You are here

DC Council: Reject the Covanta Waste Contract

Learn more about DC's connection to Lorton in this article on DC's Waste and Environmental Racism

July 6, 2015: Letter from 20 environmental, business, health and civil rights organizations opposing the Covanta waste incineration contract

July 7, 2015: Letter from American Lung Association to City Council

July 8-9, 2015: Covanta's letter to council and our response

July 13, 2015: Temporary Victory: Mayor Pulls Incineration Contract Bills. See withdrawal letter.

September/October 2015: DC's Department of Public Works has submitted the same contract to City Council for a vote, which Councilmember Mary Cheh put on the agenda for a vote at the Tuesday, October 6th, 2015 City Council Meeting.

Oct 6, 2015: City Council approved the contract over the opposition of 20+ organizations and hundreds of individuals.

Jump down to version with documentation

Covanta Fairfax Trash Incinerator in Lorton, VA

I-95 Energy/Resource Recovery Facility (Covanta Fairfax trash incinerator) in Lorton, VA.

About half of the waste going through DC's two transfer stations goes to be burned in Covanta's Fairfax trash incinerator in Lorton, Virginia. This contract expires at the end of 2015. DC's Department of Public Works (DPW) has issued a a request for proposals (RFP) for 5-11 more years of waste burning, and awarded it to Covanta. This contract now needs council approval within 45 days (before council recesses on July 15th).

Incineration is the most expensive and polluting way to manage waste (or to make energy). Continued reliance on incineration flies in the face of the new waste law City Council passed in 2014, requiring the city to move toward zero waste. It’s also bad for the health and pocketbooks of DC residents, and violates the Civil Rights Act.

RFP Too Narrow

The RFP was set up so that only one facility could bid. It was restricted to existing incinerators within 50 miles of DC’s transfer stations. There are only four such facilities. The only one in a white community (Montgomery County) does not take out-of-county trash. Two of the others (Alexandria and Baltimore) do not have room for the volume of DC’s waste. The contract was rigged to keep waste flowing to Covanta’s Lorton incinerator. Landfills were not allowed to bid.

Economics

Incineration is the most expensive way to manage waste. DPW Director Howland admitted – in a 2009 email to the Mayor's office, and in sworn testimony before city council in 2012 – that trucking waste to southeastern Virginia landfills was cheaper than disposing of it at the incinerator in Lorton, yet DPW chose to go with incineration in the last contract because of their pro-incineration bias.

Social justice

DC’s waste system is a prime example of environmental racism – a documented national trend. DC’s waste is first transferred through black communities in Wards 5 and 7, then much of it is burned in Lorton, VA, which is the 12th most diverse community of color in the country. The Lorton Valley community lives adjacent to the giant incinerator and two large landfills (one is where the incinerator’s ash goes), and nearby a third landfill and a sewage sludge incinerator. It’s a violation of the Civil Rights Act for federally-funded agencies, including the District, to take actions that have a discriminatory effect, as this RFP does.

Health

DC has high asthma rates. According to the CDC, DC’s adult lifetime asthma prevalence was 16.2%, while the national rate is 13.3%. The age-adjusted asthma hospitalization rate in the District of Columbia was 267.1 per 100,000 persons compared with the U.S. rate of 144 per 100,000 persons. Within 20 miles of DC, Covanta’s Lorton incinerator is second only to Dulles Airport in emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), the air pollutants that aggravate asthma. Covanta’s Alexandria incinerator is also in the top five in the DC area. DC’s waste disposal should not be helping drive DC’s high asthma rates.

Other health problems are exacerbated by the fact that this incinerator is the largest emitter of Hydrofluoric Acid in their entire industry, is the largest source of mercury pollution within 20 miles of DC, is in the top five sources of sulfur dioxides within 20 miles, and is a large source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Environment

Incinerators do not avoid landfills. They just make for smaller, more toxic, landfills. The Covanta incinerator Lorton dumps their toxic ash in an old Fairfax County landfill adjacent to the incinerator. For every 100 tons of trash burned, 30 tons of ash remain. The rest went into the air. Landfills are a problem, but incineration just makes the pollution problem worse, creating new toxins in the combustion process and concentrating what doesn’t end up in the air, into the ash sent to landfills, where it can still leach and harm groundwater.

