By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia City Council members were “talking trash” today, as they saw firsthand how the Streets Department plans to turn Philadelphia waste into a renewable energy source.

A city council committee gave initial approval to new trash hauling contracts, including one to the firm Waste Management of Pennsylvania.

Waste Management plans to build a $20-million facility in Northeast Philadelphia to process trash in a way that creates pellets which can be used as fuel.

Council members held their breath as streets commissioner Clarena Tolson passed around some sample pellets.

(Credit: Mike Dunn)

“This trash is about one month old, and I think it is important for you to see it and to feel it,” she told the councilmembers.   “It almost reminds you of goose droppings.  But it is basically trash that has had moisture removed, as well as the metals.  And that product can be then be used as an alternative fuel.  We don’t encourage you to smoke it, even though it does look like a little cigar.”

A final vote by Council is expected next week.  Construction on the pellet processing plant is to begin later this year.