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Health, Science, Environment

North St. Louis Trash Recycling Plant To Turn Garbage Into Energy

An empty lot at 401 Adelaide Ave. in the industrial North Riverfront area.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

A California energy company plans to build a plant next year in north St. Louis that will turn trash into fuel for large factories. 

STL Land Development, a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based New Planet Energy, will build the plant on a 20-acre site in the North Riverfront area. The developer expects it to divert up to 2,250 tons of trash per day from local landfills. 

When built next year, the plant will be able to recover 80% of the plastic, cardboard and other materials it receives, said Ryan Bird, CEO of New Planet Energy.

Materials that cannot be converted into fuel will be taken to a landfill. 

“This will help the area reduce their greenhouse gases. It will help reduce the carbon footprint, and it will certainly increase the recycling percentages of anybody who comes to the facility,” Bird said. 

The plant, which could cost up to $100 million, will hire about 80 workers, said Chris Goodson, a local partner on the project. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources issued a construction permit on Oct. 3. 

Recycling efforts in many cities have declined, after contamination and Chinese tariffs raised costs of recycling last year. The project could help municipalities that are struggling with recycling expenses reduce costs, Goodson said. 

“Unfortunately, recycling has dipped to the lowest levels it’s had in a long time, so this is a great solution to flip that dynamic and get recycling back up where it should be,” Goodson said. 

The plant will create solid recovered fuel by extracting cardboard, plastic bags, metal cans and other materials from the garbage it receives. Those items will be turned into pellets that cement kilns and paper mills can burn as fuel instead of fossil fuels. 

“[The materials] it’s shredded, tumbled, dried and bound. SRF acts like coal or another fuel source. It’s a physical product that carries an actual [British Thermal Unit] value,” Bird said. 

There are many plants that produce solid recovered fuel in Europe, but only three in the U.S., Bird said. The process does not involve incineration or gasificiation.

New Planet Energy plans to build the plant in an industrial area on 401 Adelaide Ave., about a half-mile from the College Hill neighborhood. 

“The facility is not expected to affect surrounding land uses with respect to noise, odors, air pollutants and potential explosions or fires,” said a report from consulting firm Golder Associates

While St. Louis does not have any facilities that convert trash into fuel, a developer proposes building such a facility in the region every few years. Such projects often don’t live up to their promises because waste haulers are contractually obligated to take trash to particular disposal sites, said David Berger, executive director of the St. Louis Jefferson Solid Waste Management District. 

“The ability to get materials to get their refuse-derived fuel is more challenging than they think,” Berger said. “They’re going to have trouble getting waste hauled to them.” 

St. Louis contracts with Waste Management. St. Louis County contracts with four private haulers, including Republic Services. 

STL Land Development will rely on its customers to bring trash to the plant, Bird said.

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