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'Trash into cash' — Landfill project is a contender for local solutions series

inletkeeper event edited.jpg
Sabine Poux
Inletkeeper is holding a vote May 5 to gauge which community solution volunteers would like to focus on next. In the past, it's solarized local homes and businesses and created a community composting system.

If you ask Kaitlin Vadla to explain landfill emissions, she’ll give you a pretty funny analogy.

“A landfill is like a cow," she explained to a group of volunteers last Thursday. "It farts. And it farts methane.”

Vadla is the regional director for local nonprofit Cook Inletkeeper. She was talking about a plan to turn methane from the Central Peninsula Landfill into fuel.

It sounds outlandish. But Vadla said it’s a real possibility.

“We're so happy that this project has more legs now," Vadla said. "And has a lot more momentum behind it now than it did three years ago, when we were looking at how could a group of citizens help this project happen.”

The landfill project is one of three ideas Cook Inletkeeper is considering for the third year of its Drawdown series. It’s inviting people to vote on which project they’ll work on this year to reduce carbon emissions on the central peninsula.

At sessions last month, experts spoke to two other project proposals — one to make homes more efficient and another to plant more trees on the Kenai.

And on April 19, locals gathered at the Soldotna Public Library to hear the case for the landfill project.

Mike Salzetti with Homer Electric Association said the project would be an economic win for ratepayers.

"Or, as I like to say — 'Trash into cash,'" he said.

Garbage in landfills emits methane — one of the biggest contributors to global warming.

Right now, the methane from the landfill in Soldotna is simply escaping into the atmosphere.

HEA and the Kenai Peninsula Borough want to capture that gas and turn it into fuel.

A machine that could use the fuel is an evaporator that turns landfill leachate — or, juices from garbage — into water vapor. Instead of powering the evaporator on expensive gasoline that it purchases from ENSTAR, as the borough does currently, it could instead use the captured methane to run the machine.

The landfill is one of the borough's biggest expenses today. Solid Waste Director Lee Frey said sourcing gas from within the landfill could cut some of those costs.

“That's free money that’s disappearing into the atmosphere right now," he said.

The rest of the captured methane would help HEA meet its other energy needs, bringing it closer to its goal of sourcing 50 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2025.

At the core of the Drawdown project is community involvement.

Gregory Eller, of Kasilof, has his own trash-to-treasure machine, called a Home Biogas. It takes his kitchen waste and turns it into propane for cooking.

“And I already sort of compost, but this feels even better," Eller said. "I’m not going to put any of my personal waste in the landfill.”

Eller — an avid supporter of the Drawdown campaign — hopes this is the project the community picks next month.

"I really want this to happen," he said. "It does feel needed, but I’m curious to hear from the people smarter than me, their opinion around it, at the next meeting."

In the past, they’ve tackled solar panels and community compost. Vadla said each project is a small step toward the Drawdown mission — of counteracting climate change on the Kenai Peninsula and beyond.

“There’s lots of ways that a small group of people can do things that add a lot of momentum in just a year," Vadla said.

The next Drawdown meeting is May 5 at the Cook Inletkeeper Community Action Studio on the Kenai Spur Highway.

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