that is lighter, cheaper, and more effective than conventional materials that are used in oil cleanups. Opflex is formed into shorts strips put together into “mops” that vaguely resemble large bunches of green bananas. Opflex is reusable up to 100 times, and is biodegradable. In addition, oil can be reclaimed relatively easily from the material. Scott estimates that the price of Opflex is 73 cents per square foot of surface, even if it is only used one time. In contrast, the price of conventional booms ranges from $1.50 to $2.00.
Waste Disposal and Remediation
Oil cleanups using conventional booms can also involve significantly more landfill costs, partly because the booms can be used only once. Landfilling is also an issue in terms of environmental impacts, and the landfilling of Gulf boom waste has begun to raise some red flags. This is another factor in which Opflex appears to have an advantage. Though using Opflex is is not a zero waste operation, it does have the potential to reduce waste far below conventional boom cleanup operations. However, apparently Oplex is not being used to its full potential, and Scott asserts that the landfill factor is the reason why: other remediation companies that use conventional booms are not going to give up their revenue stream from landfill operations, at least not without a fight.
New Fields for Waste Disposal Wars
Competing for lucrative contracts is nothing new in the waste disposal industry. Apparently there was a big controversy over municipal waste contracts over in Santa Barbara about ten years ago, to cite one recent instance. What’s new is the kinds of waste that will attract more competition in the future, as new waste recovery, reclamation and disposal alternatives enter the market. Competition for remediation waste is just one example. Another example is competition for recyclables, which could become more intense if the trend toward upcycling starts to take off. The competition could also heat up around municipal wastewater, which is being developed as a resource for biogas, biofuels, bioplastics, and even gold.
Image: Landfill by D’Arcy Norman on flickr.com.