Trash incineration is dirtier than coal burning. To make the same amount of energy as a coal power plant, trash incinerators release 28 times as much dioxin than coal, 2.5 times as much carbon dioxide (CO2), twice as much carbon monoxide, three times as much nitrogen oxides (NOx), 6-14 times as much mercury, nearly six times as much lead and 70% more sulfur dioxides.

Covanta's track record

Covanta has an extensive track record of violations at their facilities across the country. Many are for air pollution violations. They were even once caught and fined for tampering with their emissions monitors to make it seem like their emissions are lower than they really are.

"Waste-to-energy" and "energy from waste" = Incineration

Covanta’s facilities are defined and regulated as trash incinerators ("municipal waste combustors" in EPA language). The fact that they generate small amounts of electricity has no bearing on whether they are incinerators. However, the industry has a (well-deserved) terrible reputation, as incineration is one of the most unpopular technologies there is. For that reason, Covanta and others avoid the 'i' word and insist that they’re not incinerators, choosing inaccurate PR terms instead. Waste isn’t actually turned into energy, but into toxic ash and toxic air emissions. Three to five times more energy is saved by recycling and composting discarded materials than can be created by burning them. In essence, these are "waste-OF-energy" facilities.

What Should be Done: Let the Covanta contract die so that DPW can extend the current contract on a 1-year basis, allowing time to properly rebid for a shorter term contract allowing landfills and digesters to bid, and moving toward zero waste

In passing the Sustainable Solid Waste Management Amendment Act of 2014, city council mandated that the District come up with a zero waste plan, outlining steps the District can take to achieve at least an 80% waste diversion rate – diverting waste from both incinerators and landfills. Rather than continue to use both, and lock in contracts for 5 to 11 years, city council ought to reject the Covanta contract (or let it die, unintroduced), extend the current Covanta contract on a short-term basis (no more than a year), and request that DPW issue a 1-year RFP that is open to all bidders that can handle DC’s waste (including landfills and digesters, not just incinerators). This will buy some time to allow DPW to then start working toward contracts that reflect the zero waste goal. For whatever waste cannot be reduced, reused, recycled or composted, the “back end” contracts ought to require that waste be anaerobically digested before landfilling, avoiding gassy, stinky landfills, and helping the city meet its goals regarding climate change.

There are several landfills that could bid. The remainder of DC’s waste currently goes to landfills in much more rural areas in southeastern Virginia, affecting far fewer people (1,500 to 4,500 people within 5 miles of the landfills, compared to 103,000 people living within five miles of the Lorton incinerator).


DOCUMENTATION:

"About half of the waste going through DC's two transfer stations goes to be burned in Covanta's Fairfax trash incinerator in Lorton, Virginia."

    From 2011-2013, 49% of the waste going through DC's Fort Totten and Benning Road transfer stations went to Covanta's Fairfax (Lorton) incinerator, according to data released by DPW in a 2014 FOIA request (see items 9-12 for spreadsheet with DC's waste flow data), from which this chart was compiled:

    DC waste destinations 2011-2013

    This is affirmed on DPW's website, where they state "The majority of trash, yard waste, and associated materials collected residentially or commercially at the agency’s transfer stations, are disposed at Fairfax County’s Energy Resource Recovery Facility in Lorton."

"This contract expires at the end of 2015."

    The current contract was executed with Covanta Fairfax in 2008, and was extended in 2010 and 2012. The latest extension states on p3: "The term of this agreement is effective upon execution through December 31, 2015." This was revealed in our 2013 FOIA to DPW.

"DC's Department of Public Works (DPW) has issued a a request for proposals (RFP) for 5-11 more years of waste burning, and awarded it to Covanta. This contract now needs council approval within 45 days (before council recesses on July 15th)."

