US Policies Sustain the Unsustainable Garbage Incineration Industry
A 25-page Note published in January 2019 by the Boston College Law School provides a detailed history and analysis of how the waste incineration industry is benefiting from policies designed for truly renewable resources:
A Dirty Waste – How Renewable Energy Policies have Financed the Unsustainable Waste-To-Energy Industry, Hale McAnulty, Boston College Law School, January 2019. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“WTE has benefited significantly from renewable energy policies. WTE, however, is a form of energy produced by burning trash and is neither environmentally friendly nor particularly sustainable. Yet, the WTE industry owes its existence to those government programs designed to fund sustainable sources of electricity. With WTE drawing from the same pot of government resources, the policies that were written to stimulate the sustainable energy field and protect the environment have undermined those very goals by subsidizing the WTE industry. This Note summarizes the WTE process and the laws that allowed it to grow, argues that WTE is not economically sound or environmentally sustainable, and proposes legislative changes to prevent more harm from WTE in the future.
“WTE…was also able to benefit by renewable energy policies. Because WTE superficially appears to be renewable, it was able to become a thriving industry by taking government subsidies that should have been reserved for wind, solar, and geothermal energy. Thus this “dirty” industry has continued to benefit under federal and state programs, while they simultaneously expelling persistent, bioaccumulative toxins into the environment. Energy and environmental policies thus actively undermined many of the goals they were written to achieve, most specifically energy and environ-mental sustainability. Times are changing, however, and there is a movement in the United States away from these polluting renewables. Federal and state governments should continue to promote renewable technologies. They should, however, take steps to ensure the WTE does not continue to enjoy benefits at the expense of truly clean renewable technology.”
Garbage Incineration in St Louis, MO
The Environmental Leader, November 5, 2019, reports that a New Planet Energy company will build a 2,250 ton per day garbage waste to energy plant in St Louis by the end of 2020. Read more here.
The plant will be a prepared fuel system, which will process garbage into pellets to be burned in cement kilns and paper mill boilers.
The strategy fits the current approach to waste to energy, which stays away from building new incinerator capacity and burns prepared fuels in existing facilities.
Thanks to a report from the Global Anti Incineration Alliance readers can get a clear assessment of what is being called ‘chemical recycling’ vs. mechanical recycling. The four page fact sheet and infographic “Questions and Answers: Chemical Recycling” explains how the industry is conflating “chemical recycling” and “plastic-to-fuel,” and how neither are the solution to our plastic problems. Read more here.
It’s NOT recycling when you treat plastic to burn it!
Garbage Incineration in Salem, Marion County, OR
Organized citizens in the Clean Air Now Coalition are making a case for lowering the emission limits to that of a large new medical waste incinerator, which is far lower than for a municipal solid waste incinerator. This incinerator already had 6.71% of its fuel coming from medical waste in the first three quarters of 2019, and EPA only requires 10% for it to be regulated as a medical waste incinerator. This incinerator has already exceeded medical waste incinerator limits for six types of emissions, including heavy metals. They are also asking that Cleaner Air Oregon standards be integrated into the air quality permit as quickly as possible. Those standards are designed to address the effect of emissions on health rather than simply be based on Best Available Control Technology.
The company charges a higher fee for burning imported medical waste for incineration.
A Danish Fiasco: The Copenhagen Incineration Plant
Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) reports on the Amager Bakke a modern plant in Copenhagen that opened in 2017 to replace an older garbage incinerator. It burns 560,000 tons of garbage annually with much fanfare. It features a ski slope as part of the construction.
ZWE concludes that the project is “a lesson on questionable decision-making processes, poor project planning and economic and environmental failures.”
The new incinerator was supposed to provide benefits in terms of energy efficiency and the environment: produce 20% more heat, emit less smoke and reduce air pollution by 50%; as well as being financially sound.
This did not happen. Rather the plant is a “symbol of unfulfilled environmental aspirations of Denmark” :
- The plant is too large; waste has to be imported; lifecycle arguments have no borne out
- Several bailouts were needed and the incinerator continues to struggle with both financial and technical issues; including a two week shut down in 2017 In 2017, when a design error was discovered.
- The plant cannot work to full capacity in the summer months, as the resulting over-production (18) would mean that other power plants could not distribute their heat and electricity (and would be forced to close). During the summer, therefore, only a single line is run at Amager Bakke.
The facility has been a technical and financial fiasco, characterized from the outset by poor judgment that ignored the advice of experts, and project management that contradicts the municipalities’ own waste management and climate plans. As a result, Copenhagen now has an incinerator plant that is double the size needed and that may need to import more and more foreign waste if it is to keep running. Given that it is financed through a 30-year loan, it is Danish taxpayers that will pay for the price of this waste.
See full story here.
Press Release from the Global Anti Incineration Alliance, 24 November 2019: Launch of new anti-incineration network website
The United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN) has today launched their new website at http://ukwin.org.uk/ helping support those groups and individuals campaigning to stop the slide towards the UK burning rather than making best use of our resources.
There are currently 62 municipal waste incinerators in the UK with a combined capacity of around 17 million tonnes. In 2017/18 more than 42% of England’s Local Authority Collected Waste was incinerated. Dozens more incinerators are proposed across the country, and these proposals are being opposed by UKWIN and its network of members who want to see more reduction, re-use and recycling instead.
UKWIN was founded in 2007 as an umbrella organisation to support those opposing waste incineration. Opposition to incineration arises because people are concerned about how much recyclable material is being burned, and about the greenhouse gasses emitted when waste is burned, the harm caused by incineration to local air and soil quality, the huge public expense of building new incinerators, and the high level of secrecy that surrounds long-term incinerator contracts. Such contracts can often provide perverse financial incentives that favour the incineration of material that could and should otherwise have been recycled or composted.
UKWIN’s website features a new design and layout, fresh content, improved functionality, and better support for mobile devices and tablets. The website clearly and simply sets out the case against incineration, whilst providing detailed advice and guidance for local campaigners. The site explains UKWIN’s national campaign efforts, and includes an interactive map of incinerators that signposts to local campaign groups, alongside a new page that features some useful facts and figures, including about the £350 million of unpaid cost to society arising from the adverse climate change impact of incinerating plastics and other fossil fuels.
Speaking about the launch, UKWIN’s Associate Coordinator Josh Dowen explains how: “There is so much that is wrong about incineration and such an abundance of evidence to support the case against it that it can be hard for people to know where to start. It is great that we have had this opportunity to put decades of knowledge and experience at the fingertips of anyone who wants to learn more, whether they are environmental campaigners, journalists, politicians or curious members of the public”.
Commenting on the work of UKWIN and the new website Sam Chetan-Welsh, Political Campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “We applaud the hard work of the hundreds of volunteers who campaign so passionately against the scandalous burning of our waste. UKWIN’s new website helps equip campaigners with the tools that they need to help bring about a more circular economy and a greener, better future. The launch is well timed, as there is a real opportunity at the moment for politicians to pledge support for measures such an incineration tax, a moratorium on new incineration capacity, and legally-binding reduction targets that radically reduce our use of single-use plastic”.
Notes to Editors
Details regarding the figures used in this press release are available from: http://ukwin.org.uk/facts
The new UKWIN website was made possible through grant funding provided by the Greenpeace Environmental Trust.
UKWIN can be contacted by e-mail to: email@example.com
The interactive map and table with detailed information about existing, potential and prevented municipal waste incinerators in the UK is available at: http://ukwin.org.uk/incinerators
Images that can be used to accompany any article can be found at: http://ukwin.org.uk/press/UKWIN-Website-Launch-Press-Kit.zip