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Rotary Happenings: Mueller talks trash at Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meeting

By Staff | May 11, 2016

Sanibel-Captiva Rotary engaged in a little trash talking a few weeks ago. Trash talking, not about sports, not about politics, and not about other service clubs on the islands. No, we were talking about the real thing. We were talking about approximately 1,836 tons per day, 569,619 tons per year of solid waste processed by the Lee County Solid Waste Resource Recovery Facility, on Buckingham Road east of Fort Myers. This Waste-to-Energy Facility is a public/private partnership with Lee County and operations handled by Covanta Lee, Inc., Fort Myers.

Tom Mueller from Covanta Lee spoke to us recently about this facility and what it means to Lee County and how Covanta processes solid waste into renewable energy. I don’t know about most islanders, but I do know that I was basically unaware of this renewable energy processing plant here in Lee County and the sad thing about that is, this is a big deal.

According to Mueller, “Covanta Lee opened in 1994 and to-date has converted more than five million tons of trash into clean electricity and residual ash that takes up about 10 percent of the landfill space that would have been required by the unburned garbage. The sale of electricity to Seminole Electric Cooperative and sale of recovered metals covers about 85 percent of the operating costs of this facility. Covanta Lee uses reclaimed water from a city-owned wastewater treatment plant for all of its process water and it is equipped with both ferrous (steel) and non-ferrous (brass, copper, aluminum) recovery systems to remove metals from the ash residue. As part of the county’s award-winning integrated resource recovery system, there is a MRF (material recovery facility aka recycling center), a C&D (Construction & Demolition) recycling operation and a county run maintenance facility all powered by clean renewable energy produced at the facility.”

So. here are some facts regarding our Lee County’s Integrated Waste System:

We average over one ton per person per year of trash, MSW (municipal solid waste), horticulture (fuel and compost), and C&D (Construction & Demolition.

Rated No. 1 in recycling in State of Florida: Lee 2014 70 percent (best of 67 counties), targeting 75 percent for state by 2020.

Hazardous Collection: county operates full time collection center-old batteries, paint, pool chemicals, pesticides, oil and old gas.

Covanta Lee processes more than nine million tons of MSW (municipal solid waste) while generating clean renewable energy powering 30,000 homes continually and recovering metal. This company’s processing is recognized as a sustainable/environmentally friendly waste disposal solution, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming by a factor of 23 times vs. landfills. This is a sustainable process and benefits all of us in so many ways.

Countries all over the world are focusing on how to manage the trash that is produced by individuals and businesses with using a lessening directive of reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, and dispose. After reduction and reuse, an integrated system that maximizes recycling and Energy-from-Waste (EfW) provides the maximum sustainable benefits.

EfW is the most responsible alternative to landfill disposal. It reduces the volume of waste to be disposed by 90 percent and generates valuable renewable energy, resulting in a net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions when compared to conventional landfill practices. With over 50 facilities around the world, Covanta is a leader in sustainable waste and energy solutions.

As a resident of Lee County, we should be aware of this facility and the forethought of our Lee County officials to engage in a partnership with Covanta to reduce the physical space needed to store our trash and process this trash in an environmentally careful and sustainable manner creating an energy supply that can service homes and businesses.

Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets at 7 a.m., Friday mornings at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club, Sanibel. All are welcomed. On Friday, May 13, the club will not be at the Dunes, but will be hosting Rotary District #6960 District Conference opening breakfast at the Sanibel Harbour Resort and Spa, Fort Myers.