"Incineration is the most expensive and polluting way to manage waste (or to make energy)."

    See this documented at www.energyjustice.net/incineration.

    Some highlights...

    Incinerators are more expensive than landfills. Here's how incinerator prices compare to landfill prices across the country:


    Source: National Solid Waste Management Association

    See further down for DC-specific documentation showing that it's cheaper to use landfills than the Covanta Fairfax incinerator.



    Incineration is more polluting than coal:



    Click here for documentation

"Continued reliance on incineration flies in the face of the new waste law City Council passed in 2014, requiring the city to move toward zero waste."

    In July 2014, DC City Council passed the Sustainable Solid Waste Management Amendment Act with our support. This new waste law requires that the city come up with a zero waste plan to divert 80% of the city's waste from both incinerators and landfills. It clarifies the city's Sustainable DC program goal of zero waste by 2032.

    For the city to start moving toward zero waste, incinerators must be cut out of the question. Incinerators are never part of a zero waste system. The economic savings of using landfills in the interim are needed to financially support the waste reduction strategies. Also, addressing the back end of the system properly (digesting any remaining waste to stabilize it before landfilling) is important to address within city waste contracts -- and needs to be driven through contractual incentives in the next five years, perhaps by starting to require a certain portion of DC's waste stream to be handled by digestion by years 4 and 5. A 5-11 year incinerator contract wastes time that could be spent using a contractual process to spark the creation of private digestion operations to serve the District. Cost savings by using landfills in the near-term could also be applied to developing public digestion operations for the city.

"It's also bad for the health and pocketbooks of DC residents, and violates the Civil Rights Act."

    Keep reading for details on these...

RFP Too Narrow

"The RFP was set up so that only one facility could bid. It was restricted to existing incinerators within 50 miles of DC’s transfer stations. There are only four such facilities. The only one in a white community (Montgomery County) does not take out-of-county trash. Two of the others (Alexandria and Baltimore) do not have room for the volume of DC's waste. The contract was rigged to keep waste flowing to Covanta's Lorton incinerator. Landfills were not allowed to bid."

    The Incineration Request for Proposals (RFP) states on pages 8 & 10:

    C.5. REQUIREMENTS
    C.5.1. The Contractor shall operate a licensed and permitted WTE Facility...
    C.5.1.8. The Contractor's WTE Facility shall have been in commercial operation for at least 3 years and shall be located within a 50-mile geographic radius (one-way hauling) of the Fort Totten and Benning Road Transfer Stations.

    "WTE Facility" means "waste-to-energy," which is an inaccurate term for a trash incinerator. (Trash incinerators, even though they produce some energy, do not literally turn trash into energy, but turn it into toxic ash and toxic air emissions, while recovering a small fraction of the energy that could have been conserved through recycling and composting.)

    There are only four trash incinerators within a 50 mile radius of DC's two transfer stations:

    State County City Owner Operator Plant Name Size (tons/day) Demographics within 5 miles
    MD Montgomery Dickerson Northeast MD Waste Disposal Authority Covanta Montgomery County Resource Recovery Facility 1,800 78% white
    MD Baltimore City Baltimore City Wheelabrator Wheelabrator Wheelabrator Baltimore (BRESCO) 2,250 68% people of color
    VA Alexandria City Alexandria City Covanta Covanta Alexandria/Arlington Resource Recovery Facility 975 53% people of color
    VA Fairfax Lorton Covanta Covanta I‐95 Energy/Resource Recovery Facility 3,000 54% people of color (72% closest to the plant)

    According to 2013 waste receipt data provided to us by the Maryland Department of the Environment, Montgomery County only takes waste from within the county (and county officials confirmed for us by phone that this is their policy). The same data shows that the Baltimore incinerator is at 87% capacity, and that accepting another 200,000 tons/year of waste from DC would put them at 111% capacity.

