Monday, June 13, 2011

Featured Opinion: Product Stewardship and Pellet Bags

Green heat is great – except where it generates waste in another area, such as pellet bags. What is your industry doing in terms of producer responsibility when it comes to pellet bags? The Chittenden Solid Waste District manages the waste and recyclables for a quarter of the population of Vermont. We get calls all the time about recycling pellet bags. After all, the bags all have the recycling symbol printed on them. As you must know, not everything with a recycling symbol stamped on it are actually recyclable at all or in most regions. Here, we have to tell your customers’ customers to reuse them or throw them in the trash.

That’s because filmy plastic is difficult for single-stream recycling facilities to sort out. That’s also because residue from the pellets is considered contamination by recycling markets, and we don’t have the staff, time, or facilities to rinse them all out, let them dry, and get them to market. I would venture to guess that most of your markets are in the same situation, where they cannot accept bags for recycling. Another reason is that some bags are made of laminated layers of plastic(s), which is also unacceptable in most markets. We simply do not have the resources to set up a program for accepting all the types of products that producers market.

Product stewardship is becoming less of a buzz word and more of the law of the land these days. To force computer manufacturers to produce products containing fewer toxins and more easily recyclable, laws have been passed to require them to take back their own products in several states. Same thing with some mercury-containing products, such as thermostats and CFLs. Same thing with paint. Same thing with a growing list of products, spurred on by municipalities whose resources are exhausted from being expected to manage myriad products that were not designed with responsible disposal in mind.

Why not get ahead of the game and come up with a product stewardship program in your industry. Have your vendors accept the bags back from customers and back-haul them to a central location where you can prepare them for recycling, and find a recycler that will accept contaminated bags?

If your efforts are geared towards making pellet stoves ubiquitous, you must take responsibility for the waste you are causing people to generate as a result.


Clare Innes

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Clare Innes

Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Chittenden Solid Waste District

Phone: 802-872-8100 ext. 207

Williston, VT

Wood: The Renewable Energy That’s Generating Interest

Prominent sustainability and environmental journalist Marc Gunther recently profiled wood heating in his blog, calling it the “Renewable Energy that Gets No Respect”

The article can be found here:

Since its publication, the article has been picked up by at least a dozen other blogs and newsletters and has garnered a significant amount of response from the environmental and renewable energy communities. Here’s what some people are saying.


Dave G wrote,

Marc- Thanks for bringing the renewable energy discussion back to earth. Biomass is still the lowest-cost renewable technology out there after hydro and geothermal and is certainly well below the delivered KWh costs of off-shore wind or PV. Better yet, the costs of converting coal firing furnaces to biomass co-firing capability is low and is driving the 40% increase (2009-2010) in demand for pellets in the EU27. According to Hawkins Wright’s Forest Energy Monitor ( the new UK Renewable Heat Incentive is really taking shape and driving major investments in biomass technology across the grid. UK alone will sink some £860M into supporting conversion of maturing boilers to biomass capability which is expected to create another £4.5B in allied renewable energy investments by 2020. While our Federal and State regulators ponder the academics of how best to account for the shift from carbon to carbohydrates the EU is quickly purchasing all of North America’s residual and underutilized wood fiber and moving to a solution which will significantly reduce net GHG emissions. Biomass could drive so many positive changes in energy security, climate change, and land management if we could loosen the coal industry’s grip on politician’s wallets.

