It seems like a throwback to Back to the Future, but a man named Joseph Longo and his company, Startech Environmental Corporation, have found a way to bring Hollywood to real life.
The Plasma Converter as it is called, can consume nearly any type of waste (save radioactive) and it uses a process called plasma gasification to make your waste into glass, and ethanol, natural gas, and hydrogen.
It works in this way, (this is a quote from my Popular Science issue from this month):
It works like a little like the big bang, only backwards (you get nothing from something). Inside a sealed vessel made of stainless steel and filled with a stable gas-either pure nitrogen or, as in this case, ordinary air-a 650 volt current passing between two electrodes rips electrons from the air, converting the gas into plasma. Current flows continuously through this newly formed plasma, creating a field of extremely intense energy very much like lighting. The radiant energy of the plasma arc is so powerful, it disintegrates trash into its constituent elements by tearing apart molecular bonds. The system is capable of breaking down pretty much anything except nuclear waste, the isotopes of which are indestructible. The only by-products are an obsidian-like glass...[used for bathroom tiles etc.]...Perhaps the most amazing part of the process is that it's self sustaining. Just like your toaster, Startech's Plasma Converter draws its power from the electrical grid to get started. The initial voltage is about equal to the zap from a police stun-gun. But once the cycle is under way, the 2,2000 F [the resulting gaseous waste] is fed into a cooling system, generating steam that drives turbines to produce electricity...A Startech machine that costs roughly $250 million dollars could handle 2,000 tons of waste a day, approximately what a city of a million people amasses in the time span...[the] converter could pay for itself in about 10 years, and that without factoring in the money made from selling the excess electricity and [gas]. After that break-even point, it's pure profit.
I think that that's the coolest thing I've heard about in a long time, and its very promising for the future.