[Greenbuilding] Another Green Myth: Garbage Incinerators Are Green Sources of Energy

Jason Holstine jason at amicusgreen.com
Tue Nov 29 19:57:46 PST 2011

Here in Montgomery County, Maryland, a power plant was converted from coal
to (domestic) waste incineration. I can¹t see any argument that this is not
an improvement in all considerations. I formerly served on a local air
quality advisory board and we were briefed on the plant¹s performance,
including emissions and output. The level of pollution reduction was
impressive‹capturing mercury, particulate matter, the usual NOx and SOx, but
also various chemicals that would otherwise come from burning those various

It¹s also worth noting that the county (with a population of 1 million) has
high recycling goals and rates (at least for the US)--they are a few points
away from the goal of achieving 50% residential recycling rates of plastics,
metals and paper. So, it¹s not like they are burning in lieu of recycling;
the active goal is both, and landfill rates are very low.

Now, arguing that incineration should be classified as a
renewable‹especially on par with wind, solar, etc.--is laughable. But it¹s a
political reality.

In the end, this is a case of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the
good. And in no way should it be deemed unfeasible for much of NA.

On 11/29/11 10:12 PM, "John Salmen" <terrain at shaw.ca> wrote:

> I may be coming in to this late as I have been offline. Europe does burn waste
> for fuel to a greater degree than N.A. The waste that is burned is generally
> classed as Œnonrecyclable¹ or probably more realistically as Œuneconomical¹
> and conversion of that waste to fuel is considered better and more
> controllable than what we currently do with Œnonrecyclable¹ which is landfill.
> Landfill is a north American real estate thing so essentially is fought over
> by small communities who want the cash and are willing to devote some chunk of
> real estate to it. As to whether preserving it as landfill or utilizing it as
> energy is better or worse is I think the basic question. We don¹t consider
> landfill as preservation at this point but environmental standards do require
> isolation from any potential for contamination so it works as a form of
> preservation (as to how well it is done is another question).
> I am a bit mixed on the issue as I really don¹t think we are capable of making
> good decisions about waste resources ­ and they are resources. If burning for
> energy was a net zero equation it would make sense but it can¹t be as we lose
> too much energy in the production of waste to recoup it. The scarcity of
> resources represented by our waste may however in the future represent some
> gain and how we preserve that waste is I think probably more important to me
> than how we Œdispose¹ of it.
> I am confused as to why you mention burning in the USA as Œunfeasible¹. Is it
> because recycling has not yet claimed the bulk of the waste and burning would
> divert too much of a recyclable stream?
> John
> From: greenbuilding-bounces at lists.bioenergylists.org
> [mailto:greenbuilding-bounces at lists.bioenergylists.org] On Behalf Of Erin
> Rasmussen
> Sent: November-29-11 3:12 PM
> To: 'Green Building'; 'Reuben Demling'; 'Gennaro Brooks-Church'
> Subject: Re: [Greenbuilding] Another Green Myth: Garbage Incinerators Are
> Green Sources of Energy
> With respect to burning waste to generate power, it's a lot smarter to say
> that it depends a lot on the waste being incinerated, and the way that it is
> being done.  In general burning municipal waste is in the USA unfeasible, but
> there are fuels like waste wood and non-recyclable waste paper that can be
> burned cleanly to generate electricity.  And like people using wood to heat
> their homes in efficient wood stoves, there are ways to burn clean wastes
> (wood, some types of crop residues, waste paper) on a municipal scale and
> there are places in Europe where they have several years experience doing just
> that under much tougher environmental rules than we have here.
> For some examples check out the Gasification Discussion List, and its web
> site: 
> http://gasifiers.bioenergylists.org/
> Cheers,
> Erin Rasmussen
> BioEnergy Discussion List
> erin at trmiles.com
> From: greenbuilding-bounces at lists.bioenergylists.org
> [mailto:greenbuilding-bounces at lists.bioenergylists.org] On Behalf Of Carmine
> Vasile
> Sent: Monday, November 21, 2011 4:27 PM
> To: Reuben Demling; Gennaro Brooks-Church
> Cc: GB Forum
> Subject: Re: [Greenbuilding] Another Green Myth: Garbage Incinerators Are
> Green Sources of Energy
> Reuben & Gennaro: Here's another Green Myth: Incinerators that generate power
> by burning trash should be eligible for state renewable energy subsidies. See
> Comment #1 below Re: "State PSC delays vote on incinerators", By JENNIFER
> SMITH (Newsday, 11/18/11):
> * Had Jennifer Smith and commission members wanting to know more before
> deciding Googled "Title V air permit covanta northport" they would have found
> plenty of reasons to support the staff recommendations to reject Covanta's
> petition -- like the GreenAction Fact Sheet @
> http://greenaction.org/stanislaus/covantafactsheet.shtml
> <http://greenaction.org/stanislaus/covantafactsheet.shtml> , which states: The
> Covanta Waste-to-Energy Garbage Incinerator in Crow's Landing Pollutes Our
> Air! Stop Toxic Pollution from the Covanta Garbage Incinerator in Crow's
> Landing!
> Carmine
> gfxtechnology.com
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