From the Biomass Thermal Energy Council’s LinkedIn Groups

Steve Elbes Wrote,

Saying that wood burning gets no respect is a bit generous. In many areas of the country, wood burning has a bad reputation and in many cases deservedly so. The North American outdoor wood burning industry as a rule has done a great disservice to the notion that wood is a "clean/green" fuel. Years of false or misleading statements regarding the use of unseasoned wood, promotion and manufacture of units that are grossly in-efficient, and resellers that have little understanding or actual knowledge of combustion and heat transfer have done tremendous damage to wood burning in general and wood boilers in particular.
Gasification technology is old news in Europe and has been commonly applied to many different combustion appliances. (do a little internet searching about wood gas powered automobiles) Here in the USA, first cost/lowest cost dominates thinking as always and so what if it fouls the air and uses twice the fuel that a unit designed for efficiency does. 
As a person involved in the heating industry I am frustrated that best practices and best technology have been so slow in being adopted by the US market. In addition, the current EPA standards and test protocol bear about as much resemblance to real world conditions as I do to Jessica Simpson. They are an embarrassment to anyone with a functioning brain as witnessed by the outrageous claims of efficiencies well into condensing territory when such is not even remotely possible. That these efficiencies were posted on the EPA's website in the first place (subsequently removed thank goodness) is a testimony that some one or maybe no one was paying attention. 
Wood burning, be it cord wood, processed product, wood waste, chipped form or what ever, can play a large part in the energy security and independence of this hemisphere. It has to be said though that this will happen only if wood is viewed as the same caliber resource as solar, wind, gas or oil. It must be used and consumed with the best possible technology and the best accepted practices or it will fall far short of its potential.
The soap box is now open. 


I've a close friend who has less than 10 acres and uses only wood to heat her home, its a small house and they make due with 2 small trees a year, and they only cut the ones that have died the year before due to lightning strikes or other natural reasons. They never cut a tree that's not already dead and they have lived on this land by these means for at least 20 years.
Its not a micro house its a very comfy house for 3 people to live in, no they don't have 50x50 bedrooms and a bath that could house a small country but its still nice enough.
Overindulgence is the main problem, if everyone had a realistic sized house the acres needed should be much less than 10. A modest house and smart use of other sources of energy such as geothermal and solar is the best we've got, it may not be perfect but that's not going to happen ever. Sadly THATs not going to happen if people keep whining about every little thing, take baby steps and ween people off the evil energy producers.

Are We Ready for Large-scale Deployment of Pellet Stoves?

The EPA is undertaking regulations for New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for wood stoves and for the first time ever, for pellet stoves. EPA will publish their recommendations in the federal register in January 2012 and they will begin to take effect in 2013.

The EPA has floated initial recommendations for pellet stoves to be required to emit no more than 4.5 grams of particulates per hour, the same as non-catalytic wood stoves. Oddly, the only appliance that the EPA appears to be recommending for stricter emission limits is the catalytic wood stoves, which as of now will be recommended at 2.5 grams an hour.

Approximately, 80% of pellet stoves being manufactured today already emit 2.5 grams or less. The EPA argues that it is not a cost effective regulatory measure to require 2.5 grams per hour if the equipment already meets that standard. However, this standard may be in force for the next 10 years or longer, and new companies, particularly in China, could swamp market with cheap stoves that emit over 3 or 4 grams per hour. Chinese producers are already trying to be a big player in this market.

The Alliance for Green Heat believes that if we want to see widespread deployment of pellet stoves in the US, like they have in Europe, a stricter standard will be helpful. According to the HPBA, in 2009 about 44,000 pellet stoves were sold in the US (the figure is likely somewhat higher because some small pellet stove producers do not belong to HPBA or share their sales numbers.) If fossil fuel prices rise quickly enough, or better policies are enacted to incentivize pellet equipment, sales are likely to double, triple or quadruple. In urban and/or air quality non-attainment areas, having stricter emissions standards will help gain confidence and support of air quality officials and the environmental community. When air quality experts and policy makers compare emissions between fossil fuel heaters and the cleanest pellet stoves, one or two grams per hour makes a huge difference.

Moreover, there is great value for policy makers, the renewable energy community and the public in recognizing how clean pellets heat is compared to cord wood. If EPA sets the same emission limits for both wood and pellet stoves, pellet stoves may lose some of their luster as the clean alternative.

If EPA leaves pellets at 4.5 grams per hour, it is possible, if not likely, that in coming years Washington or Oregon will set its own, lower standard, as they did with wood stoves. This will lead to multiple standards that will motivate most manufacturers to build to the lower standard. We believe that since almost all pellet stoves already meet a stricter standard, a stricter standard is warranted and will best position the industry for growth.

The Alliance for Green Heat is interested in your opinion on this. Please send comments to