Waste Not, Want Not… San Jose to Turn Unmentionables into Energy

San Jose Toilet

Editor’s note: Correction, the city of San Jose will be processing yard and food waste, not human waste, as was originally reported.

For San Jose residents, “going green” may soon be as easy as, well, using the toilet. The city has revealed a plan to convert human waste (“biosolids”) into biogas and fertilizer using a cutting-edge organics-to-energy biogas system, thereby producing approximately 900,000 gallons of biogas, as well as high-quality compost, per 150,000 metric tons of flushables. The system would increase waste diversion, reduce emissions, decrease the city’s independence on imported energy, and build its green job market.

While most cities divert excrement to landfills, San Jose would divert it to a 40-acre site near a landfill, where the sludge would be dry-fermented into re-sellable products. The fermentation process, created by a German energy technology firm, is already being used in several European communities. The San Jose-based operation, which would be constructed and implemented in collaboration with three private partners, will be the first of its kind in the U.S.
The biogas system would give the city a significant environmental and economic edge. Experts believe it would have the same effect on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as removing 1,800 vehicles from San Jose’s roads. It would also allow the city to earn revenue from selling biosolid-based products and from leasing the facility to clients (including the San Jose-Santa Clara Water Pollution Control plant), who would, in turn, be able to trim their energy consumption.
For residents, the plan would be an easy, if unsettling, way to put the adage “waste not, want not” into practice. The treatment facility would be located near an existing landfill, in an effort to reduce residential concern with the project. The San Jose community, as a whole, would benefit greatly from the city’s gains from the project.
The waste diversion plan has yet to gain regulatory approvals. Upon approval, construction of the site is expected to begin in 2010.

Sarah Harper is a professional writer based in San Francisco, California. Her interests include sustainability, government policy, and international politics. In her free time, Sarah enjoys toying with the idea of holistic health, overanalysis, and plotting world exploration.

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