How green is waste-to-energy?
Representatives from some of the country’s largest waste management companies have been lamenting the lost potential of President Obama’s green stimulus bill to directly support the growth of waste-to-energy operations. The US is currently dishing out $60 billion in energy grants and tax breaks meant to reduce dependence on coal plants blamed for global warming–but unlike wind or solar, none of that money is directly designated for waste-to-energy. The waste management companies ascribe their exclusion from the renewable energy party to the general disregard given to garbage and the waste industry.
Treehugger has posted a response to this story agreeing with the exclusion of waste-to-energy from the bill and citing the levels of dioxin and mercury that can be released into the environment through the incineration of garbage. One of the comments at the bottom of the post, posted by someone at Waste Management, takes issue with the claim that current incinerator-generators are environmental hazards. This is a touchy area, but the EPA’s website provides some facts about practices and impacts.
The other means of energy extraction from waste is, of course, harvesting methane from the gas produced by material decomposition. At the Freshkills Park site, landfill gas is collected, and the methane extracted from it is sold to National Grid. That methane is converted into energy and used by about 22,000 homes on Staten Island. While we recognize that it’s important not to create incentives or excuses for creating more waste, we do think it’s valuable to make use of the renewable energy resources we have.