Renewable Energy

It's all about energy, from renewable sources to energy-efficient usage.

Should the United States Be Building More Garbage Incinerators?

4/27/2010 4:44:53 PM

Tags: Sean Rosner, trash, electricity, energy, incenerators, question to readers

Recently the New York Times ran an article about the success some European countries have had with burning household trash and industrial waste to provide heat and electricity for their citizens.

The article uses the city of Horsholm, Denmark as an example. Only four percent of Horsholm’s waste goes to a landfill. The town recycles 61 percent, and 34 percent gets sent to waste-to-energy plants to be incinerated. Horsholm residents receive 80 percent of their heat and 20 percent of their electricity from burned waste.

Though waste incinerators have traditionally been known to spew a great deal of pollution from their smokestacks, this isn’t the case anymore. New, state-of-the-art incinerators in Denmark are equipped with special filters that catch pollutants and small particulates. The article says that plants now emit between 10 and 20 percent of the European Union’s limits for air and water discharge, which are already strict. All this has some European countries excited about the potential of waste-to-energy plants.

In contrast, the article points out that though the United States currently has 87 functioning waste incinerators, few of them were built within the past 15 years, and there are currently no plans to build any more. This is partly because of high up-front costs of building waste-to-energy plants and partly because of lack of desire to live near a power plant (the waste-to-energy plants need proximity to the energy recipients to be most effective). Also, some people feel that the idea of using waste for energy conflicts with the idea of trying to minimize waste in the first place.

Instead, the majority of our waste goes into landfills, which this 2009 study (PDF), conducted in part by the EPA, says leads to more emissions than burning the waste in an incinerator would.

So, should we be building more garbage incinerators in the United States? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.



Related Content

What is Your State Doing to Promote Renewable Energy?

Find out what different states are doing to promote power from renewable sources, including solar an...

It’s Time to Throw Out the Throwaway Economy

From garbage crises in Greece and China to worldwide shortages of grain, meat and oil, our current c...

Throwaway Economy Headed for Junk Heap of History

Avoid pollution and waste entirely.

Communities Push for Zero Waste

Communities Push for Zero Waste August September 2005 By Patrice R. Holderbach In March, the city co...

Content Tools
RSS




Post a comment below.

 

Kelly Knevitt
5/5/2010 12:00:18 AM
The economic developer in Salem, Illinois was pursuing a project for waste to energy. Their goal was more for using the power in the munincipalities and not for private use. The up front cost continues to be an issue. I would love to see it downsized to be used in each person's home.

Carolyn Ellis_1
5/4/2010 7:40:16 AM
I believe this is a good idea but needs to be made on a local level. The best way for it to be judged on its merits is not to have the government build incinerators, but for private business to build them under permits secured from the government. Although I compost and recycle as much as I can, I find that I have a lot of trash that can't be recycled because it is "mixed media." This trash usually will not decompose (in our lifetimes) in a landfill, and the volume could be reduced by burning -- plus the advantage of turning the heat into energy.

Carolyn Ellis_2
5/3/2010 9:41:04 AM
I believe this is a good idea but needs to be made on a local level. The best way for it to be judged on its merits is not to have the government build incinerators, but for private business to build them under permits secured from the government. Although I compost and recycle as much as I can, I find that I have a lot of trash that can't be recycled because it is "mixed media." This trash usually will not decompose (in our lifetimes) in a landfill, and the volume could be reduced by burning -- plus the advantage of turning the heat into energy.

JOHN C McGRATH_3
4/30/2010 11:05:10 PM
BURNING OF TRASH SERVES A DUAL PURPOSE BY NOT HAVING TO BURY THE WASTE AND COLLECT RUN OFF FOR WHO KNOWS HOW MANY YEARS AND USING STEAM FROM THE BURNING TO PRODUCE ELECTRICITY. THERE IS ONE PROBLEM THAT MUST BE TAKEN HANDLED BY SCRUBBING THE SMOKE FROM THE STACK. IF THIS IS DONE CORRECTLY, WE AS A NATION WON'T HAVE TO USE COAL AND PROPANE TO PRODUCE ELECTRICITY. MAKING US LESS DEPENDANT ON THE EARTH TO SUPPLY ALL OUR NEEDS. I DO FEEL THAT ALL RECYCLEABLES NEED TO BE REMOVED FRON THE TRASH SO WE ONLY BURN WHAT CAN'T BE USED.

