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King County, Port of Seattle to study turning trash into fuel

Trash in the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill could eventually be used to power airplanes.

KING COUNTY, Wash. — King County and the Port of Seattle have formed a partnership to study whether turning trash from the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill into a sustainable aviation fuel could be both technologically efficient and cost-effective. 

If the concept succeeds, it could provide one way to get rid of solid waste in the growing landfill.

"It takes a while to plan for the next generation of disposal technology and what we're excited about is taking garbage and turning it into something useful," King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski said. "In this case, it's aviation fuel- sustainable aviation fuel that lowers the carbon footprint of jet travel."

Councilmember Dembowski says the agencies have been tracking work out of Nevada, where an operational plant has partnered with major airlines. 

"Airlines want to lower their carbon footprint and what we're excited about here is the partnership with the Port of Seattle to see if we can take our trash and turn it into their treasure," Councilmember Dembowski said.

The Cedar Hills Regional Landfill has expanded over the years, much to the chagrin of some neighbors in the area. While this could provide a way to limit the storage of solid waste, it's also a priority for the Port of Seattle- which has been exploring ways to increase its use of sustainable fuels for decades.

"We all know big heavy equipment like airplanes and trucks and ships are going to be the hardest to decarbonize and we know the climate is warming at a significant rate," said Port of Seattle Commissioner Fred Felleman. "So as an operator of the eighth largest airport and one of the fastest-growing in the country, the Port of Seattle is very much committed to doing what we can to decrease our greenhouse gas footprint. 

The wonderful thing about using a waste product like municipal solid waste to power jets is that it really has no other purpose other than to fill landfills- which we don't want to have happen. So obviously having a feedstock that is a true waste product is the best of both worlds. And to be able to work with King County and alleviate their problem while solving ours both regionally and globally is a phenomenal tag-team I'm glad to be working for."

Commissioner Felleman says in addition to the climate-related benefits, sustainable aviation fuels could also reduce the particulate matter that falls from the sky that is associated with burning conventional jet fuel -- in turn improving air quality for people living near the airport.

The study will likely take about a year to complete. King County Director of Solid Waste Pat McLaughlin says his department is always looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly, and in the meantime, everyone can do their part by limiting their consumption and increasing the amount they recycle.

"Here at the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill, nearly 70% of what comes to the landfill every day should be recycled, so we are on a mission to change that," McLaughlin said. "As we divert more resources from being buried and instead get them back into the economy, that's gonna be great for the environment, it's going to be great for the economy itself, and there's a way to do that- by being stewards, before even making a purchase."