Mark Barasch, CEO of NuCycle Energy, walked beside a pile of garbage consisting of cardboard, paper, wood pallets, packaging materials, styrofoam and plastics — about twice his height and a football field long that, in the past, would have been piled into the Polk County landfill along the Polk Parkway.

Instead, it was hauled to NuCycle’s County Line Road facility and will be processed into small cubes that will be used as fuel for cement and lime manufacturing plants, along with power plants.

“We do two things all day long: landfill abatement and fossil fuel replacement,” said Barasch, holding what he calls Enviro-Fuelcubes between his thumb and forefinger. “Today, we will ship 129 tons of this to Brooksville and Cemex will use this to replace 129 tons of coal that will stay in your great-great grandchildren’s ground, in perpetuity, because they didn’t need to use it today … We are a replacement product for coal.”

Mark Barasch, CEO of NuCycle Energy, holds an Enviro-Fuelcube. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

The City of Lakeland on Monday entered into an agreement with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, its first commercial customer using the recycling option, which will allow the city to pick up the sorted garbage from the alcohol distribution company and take it to NuCycle; Southern Glazer’s will pay the same rate to haul the waste to Nu-Cycle as it would to take it to the county landfill and dispose it there: $36.50 per ton.

NuCyle will then shred the material twice, compress it, and then form it into a Fuelcube, giving it a second life when it is burned to manufacture cement, which in turn will be poured as concrete pads for new homes. Or it will be sold to a power company to use instead of coal to create electricity.

And, officials said Monday morning, it will keep all of that garbage out of the landfill.

“The City of Lakeland is looking forward to offering our city commercial industrial waste customers an alternative to landfilling their materials at no additional cost,” said Gene Ginn, solid waste manager of the City of Lakeland. “Materials that can be diverted away from the landfill is a win for our customers and the city. Right now Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits is the first commercial customer that will participate in the NuCycle program, but we hope to expand it to other commercial customers in our service territory.”

Recyclable material awaits processing at NuCycle Energy. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

Companies like Publix, Rooms To Go, Walmart, Bealls, and Walgreens already use NuCycles’ services, which is currently only for commercial clients and not residential customers.

“Publix might have a bunch of plastics for us and then Rooms To Go might have a bunch of wood and cardboard, so we’ll mix those so we have a good mixture of material for our fuel,” said  Kyle Pukylo, NuCycles’ director of sales. He added that they plan to pick up the Southern Glazer’s compactor three times a week for the first month or two.

He said the City of Lakeland currently processes about 80,000 tons of material annually and NuCycle is hoping to take in 20% of that – about 16,000 tons.

Barasch explained that what they use is not a bio-fuel – it’s not all plant matter.  Instead, it contains some plastics, which allows it to heat to 10,500 Btus, also known as British thermal units.

“Coal that is used by the cement and lime production industries burns at approximately 12,000 Btus per pound. So we’re very close to it,” Barasch explained. “Biomass fuels burn (at about) 6,500 Btus maximum and therefore cannot be used by the cement industry to replace coal.”

A bowl of Enviro-Fuelcubes at NuCycle Energy. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

About two-thirds of the fuel cubes are made up of biogenic material, meaning it is cardboard, wood or paper, which is considered “carbon neutral” under the Paris Climate Accords, an agreement regarding climate change mitigation, adaptation and finance.

Compared to coal, Barasch said one pound of the fuel cube versus one pound of coal has “1/60th of the mercury, 1/60th of the sulfur, 1/13th of the lead and 1/174th of the arsenic.”

Workers prepare material for recycling at NuCycle Energy. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

Barasch admits they don’t like including plastic, which they know will be burned, but it allows their material to burn hotter than biofuels, at the temperatures cement and lime plants need.

“So we’re, full disclosure, not a perfect solution, but a heck of a lot better than what we’re fighting against, which is coal,” Barasch said. “We are a stepping stone transitional solution towards the abatement of use of fossil fuels … Whoever is smart enough to make wind and solar or hydro or some combination of them actually work in a way that becomes economically viable and they can serve society, they’ll put us out of business.”  

On Monday morning, the first truck with refuse from Southern Glazer backed up to one of 50 truck bays at NuCycle, located on County Line Road just west of the intersection with Drane Field Road, and emptied its contents, including carboard liquor boxes and plastic bags.

The first truch of recyclable material from Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits arrives at NuCycle Energy. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

“Environmental sustainability and reducing Southern Glazer’s carbon footprint remains a top strategic priority,” said Jason Witty, regional vice president of operations for Southern Glazer’s. “As a Florida-based company, we are proud to be a first mover and be able to implement this program in Lakeland to help us ultimately become a zero landfill operation.”

While county officials say there is plenty of room at the Polk County Landfill, Barasch, city officials and Southern Glazer officials said they would rather see the material used in a better way.

“It’s having an environmental conscience and being good players in society,” Barasch said.

SEND CORRECTIONS, questions, feedback or news tips: newstips@lkldnow.com

Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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