EPA Credits Waste-to-Energy and Recycling and with GHG savings

The EPA published a report linking waste-to-energy and other materials management practices such as recycling to a reduction in the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  The September 2009 report, entitled
"Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Materials and Land Management Practices," highlights examples of how materials and land-management activities by the EPA, states, local governments and stakeholders have led to a significant reduction in GHG emissions. Examples include:

  • Waste-to-energy recovery systems that combusted 31.4 million tons of MSW resulted in the avoidance of 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions in 2006.
  • Municipal solid waste (MSW) recycling in 2006 resulted in the avoidance of nearly 183 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions.
  • EPA WasteWise partners reported source reduction and recycling activities which resulted in an avoidance of 27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions in 2005.

This latest EPA report confirms what numerous studies have shown over the years, namely that waste-to-energy reduces GHG emissions and that it is compatible with recycling.  It is also one of the key factors why groups such as the World Economic Forum listed waste-to-energy as one of the Eight Emerging Large-Scale Clean Energy Sectors in its Davos Report.

British Research Concludes that Waste-to-Energy Does Not Pose Risk to Health

Modern, well-run and regulated waste-to-energy facilities do not pose a significant threat to public health, according to research published by the British government-backed Health Protection Agency (HPA). In its report, which reviews the latest scientific evidence on the health effects of modern municipal waste-to-energy facilties, the HPA concludes that any potential damage from facilities is likely to be so small that it would be undetectable.

Commenting on the report's conclusions, a spokesman for the HPA said: "The evidence suggests that air pollution from incinerators makes up a fraction of 1% of the country's particulate emissions. Industry and traffic account for more than 50%. "European Union Directives aimed at minimizing landfill are leading to an increased use of incineration, and research suggests that this will not cause any significant adverse health effects. The report cites evidence from the Department of Health-affiliated Committee on Carcinogencicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment, which concluded that any potential risk of cancer due to living near a municipal waste incinerator was "exceedingly low", and probably not measurable by most modern techniques.

Harnessing the Energy of Trash

Alyssa Lappen penned an article for inFOCUS magazine entitled "Harnessing Energy from Trash" in which she advocates for implementing policies in the United States that would utilize the currently untapped energy potential in our trash.  The rest of the world has jumped ahead of the United States in terms of harnessing the energy in waste and Lappen urges the U.S. to catch up.  The Energy Recovery Council wholeheartedly agrees.  The ERC believes lawmakers and policymakers must recognize that the combustion of municipal solid waste produces clean, renewable, and climate-friendly energy.  Policies that provide the appropriate incentives for waste-to-energy will promote energy independence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and support the communities that rely on this important technology.

Waste-to-Energy is a Valuable Renewable Resource that Must be Considered

Jackie Noblett of Mass High Tech wrote a story highlighting efforts to remove the regulatory moratorium on new waste-to-energy capacity in Massachusetts.  There is no legitimate basis to place a moratorium on waste-to-energy facilities.  The stringent state permitting and siting processes exist to ensure that only facilities that meet certain criteria can be built.  Arbitrarily prohibiting local governments from considering waste-to-energy limits their options and increases costs and risks associated with exporting large amounts of waste to neighboring states.  Waste-to-energy plants should not be subject to an arbitrary moratorium.  Rather, all facilities should be treated equally and subject to the same reviews.

Fishing for Energy: Marine Waste Recycled into Electricity

The Christian Science Monitor published an article highlighting the Fishing for Energy program, which is a partnership among Covanta Energy waste-to-energy facilities, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Schnitzer Steel.  Along the Northeast coast, seven ports in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have been outfitted with 40-cubic-yard dumpsters where fishermen can dispose of their used gear free of charge.  Once the dumpsters are full, the gear is transported to a nearby recycling facility where metals are removed from crab pots and lobster traps, and nets and ropes are sheared for easier disposal.  The gear is then sent to a Covanta waste-to-energy facility where the waste is converted to electricity.  Each ton of fishing gear is able to generate enough electricity to power one home for 25 days, estimates Paul Gilman, chief sustainability officer for Covanta Energy Corp.

The Fishing for Energy program is another fine example of the ability of waste-to-energy to recover valuable energy and materials from items commonly considered "waste".