    According to 2013 waste receipt data provided to us by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Alexandria incinerator is at 99% capacity. Adding another 200,000 tons/year of waste from DC would put them at 155% capacity. Covanta's Fairfax incinerator, however, was at 91% capacity and that included over 215,000 tons of DC waste. Continuing to send DC waste there would not increase their capacity, and thus this one incinerator was the only one in a position to big on the RFP.


Economics

"Incineration is the most expensive way to manage waste. DPW Director Howland admitted – in a 2009 email to the Mayor's office, and in sworn testimony before city council in 2012 – that trucking waste to southeastern Virginia landfills was cheaper than disposing of it at the incinerator in Lorton, yet DPW chose to go with incineration in the last contract because of their pro-incineration bias."

    The incinerator industry's trade association president testified before DC City Council in March 2013 and admitted that incineration is more expensive than landfills. Other industry-wide data shows the same.

    Among DC's options, DPW Director William Howland, answering questions from Transportation and Environment Committee Chair, Mary Cheh, in hearing on 9/28/2012:

    "We negotiated the price with Fairfax and you just needed to give us the hauling costs from DC to Fairfax. There were 9 vendors in 2004 that bid, and 5 vendors that bid in 2009. All 14 bids, it was cheaper to take it to a landfill, which typically was as far away as Richmond, than it was to take it to Fairfax County."

    In a 2009 email to the Mayor's office, Howland wrote:

    Five years ago, DPW issued a solicitation for waste disposal. In the solicitation DPW asked for the vendors for pricing on two different scenarios. We asked them to give us a price for disposal if the vendors disposed of the trash at any facility of their choosing.

    We also asked for a price to transport it to Fairfax County to their waste to energy facility. The price for disposal was fixed at the same cost for all of the vendors so the only thing we needed to know is what the transport cost would be to Fairfax.

    We had three bidders and all three companies bid a lower cost to haul trash to a landfill much further away than it would be to haul it to Fairfax with a set disposal fee.

    See full quotes and citations here.

    We're not sure why Howland claims to have had 3 bidders in 2004 when emailing the Mayor's office, and 9 bidders in the same 2004 process when testifying before City Council. Nonetheless, he's consistently stating that it's cheaper to haul waste to more rural landfills in Virginia than to incinerate in Lorton.

    Bias: Outgoing DPW Director Howland, and DPW Solid Waste Management Deputy Administrator Hallie Clemm have a rather religious belief that incineration is preferable to landfilling -- in opposition to the consensus among environmental organizations, and all available data. This has been revealed in numerous communications, including testimony before city council, statements in public meetings on DPW's Waste Life-cycle Study, and documents revealed in FOIA requests. Their statements justifying their beliefs are easily contradicted by industry and EPA data, and some are based on blatant misrepresentations of data presented by pro-incineration consulting outfits. For the latter, see points 15-19 in our 2014 FOIA.

    One of many other examples is when Howland testified before City Council in 2012, telling Chairperson Cheh how great the pollution from the Covanta Fairfax incinerator is:

    Howland: "Despite what some of the other speakers have said, I am a little bit excited about waste-to-energy and I would like to explore it...." (at 3:22:53)

    Cheh: "I don't know how modern the Virginia facility is, and it may be a bad rap that continues from the past, but what is the sense of burning trash and the environmental impacts?"

    Howland: "That facility was opened in 1991. At the time I was working for Fairfax County. It was a state-of-the-art -- they had extra scrubbers on their smokestacks. It's relatively benign emissions that's coming out of there. The interesting thing is they were relatively expensive homes that were next to that facility when it opened."
    (at 3:32:58)

    -Sept 28, 2012 Waste Hearing

    In fact, the facility began operation in March 1990, and did not have "extra scrubbers." The facility has four pollution control devices, which is typical for incinerators around the country, though 13 of the 80-some incinerators in the U.S. have five or six devices. At the time it was built, there were at least 30 other facilities with four or more devices, some operating for well over a decade. There was nothing "extra" about it. Today, Covanta runs nine other incinerators with more air pollution control devices than their Fairfax facility. (see the 3rd chart here)

    EPA data for 2011 (latest available; just released in March 2015) shows that these "relatively benign emissions" make the incinerator one of the largest polluters in the region, including the largest mercury polluter and second largest nitrogen oxide (NOx) polluter within 20 miles of the District. While they're the 4th largest incinerator in the U.S., their hydrofluoric acid emissions are the highest in the industry, and their nitrogen oxide pollution is second highest in the industry. See below for more on their environmental rankings.

