Trash pitch made in Boulder City

If one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, Boulder City is facing an embarrassment of riches.

The city’s landfill is filling up faster than expected, and about $4.8 million is needed to close the current dump and open a new one.

Last summer, residents and business owners were slapped with a sizeable rate increase to help cover the cost of closing the landfill or expanding it.

But where some see a growing mound of garbage, Michael Little sees an opportunity. The Reno-area architect, now an advocate for green energy, wants to use Boulder City’s landfill to pilot a new method of recycling solid waste and using it to generate energy.

Using a temporary facility costing about $400,000, Little claims he can extract the recyclable material from the city’s trash and use much of what’s left to generate electricity and make mulch.

If his system works as designed, he said, it could solve Boulder City’s landfill problem by dramatically reducing the amount of waste that needs to be buried. And some of the trash already buried in the landfill could be “mined” and also put to use, he said.

“You’re burying energy when you really ought to be harnessing it,” said Little, whose start-up company is called Landfill Alternative. “It’s all about energy. It’s not about trash anymore.”

Little presented his idea to City Council members Tuesday night. He came to the meeting with scale models of his processing plant that he built himself. “I’m not here asking for any money. I’m here to solve a problem,” he said.

No action was taken, but council members seemed cautiously receptive to Little’s idea, especially the part about not wanting money. “Because we don’t have any,” Councilwoman Linda Strickland said.

City Manager Vicki Mayes said she would sit down with Little to hammer out details for a pilot program. That plan will be brought back to the council for consideration at a future meeting, she said.

Little said his process uses existing technology, some of it a century old.

He said municipal solid waste typically contains about 65 percent “biomass” that, when extracted and exposed to certain bacteria, can be used to make biofuel or methane to generate electricity. One ton of biomass will produce the energy equivalent of 60 gallons of crude oil, he said.

Little also wants to use processed waste and city sewer water to grow rapeseed and other alternative-fuel crops. Right now, Boulder City releases about 1 million gallons of treated effluent into the desert outside of town to evaporate.

Though he never has built or operated one before, Little said his proposed facility could be running as early as this summer and should be able to handle the 50 tons of garbage Boulder City produces each day.

He said he is pursuing a similar arrangement with the landfill in Pahrump.

What he doesn’t want to do, he said, is take over operation of Boulder City’s dump or run a fleet of garbage trucks. He just wants the trash.

“I don’t want to be in the trucking business,” Little said. “My objective is to decommission landfills, one landfill at a time.”

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