CERO is a multicultural recycling cooperative based in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. CERO is comprised of a group of worker-owners whose values are steeped in community, sustainability and empowerment. CERO is among a new wave of locally owned green businesses that see themselves as part of a “new economy.” CERO began by providing food waste pickup and diversion services for commercial businesses. In spring 2014, a Tufts UEP Field Projects team worked with CERO to investigate a second phase of its development to build an “eco-energy park” in Boston. The Field Project team helped analyze the suitability of possible sites for creating a facility in Boston anchored by an Anaerobic Digester for processing organic wastes into energy and fertilizer. This eco-energy park aims to employ the principles of closed-loop systems to minimize externalities through using the waste of one process as a resource in another process.
The student team consisting of Imaikalani Aiu, Suveer Bahirwani, Abby Farnham, and Anthony Parisi helped CERO explore feasibility of building an Anaerobic Digestion (AD) processor in Boston. AD is a biological process in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. One of the end products is biogas, which can be combusted to generate electricity and heat, or can be processed into natural gas and transportation fuels. The recently instituted ban on commercially-generated waste in the state of Massachusetts has created the impetus for the development of AD systems. The rule states that any establishment generating more than 1 ton of waste per week is required to divert their waste away from a landfill to either a composting or an AD facility. Along with following the footsteps of other progressive states, this ban has been long overdue in Massachusetts given that landfills in the state are already over capacity. Moreover, there are peripheral problems associated with hauling waste far distances, and food waste (which comprises 28% of the total waste going to these landfills) can be turned into a potential resource for energy and heat.
The team’s research questions revolved around finding the most suitable land for an AD facility, determining where and how much organic waste is being generated to feed this facility, and developing a better understanding of the basic characteristics of an AD facility and how they are relevant to a siting study. Part of what made this AD study unique is the balance the team strove to find between incorporating some of the more ‘standard’ considerations for siting AD, as well as the community empowerment and workforce development objectives CERO has for this project.