Energy Efficiency and Waste Disposal Grow Closer

August 29, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

wasteThere is an obvious relationship between energy management and responsible handling of commercial and industrial building waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) sees the connection and, in a sense, has made it official by adding a waste and materials tracking feature to the Energy Star Portfolio Manager.

The EPA says that commercial buildings in the United States are responsible for as much as 45 percent of the 150 million tons of waste that are incinerated, sent to landfills or otherwise eliminated annually. The thinking is that energy managers are in a great position to drive efficiency and responsibility in getting rid of this waste.

For instance, an energy manager at a datacenter can promote steps for proper handling of e-waste, which is the rapidly growing mountain of electronic devices that become obsolete every year. Food plants can send waste to biogas facilities instead of traditional landfills

Waste disposal is a complex business. The addition to the Portfolio Manager enables the benchmarking of 29 categories of waste. Each type can be categorized in one of four management metrics. Sustainability management indicators are provided for each. In other words, various types of waste are categorized and suggestions provided on the best way to handle their disposal. (The EPA offers a brief video tutorial on the Portfolio Manager.)

The Energy Star tool is not the EPA’s only waste-related initiative. Energy managers – and, of course, people who work for local governments – should be aware of the other the Municipal Solid Waste Decision Support Tool (DST), which mirrors what is being developed on the addition to Energy Star. WasteDIVE describes the program:

Essentially, the DST is meant to take the guesswork out of big decisions for state and local planners by providing a better picture of how their current waste management system is working and what effects changes could have. Greenhouse gases, cost, energy consumption, and the potential release of pollutants can all be measured for a wide range of collection and disposal methods.

The story says that a second-generation DST likely will be released in 2018.

The two tools – one that works on the corporate level and one on the municipal – almost certainly will work together. The output of a waste categorization initiative in a commercial building will generate a tremendous amount of information and data that is relevant for municipal efforts.

Not all efforts to control waste in an environmentally and energy efficient manner come from the government. Energy managers have great interest in reducing the amount of energy used by electronic devices. The concern with electronics should extend to all types of e-waste.

A PC monitor, keyboard and other pieces of equipment contain a number of dangerous elements that require special treatment. This makes them difficult to discard. It also, unfortunately, creates a world of illegal dumping, often in countries with developing economies.

Facility and energy managers have to take every step they can to ensure tenants are complying with applicable laws, rules and regulations regarding discarding of electronics in the building. This of course covers PCs and other gear under their direct control – equipment used to operate the building – and, to the extent possible, to computing assets of tenants. It is interesting to see some innovative ideas that designers are coming up with to meet the challenge.

Waste and energy efficiency are not directly linked. One is possible without the other. But, in the bigger picture, the two closely related. The energy manager is the person who is best positioned to be a positive force on both fronts.

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