Freshkills Park Blog

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.

May 13, 2009 - Posted by | FKP | , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Hey its a Good point. Similar service is provided by a company called Peat.com

    Comment by peter | May 26, 2009 | Reply

  2. It’s rather silly to talk about “using the renewable resources we have” while excluding waste-to-energy. Landfill gas doesn’t recover nearly as much of the energy value as combusting waste directly, landfills produce emissions of their own and take up valuable airspace for disposal. Modern air pollution controls retrofitted or newly installed on the waste-to-energy facilities currently operating in the United States make them far cleaner than many people assume. Releases of dioxins, heavy metals and other pollutants of concern are much lower per megawatt than coal power which still provides 50% of electrical generation in the U.S. Waste-to-energy completely avoids emissions of landfill methane and offsets fossil power generation and so is a very significant issue in terms of climate change. One fact that may surprise some people is that municipalities using waste-to-energy technology in the U.S. typically have recycling rates about 5% higher than their neighbors, and recycling and energy recovery are in no way incompatible. In fact, this figure is much dependent on the enhanced recovery of ferrous and non-ferrous metals which are more easily liberated and recovered from WTE ash than from untreated waste.

    If we are serious about creating positive environmental and economic outcomes from waste management then we need to be encouraging the use of waste-to-energy instead of spreading fear and misinformation about the technology. Landfill gas and waste conversion technologies are useful solutions as well but they do not replace the a conventional mass-burn facility which empirically provides the best performance value for energy recovery. There is a reason the E.U. has embraced combustion as the primary method for treating its waste: it’s clean and it works.

    And finally, lest we forget, this is our own garbage we are talking about here. Unless absolutely everything you use can be recycled (and guaranteed even some of the things you think can be recycled cannot actually be due to technical or economic limitations) then think about this: if you want to recover the energy value in your garbage, the absolute last thing you want to do is bury it!

    Comment by jeremy | June 5, 2009 | Reply


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