Solid waste management in the U.S. has always been a uniquely local endeavor. Typically, landfilling has provided the most efficient and least expensive option for solid waste management by local governments. Recently, there has been an increasing demand for clean, affordable alternatives to landfilling and other traditional forms of waste disposal. Throughout the world, mainly in Europe and Japan, emerging waste conversion technologies have found success marketing and implementing their technologies. In the U.S., unique challenges have led to a relatively slow growth in the successful development of emerging waste conversion technology projects. These unique challenges include navigating the nuanced permitting and environmental review processes, garnering local project acceptance, combating environmental opposition, solving waste aggregation problems and other considerations.
One factor bearing heavily on the success of a project is the acceptance of the project by the affected local community and government. Just as solid waste management is a local responsibility, so too, is the task of handling—in all aspects practical, political, economic, etc.—the issues presented by the various solid waste management tools available, including waste conversion technology. Garnering support from, and partnering with, a local government provides invaluable, if not necessary, aid to a company as it attempts to navigate the permitting and procurement requirements at the local and state levels, deliver the proper message necessary for the development of local acceptance, and aggregate the appropriate and sufficient feedstock of waste necessary to the success of the project. This article will address some of the issues facing companies attempting to implement waste conversion technologies throughout the U.S. with a special emphasis on the positive impact of a local government partnership.
Zoning, Permitting and Environmental Review
Once the proper locality is chosen as a fit for a particular conversion technology, the need to develop local backing and support for the project is necessary. The zoning and planning processes, including permitting and licensing, is intimately local. Regulations governing these processes vary greatly from municipality to municipality and decision-making rests almost exclusively with the state and/or local government. While it is true that a private company has the right and the ability to seek permits, licenses and zoning approvals without local support for the project, as a practical matter, if the local government is generally unsupportive, the project faces almost certain death.