    Howland was also wrong about the "relatively expensive homes" being "next to the facility." The diverse Lorton Valley neighborhood that exists adjacent to the facility didn't exist until around 2005. At the time the incinerator was built, DC's prisons were located very close by, near the incinerator and two landfills. The prisons were closed in 2001, and the locked up people of color were placed by a community of color that is not relatively affluent compared to the rest of Fairfax County. See the demographics maps and history spelled our in our article on DC's Waste and Environmental Racism.

Social justice

"DC's waste system is a prime example of environmental racism – a documented national trend. DC's waste is first transferred through black communities in Wards 5 and 7, then much of it is burned in Lorton, VA, which is the 12th most diverse community of color in the country. The Lorton Valley community lives adjacent to the giant incinerator and two large landfills (one is where the incinerator’s ash goes), and nearby a third landfill and a sewage sludge incinerator. It's a violation of the Civil Rights Act for federally-funded agencies, including the District, to take actions that have a discriminatory effect, as this RFP does."

    This is nearly all documented in the DC's Waste and Environmental Racism article.

    DC, as a federally-funded entity, has an obligation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to not take actions that have a discriminatory effect on racial minority groups. The RFP clearly did that by only allowing DC's waste to be burned in one of three communities of color. This leaves the District vulnerable to legal complaints that could be filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Civil Rights.


Health

"DC has high asthma rates. According to the CDC, DC's adult lifetime asthma prevalence was 16.2%, while the national rate is 13.3%. The age-adjusted asthma hospitalization rate in the District of Columbia was 267.1 per 100,000 persons compared with the U.S. rate of 144 per 100,000 persons. Within 20 miles of DC, Covanta's Lorton incinerator is second only to Dulles Airport in emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), the air pollutants that aggravate asthma. Covanta's Alexandria incinerator is also in the top five in the DC area. DC’s waste disposal should not be helping drive DC's high asthma rates."

    See CDC factsheet on asthma in DC (first chart on each page).

    Nitrogen oxides are one of the main pollutants strongly associated with aggravating asthma, as are several other pollutants associated with Covanta's facility (acid gases, air pollution in general, ammonia, diesel exhaust, particulate air pollution and sulfur dioxides).

    Emissions data is from EPA's EPA's National Emissions Inventory, which comes out every three years (2011 data just came out in March 2015). The same rankings existed in 2008, except #3 and 4 were switched.

    The top nitrogen oxide (NOx) emitters within 20 miles of DC are:

    Pollution Source NOx Emissions (tons)
    2011 2008
    1) Dulles Airport 1,895 2,079
    2) Covanta Fairfax trash incinerator 1,613 1,689
    3) DCA - National Airport 1,311 1,232
    4) Transcontinental Gas Pipeline in Howard County 1,270 1,271
    5) Covanta Alexandria/Arlington trash incinerator 471 577

    If we included a look at polluters between 20 and 30 miles from DC, there are four coal power plants that are all worse than Dulles Airport, though two are slated to close in 2017. Two other trash incinerators (in Montgomery County, MD and in Baltimore), BWI Airport, and the now-closed coal plant in Alexandria were also high polluters in 2011, not as bad as Covanta's Fairfax incinerator, but worse than Covanta's smaller incinerator in Alexandria. Clearly, trash incinerators are among the worst polluters out there, in line with airports and coal power plants, though coal plants are generally on their way out.

