Burnt: how we trashed what made sense

I should have Greg writing this post, but, I’ll spare you the three-week wait for the stilted writing :-)

Montgomery County used to burn our trash at two incinerators. Faced with option of investing more in scrubbers and clean-burn technology, we snuffed out the fire and turned the ovens into “waste transfer stations.” Now we pay to haul it there- and then haul it away again- to create a giant mountain of trash that spews methane (oft cited as a main cause of ozone layer depletion).

Of course, there is payola from waste haulers, landfill operators and the like involved (might be why Rhine McLin got $10K and Nan Whaley got $5,500 from a landfill developer in Westerville in the last election cycle).

In Europe, they are now not only burning trash to save the problems with landfills- they are generating energy from it- from the NYT article:

a vast energy plant that burns thousands of tons of household garbage and industrial waste, round the clock.

The Vestforbraending plant in Copenhagen, the largest of the 29 waste-to-energy plants in Denmark. Their use has reduced the country’s energy costs.

Far cleaner than conventional incinerators, this new type of plant converts local trash into heat and electricity. Dozens of filters catch pollutants, from mercury to dioxin, that would have emerged from its smokestack only a decade ago.

In that time, such plants have become both the mainstay of garbage disposal and a crucial fuel source across Denmark, from wealthy exurbs like Horsholm to Copenhagen’s downtown area. Their use has not only reduced the country’s energy costs and reliance on oil and gas, but also benefited the environment, diminishing the use of landfills and cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The plants run so cleanly that many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration.

via Europe Finds Cleaner Energy Source by Burning Trash – NYTimes.com.

Of course someone comes up with problems: if you burn it- you must feed it- arguing that incineration cuts down recycling. The solution is really quite simple- you have two kinds of trash collection:

  1. trash which can’t be recycled- which people pay to dispose of
  2. recyclables: unlimited free pick up.

Paying by how much trash you generate is really a more democratic principle to begin with. Putting different rates on different types of trash makes it even more efficient. Wouldn’t it be nice to see all of Nan’s soon-to-be-demolished homes recycled or generating energy – instead of filling up landfills?

We can only keep shipping trash cost effectively as long as oil is cheap. Turning trash back into power used to seem like science fiction- but then again, take a look at your cell phone. It’s time to examine reopening our incinerators.

Here is the Dayton Grassroots Daily Show discussing this technology.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed! If you wish to support this blog and independent journalism in Dayton, consider donating. All of the effort that goes into writing posts and creating videos comes directly out of my pocket, so any amount helps!