mhyduchak
4/30/2010 7:07:48 PM
Thirty years ago an incinerator was planned for our area. The idea was to take in trash from other states to generate power for our local use. Public outcry stopped this project. Today this site is home to the largest landfill in Pa. Each day hundreds of trash trucks tear up our interstate roads and the landfill now resembles a small mountain. The only benefit is that the methane gas is pumped to a co-gen plant to produce electric power. The landfill will be closed in twenty years and then we will be stuck looking for another place to put our trash. If the incinerator was built we would not have this problem. For the past twenty years I have been running a recycling drop off point for our township. Each month we recycle seven tons of newspaper, five tons of cardboard and four tons of co-mingle. All of this would be going to the landfill. I feel we should do more to reduce waste and then burn what we cant reuse. m hyduchak, jefferson twppa

pacificsullivan
4/30/2010 6:04:11 PM
This needs to be a local decision, so no, the United States should not be building more. Some good comments above regarding the troubles with the US model. Private development with 'put or pay' agreements are a poor solution. In fact, private development f any type with WTE is problematic in general because the driver will continue to be 'burn more to make more profit' Does incineration have a place? Maybe, as the article points out, heat recovery and electricity generation from the 'bottom 15%' of a waste stream may fit in for some locations at present.

WAL_2
4/30/2010 2:57:34 PM
The US should develop the infrastructure and technologies necessary to more efficiently and productively use discarded materials. We need to do away with the idea of “garbage” and think about how we can reuse and recycle things, as well as how to best convert some materials into energy. Part of the problem in the US is that we tend to scale things up to massive proportions and then centralize it. The Danish model works because facilities fit in a neighborhood and can be located near people who can use the heat. Rather than relying on mass burn combustion of mixed municipal solid waste, we should take advantage of different technologies. Food waste and other organic materials are not easily “reused,” so we should use them in anaerobic digesters to produce biogas, as gas similar to natural gas. The remaining solids can be aerobically cured into compost. We should then explore the feasibility of small scale, distributed gasification facilities for whatever is left. Gasification is a no/low oxygen process that does not combust material, but uses high heat to transform material into a gas similar to natural gas that can be combusted to produce heat and power. Using certain materials as fuel for heat and power production is a good idea, but reduction, reuse and recycling need to come first and we need to generate energy at a scale that makes it possible to use both the heat and power from the energy process.

Gene Blair
4/30/2010 1:37:12 PM
This is an idea that has been mulled for the past thirty years. If we truly want to become energy independent this is definitely a way to help achieve this goal. I am a mechanical engineer and have been working to educate the people around me for the past four decades regarding the potential energy that we can produce and the recycling possibilities that exist in our current landfills. Landfills are extremely expensive to manage and maintain. There has to be a clay layer between the tons and tons of garbage that is deposited each day in these monuments to our stupidity. The minor amounts of methane gas that are collected is far too little good from far too much harm caused by piling decades after decades of waste that really never decomposes, it is just entombed to mummify underground. The gathering, conscientious recycling, and burning off of the 10 - 15% of actual waste material makes so much sense. The garbage of many major metropolitan areas could be trucked, or better yet, shipped by rail to processing centers that would separate, recycle, and reprocess those materials for the environmental good. The materials that could not be recycled should be burned in high efficiency incinerators that reduce the emmisions with precipitators that can be upgraded as technology improves if need be. The net result is energy to operate the recycling processes and perhaps surplus energy that can be directed to the grid for the use in nearby towns and villages.

Thomas Schildman_1
4/30/2010 11:30:42 AM
ccm989 is right on the money. We need this here and now.

Donna Marquart
4/30/2010 11:18:36 AM
We lived in Bremerhaven Germany back in the mid-late 70's and watched how they closed the landfills and took trash to burn in a tall incinerator. To the best of my knowledge, it worked and provided electrical energy to the surrounding area. We need to invest in such things - but I think it will have to come at the local level to be aware of the possibilities. In these days of difficult credit and the banking and oil industry holding too many of the cards, and the need to have the money upfront for the building of nuclear and other alternative energy solutions, I suppose I'll be six feet under before anything cost effective will be instituted. But yes, such projects should be studied and implemented - before they become too expensive - like solar continues to be.

ccm989
4/30/2010 11:05:33 AM
Once again, the Europeans seem to be well ahead of us when it comes to energy resources. Its time for America to go and study what the Danes are doing and see if it would work for us! More power/less landfill garbage seems like a win-win!

MY COMMUNITY






Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.