Glendale could triple the amount of trash recycled at its landfill when a privately run facility takes over operations in April.

Further out, the Chicago company intends to convert trash to energy at the landfill located a few miles west of University of Phoenix Stadium.

Glendale officials say the facility that will more carefully sort recyclables will be a first in the Valley. As for the energy conversion, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could not point to any other plants that use pyrolytic gasification, the technology planned for the Glendale site. The approach basically cooks trash to high temperatures to produce energy.

The plans have some critics, including those concerned about air quality around the plant. However, the Maricopa County Department of Air Quality has issued a permit that does not label it a major source of pollution.

The company, Vieste, is only moving forward with the recycling component for now. Energy production would not happen until the firm secured clients to buy the energy.

Glendale stands to make money from the deal and potentially increase the life of its landfill, which takes in more than 270,000 tons of waste a year from Glendale, Avondale, Peoria and Phoenix.

Rather than heading straight for the Glendale landfill, trucks will soon dump about two-thirds of the garbage at Vieste’s plant, which is being built on site.

The building, large enough to hold three basketball courts, will have space to sort cardboard and other large recyclables, screens that will sift newspaper, employees who will sort plastics by hand and magnets that will catch metals, said Ernie Ruiz, landfill supervisor.

The plant is expected to employ 40 to 50 workers and cull about 26,000 tons of recyclables a year before sending the remaining trash on to the landfill.

Spain-based Abengoa Solar, which built a large solar-power plant west of Gila Bend, is designing and constructing the plant for Vieste.

Glendale currently recycles 12,000 tons a year, as the city recycles only items placed in recycling bins. That leaves out much of the trash collected at apartment complexes, Glendale Public Works Director Stuart Kent said.

Vieste intends to make money by selling the recyclables it pulls from the trash.

Glendale agreed to sell the company’s recyclables with a nearly 7-cent-per-pound guarantee. As part of the 30-year agreement, Vieste will pay the city $100,000 a year to lease 6 acres at the landfill, as well as a $476,000 management fee that increases by 0.5 percent each year.

Vieste will continue to operate its recycling wing once it launches the energy-production component for highly valued recyclables such as aluminum. But products such as plastics or paper, worth less on the commodities market, would likely be diverted for energy production, Kent said.

Waste to energy

Under the model Vieste plans to use, hydraulically run feeders would move the trash into an oxygen-starved chamber, where a synthetic gas is created. Exactly how the gas is created is proprietary information, said Jay Culberth, president of the Hoskinson Group, a company based in Florida that owns the technology.

Vieste plans to purchase the technology from the Hoskinson Group, Culberth said.

The gas then moves into a second chamber, where temperatures reach about 2,300 degrees, creating steam that is sent through a turbine generator to create an electric current.

Aside from using natural gas to jump-start the process, the constant feed of garbage is the only fuel needed to keep the process running, Culberth said.

Ash that is left over may be used for landfill cover or asphalt production, according to the Hoskinson Group’s website.

Glendale would be the Hoskinson Group’s flagship site in the United States for its most recent model of pyrolytic gasificiation. Internationally, sites in Mexico, Brazil and Costa Rica are set to use the same model, Culberth said.

Project’s history

Gordon Hoskinson, founder of the Hoskinson Group, started working to convert waste to energy in the 1950s.

The business typically sold units to large and small private businesses that want to use waste from manufacturing processes to generate steam or hot water for plant operations, Culberth said.

He expects the idea of converting waste to energy to pick up as renewable energies gain ground.

“It has been more popular in Europe,” he said. “I have a feeling over the next decade or so we’re going to catch up.”

Vieste directors told the Glendale City Council in 2012 that a facility in Harford County, Md., practiced a similar technology, but a spokesman from the Maryland Department of the Environment told The Arizona Republic that the state had no operating pyrolytic gasification plants.

Vieste officials would not respond to The Republic’s questions about how the Maryland plant compared with its plans in Glendale.

Critics of process

The process has critics.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter, worries that turning trash into energy creates an incentive for more trash.

“There needs to be more of a focus on reducing waste and looking at packaging and recycling as much as we can and composting,” Bahr said.

Steve Brittle, president of Don’t Waste Arizona, said he fears the plant could degrade the Valley’s already-poor air quality.

The Glendale plant obtained a permit from the county that allows it to release 90 tons a year of carbon monoxide and 92 tons a year of nitrogen oxides, along with a handful of other compounds. This falls just under the standard for being considered a major source of emissiions.

A facility is considered a source of pollution if it releases more than 100 tons per year of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, dust or smoke, said Bob Huhn of the county’s Department of Air Quality.

Because Vieste is not expected to be a major source of pollution, county officials did not consider other area emissions, such as the Glendale landfill operation, in granting the air permit.

Vieste leaders assured the Glendale City Council in 2012 that the only notable difference to the area would be an 80-foot-high stack releasing minimal emissions, with 30 feet of that below the ground.

A Peoria subdivision lines the outskirts of the Glendale landfill where Vieste’s plant will operate.

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