Turning your trash into energy at home is an innovative way to reduce waste and your carbon footprint. With some creativity and effort, you can capture the latent energy in your garbage and convert it into usable power. Here are the main methods for turning trash into energy at home.
Composting allows you to convert organic waste like food scraps and yard trimmings into a valuable soil amendment called compost. As the organic matter breaks down, heat is produced as a byproduct. With the right composting setup, this heat can be captured and used to warm water or even heat your home.
Here’s how to turn compost into energy:
- Build or purchase a closed composting unit that captures heat, like a Green Cone Solar Digester.
- Add organic waste regularly, maintaining the right carbon-nitrogen ratio.
- Use the generated heat to warm water directed through coils in the composter.
- Circulate the heated water through your home’s radiant floor heating system.
Composting provides free heating while diverting organic waste from landfills. With a well-insulated system, a compost digester can provide a significant portion of a home’s heat.
Anaerobic digestion uses organic matter like food waste in an oxygen-free environment. As microbes break down the material, methane gas is produced as a byproduct. This biogas can be captured and used like natural gas for cooking, heating, and generating electricity.
To convert trash into energy through anaerobic digestion:
- Obtain or build an airtight anaerobic digester. They range from simple homemade designs to complex commercial systems.
- Load the digester with organic waste regularly, adding water as needed.
- Capture the biogas produced using pipes, tubing, and a gas collection bag.
- Burn the methane in a modified gas stove, heater, or generator.
While anaerobic digestion requires more equipment and effort than composting, it produces a clean-burning fuel from waste items like meat, dairy, and paper that can’t be composted.
Certain dry trash items like paper, cardboard, and wood can simply be burned to produce heat energy. This isn’t an ideal solution environmentally but can be a pragmatic way to divert small volumes of flammable waste from landfills.
To burn trash for energy:
- Set up an outdoor incinerator or modified burn barrel to safely contain the fire.
- Add a grate to elevate the burning material.
- Place non-flammable cinder blocks around the incinerator to absorb and radiate heat outward.
- Use the heat for cooking, heating water, or warming your greenhouse or patio.
While burning trash is low-tech, it does carry risks from air pollution. This method is best for occasional burning of clean paper products and untreated wood scraps.
Pyrolysis uses heating in an oxygen-free environment to decompose waste into three byproducts: gases, liquids, and biochar. The process can convert plastics, rubber, and other materials back into an energy-rich oil and gas.
Building a pyrolysis unit takes some skill, but here are the basics:
- Construct a sealed pyrolysis chamber with minimal air inside.
- Heat the chamber to around 930°F (500°C).
- Add your plastic or rubber waste.
- Condense and collect the pyrolysis oil and gas produced.
- Burn the fuel or refine it further into petrol, diesel, or propane.
Pyrolysis takes more energy input than the other methods but can convert waste that can’t be composted or burned. With a well-designed system, it can produce more energy than is required to run it.
Instead of sending waste straight to the landfill, try harnessing its latent energy potential. Composting, anaerobic digestion, burning, and pyrolysis allow you to produce fuel and heating from your garbage. Start slowly with composting, then explore the other DIY trash-to-energy options that work for your home and skills. With some effort, you can take control of your waste stream and turn trash into treasure.