Conversion Technologies: What Are They?

Conversion Technology

The term "conversion technologies" loosely refers to a wide spectrum of real and theoretical waste management technologies that range from "cooking" garbage at temperatures up to 7,000° F to processes that resemble composting. In 2002, the Legislature passed AB 2770 requiring the CIWMB to evaluate the public health, safety, and environmental impacts of these new technologies. As the CIWMB was unable to perform the required evaluations, the impacts of these technologies remain largely unknown.

Unproven, Experimental Technologies

One class of conversion technologies of particular concern is referred to as thermochemical conversion technologies, and includes gasification and pyrolysis. Like garbage burning, these processes heat solid waste to temperatures known to produce dioxins, one of the most carcinogenic substances known to humankind. Significant uncertainty remains regarding the environmental performance, public health risks, and impacts to recycling from the thermochemical conversion technologies. Even the CIWMB's own report acknowledges that "data gaps preclude the CIWMB from determining the public health impacts that each conversion technology would have." Report to Legislature on Conversion Technology (2005).

Conversion Technologies do not "Recycle"

Conversion technology facilities do not recycle in the traditional sense. Unlike a glass recycler, for instance, which takes post consumer collected glass bottles and recycles them back into bottles; most CT facilities are designed to turn materials into fuels which by their nature can only be used once and then the resource is destroyed.

Despite the lack of experience with these technologies, proponents have spent the last couple of years working to have their "black box" technologies classified as recycling and therefore count toward diversion under AB 939, the law that requires all jurisdictions within the state to divert 50% of their waste from landfills. Recently, several conversion technology industry members have agreed to drop the diversion issue until facilities have proven to be beneficial.

CAW strongly believes there is no basis for counting these technologies as recycling at this time. Diversion credit is the ultimate incentive, providing a virtual state mandate for these facilities.


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