It's the perfect form of recycling: taking our trash and using it to create electricity. Given the amount of garbage the average American puts on the curb every pickup day, that could add up to a whole lot of power. One simple way is to burn trash, and use the heat to generate steam that can run an electric turbine. But that method has significant drawbacks; not all garbage burns, of course, and the waste that does will often produce heavy emissions, including dangerous and sometimes carcinogenic dioxins. So right now most of our non-recyclable waste — and a lot of waste that is recyclable — ends up buried beneath the ground.
But there are companies working on smarter ways to recycle our trash. Costaka has pioneered technology that can turn biomass waste such as grass or woodchips into gas and eventually into ethanol. Their process uses less water and has a smaller carbon footprint than traditional ethanol. The Canadian company Enerkem has a similar process, but the firm has gone further, able to build standardized, easy-to-install plants that allow any municipality to begin turning garbage into cleaner biofuel.