    In the entire trash incinerator industry in the U.S. (87 facilities), Covanta Fairfax's NOx emissions are second only to the incinerator in Detroit (which Covanta ran for a time), which is the 2nd largest incinerator in the nation and operates without any NOx emissions controls. Covanta Fairfax's NOx emissions are even higher than the largest trash incinerator in the nation, which Covanta runs in Chester, PA without any NOx pollution controls. The Covanta Fairfax incinerator in Lorton is the 4th largest in the nation and has pollution controls to remove NOx. These emissions rankings are the same in EPA's National Emissions Inventories in both 2008 and 2011.

    Too dirty for New Jersey?? In fact, Covanta Fairfax has NOx emissions so high that the Board of Public Utilities in Covanta's home state of New Jersey barred this specific incinerator from being able to sell renewable energy credits into NJ's renewable energy program, because it doesn't comply with NJ standards (for NOx pollution and for ash testing), even though trash incinerators in NJ, PA and MD are eligible.

"Other health problems are exacerbated by the fact that this incinerator is the largest emitter of Hydrofluoric Acid in their entire industry, is the largest source of mercury pollution within 20 miles of DC, is in the top five sources of sulfur dioxides within 20 miles, and is a large source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)."

    Hydrofluoric Acid (hydrogen fluoride): According to EPA, "[c]hronic inhalation exposure of humans to hydrogen fluoride has resulted in irritation and congestion of the nose, throat, and bronchi at low levels." (source).

    Covanta didn't report their Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) emissions to EPA's 2011 National Emissions Inventory, but reported it in 2008. Their 2008 HF emissions were 60% higher than the highest HF-emitting incinerator in 2011, so they'd also be #1 in 2011.

    Location Incinerator 2008 Hydrofluoric Acid
    Emissions (lbs)
    Lorton, VA Covanta Fairfax Inc 5,084
    Baltimore, MD Wheelabrator Baltimore, LP (BRESCO) 4,399
    Long Beach, CA Long Beach City, SERRF Project 3,178
    Portsmouth, VA SPSA Refuse Derived Fuel Plant 2,539
    East Northport, NY Huntington Resource Recovery Facility 2,179
    Ft. Lauderdale, FL Wheelabrator South Broward, Inc. 1,899

    Mercury: One of the most toxic metals, inhaling mercury vapor can harm the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and can contribute to neurological and behavioral disorders.

    According to EPA's National Emissions Inventory, Covanta is the largest source of mercury pollution within 20 miles of DC, by far, accounting for more than three times all other sources combined:

    Pollution Source 2011 Mercury Emissions (lbs)
    1) Covanta Fairfax trash incinerator 18.11
    2) Naval Support Facility, Indian Head 2.27
    3) Covanta Alexandria/Arlington trash incinerator 1.46
    [remaining 40-some sources combined] 2.28

    [No mercury data is available for any facilities in the 2008 database.]

    Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a major air pollutant. EPA warns that SO2 causes "an array of adverse respiratory effects including bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms," and that "[t]hese effects are particularly important for asthmatics at elevated ventilation rates (e.g., while exercising or playing.)" They go on to say that "[s]tudies also show a connection between short-term exposure and increased visits to emergency departments and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses, particularly in at-risk populations including children, the elderly, and asthmatics."

    According to same EPA's National Emissions Inventory data, Covanta is the fourth largest source of sulfur dioxide pollution within 20 miles of DC, both in 2008 and 2011:

    Pollution Source SO2 Emissions (tons)
    2011 2008
    Naval Support Facility, Indian Head 510 16
    Dulles Airport 193 173
    DCA - National Airport 159 126
    Covanta Fairfax trash incinerator 90 92
    U.S. Capitol Power Plant 46 241

    The Indian Head Navy base jumped up to be the largest SO2 source in 2011 while the Capitol Power Plant fell from first place to 5th between 2008 and 2011, most likely due to reduced coal burning, but the Covanta Fairfax incinerator remains the 4th largest source.

