Making the case for waste to energy

08/20/2014

For the past two decades, I've heard numerous plastics industry scientists and engineers make the case for burning trash - specifically the "trash" that contains extremely BTU value. But instead of getting the real value out of post-consumer plastics through waste-to-energy (WTE), we spend a tremendous amount of energy (most of it coming from fossil fuels) to recycle plastics, paper, glass and other commodities. The U.S. is behind the times on this issue.

Take Sweden for example. According to a recent report published in Slate.com, Forbranning for All! by Daniel Gross, Sweden sends just 1% of its waste to landfills. And while Sweden recycles, they only recycle about 50% of their trash. The rest is burned in one of the country's 32 WTE plants, which according to Gross burned 2.27 million tons of waste in 2012. Today, Sweden's WTE program produces 8.5% of the country's electricity.

The Environmental Protection Agency produced a report that said incinerated garbage releases 2,988 lbs. of CO2 per megawatt hour of electricity produced, which "compares favorably" with coal (2,249 lbs./megawatt hour). However, given that we live in a carbon-based world, most of the trash burned would have released the CO2 embedded in it over time anyway as "part of Earth's natural carbon cycle."
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