Tuesday, April 13, 2010

To Burn Or Not To Burn?

An article in the New York Times yesterday poses this interesting environmental question. Europe is rapidly embracing waste-to-energy technology and simultaneously reducing demand on landfills and adding (mostly) clean energy to their power grids. Countries like Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands are building them in rural, suburban and even urban areas. NIMBYism be damned in these densely populated lands...but could this be feasible here across the pond, where ample amounts of land are yearning to stink like garbage and pollute the surrounding area and its water supply?

From The NY Times:

By contrast, no new waste-to-energy plants are being planned or built in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency says — even though the federal government and 24 states now classify waste that is burned this way for energy as a renewable fuel, in many cases eligible for subsidies. There are only 87 trash-burning power plants in the United States, a country of more than 300 million people, and almost all were built at least 15 years ago.

Instead, distant landfills remain the end point for most of the nation’s trash. New York City alone sends 10,500 tons of residential waste each day to landfills in places like Ohio and South Carolina.

Yes that's right, the piece of paper or plastic you are about to toss could end up down south, a thousand miles from that Brownstone you live in or high-rise office you work at. Logically, it takes a considerable cost to make that waste transfer happen. What New York legislators (and their constituents who could possibly be living near these facilities) must see, is that this technology looks nothing like the incinerators of old and that the benefits are more than impressive.

Now of course, conservation, recycling and renewable energy like wind and solar are still a crucial part of the 21st century energy equation. Yet we still have a lot of waste to deal with and not everyone is as green with their trash as they might admit to. Additionally, studies are beginning to show that these facilities are cheaper than hauling our garbage hundreds of miles away. The Mayor's Office commented in the story that it would be near impossible to achieve but realistically speaking, adding this to PlaNYC could be feasible if we can only stop relying so much on landfills.