Posted on November 28th, 2012

Outside the Box – Waste to Energy

At the end of September, the architect of the Capitol in Washington DC announced that there had been over 3,700 tons of non-recyclable solid waste burned over a nine month period, resulting in a more efficient use of the Congressional facilities waste. But how is burning our trash a good thing? Well, the waste-to-energy process converts the trash into usable electricity; and in this case, it was used to power homes in the areas surrounding Alexandria, Virginia. While there is concern that this process results in more carbon dioxide emissions, others believe that the energy it saves in hauling and storage along with their associated health issues, make it a logical trade-off.

Across the planet in New Delhi, India, the quarter-million people who make their living in trash collection are also wary of the waste-to-energy idea. Commonly known as ragpickers, the Indian trash collectors pay for the right to collect and sort the trash – something the city’s own trash collectors are already paid to do but don’t. Looking for new modes of energy, the New Delhi government is experimenting with the waste-to-energy process. There are currently three plants running as test cases, but the hopes are high for this technology. If the plants become active, they will provide enough energy to power 50,000 homes, and will displace nearly 8,000 tons of trash in the act along with the associated ragpickers.

The ragpickers have many environmentalists on their side, as they do not see waste-to-energy as either clean or renewable. They are quick to point out that the ragpickers are very good at their job which involves large amounts of recycling; a consideration that the waste-to-energy process doesn’t give much thought to. Sure, they are for recycling, but are not likely to absorb the cost or time associated with meticulously rifling through the trash to find the smallest items that are able to be reused or recycled.

In Ada County, Idaho, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has done a review of the possible environmental implications of a new waste-to-energy facility, as there were questions as to whether the proposed Dynamis incinerator would do the job the way it was advertised. The DEQ has assured the County that whatever emissions are released will be within the confines of federal standards. The county has since entered into a 30-year agreement valued at $75 million with Dynamis to build the plant and incineration system. It is expected that some 400-tons of trash and tires will be incinerated and then converted into gas, thereby generating 22-megawatts of electricity every day. While questions remain about the long-term environmental and health consequences of these facilities, the isolated test-sites will be something to watch and consider in light of our constant need to dispose of trash coupled with our constantly growing energy needs.

Justin Harmon

Staff Writer

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