    EPA's National Emissions Inventory data shows that they're a large source of other toxic pollutants, including lead and volatile organic compounds (VOCs):

    Pollutant Emissions (lbs)
    2011 2008
    Lead 58 89
    Particulate Matter (PM10) 6,892 46,264
    Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) 23,764 8,026

Environment

"Incinerators do not avoid landfills. They just make for smaller, more toxic, landfills. The Covanta incinerator Lorton dumps their toxic ash in an old Fairfax County landfill adjacent to the incinerator. For every 100 tons of trash burned, 30 tons of ash remain. The rest went into the air. Landfills are a problem, but incineration just makes the pollution problem worse, creating new toxins in the combustion process and concentrating what doesn’t end up in the air, into the ash sent to landfills, where it can still leach and harm groundwater."

Incinerators are 7 times more air polluting than landfills overall, and hundreds of times worse on mercury. They're 30 times worse on nitrogen oxide pollution, 20 times worse on hydrochloric acid emissions and 13 times worse on sulfur dioxides. On volatile organic compounds (VOCs), landfills are worse. On particulate matter (PM), they're more comparable, but incinerators are worse on 4 out of 5 types of PM, and are pretty close on the 5th type. This is based on the latest EPA National Emissions Inventory data (for 2008 and 2011) for Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Even if you account for the pollution from trucking waste further, to more rural landfills in southeastern Virginia, incineration releases 2.7 to 3.5 times as much pollution per ton of waste as landfilling (with the extra trucking) does. These landfills are 42 to 121 extra travel miles away, past Lorton (one-way): King George Landfill (42 miles); King & Queen Landfill (113 miles); Middle Peninsula Landfill (121 miles). DPW loves to obsess of over trucking impacts -- to the point of preferring to not even have people separate recyclables from trash, as if the separate recycling truck trips are worse than not recycling at all. However, they lose this argument, as the exhaust from incinerators far outweighs the emissions from extra trucking miles.

Trash incineration is dirtier than coal burning. To make the same amount of energy as a coal power plant, trash incinerators release 28 times as much dioxin than coal, 2.5 times as much carbon dioxide (CO2), twice as much carbon monoxide, three times as much nitrogen oxides (NOx), 6-14 times as much mercury, nearly six times as much lead and 70% more sulfur dioxides. See documentation here.

"Covanta's track record

Covanta has an extensive track record of violations at their facilities across the country. Many are for air pollution violations. They were even once caught and fined for tampering with their emissions monitors to make it seem like their emissions are lower than they really are."

"Waste-to-energy" and "energy from waste" = Incineration

"Covanta's facilities are defined and regulated as trash incinerators ("municipal waste combustors" in EPA language). The fact that they generate small amounts of electricity has no bearing on whether they are incinerators. However, the industry has a (well-deserved) terrible reputation, as incineration is one of the most unpopular technologies there is. For that reason, Covanta and others avoid the 'i' word and insist that they're not incinerators, choosing inaccurate PR terms instead. Waste isn't actually turned into energy, but into toxic ash and toxic air emissions. Three to five times more energy is saved by recycling and composting discarded materials than can be created by burning them. In essence, these are "waste-OF-energy" facilities."

"What Should be Done: Let the Covanta contract die so that DPW can extend the current contract on a 1-year basis, allowing time to properly rebid for a shorter term contract allowing landfills and digesters to bid, and moving toward zero waste

"In passing the Sustainable Solid Waste Management Amendment Act of 2014, city council mandated that the District come up with a zero waste plan, outlining steps the District can take to achieve at least an 80% waste diversion rate – diverting waste from both incinerators and landfills. Rather than continue to use both, and lock in contracts for 5 to 11 years, city council ought to reject the Covanta contract (or let it die, unintroduced), extend the current Covanta contract on a short-term basis (no more than a year), and request that DPW issue a 1-year RFP that is open to all bidders that can handle DC’s waste (including landfills and digesters, not just incinerators). This will buy some time to allow DPW to then start working toward contracts that reflect the zero waste goal. For whatever waste cannot be reduced, reused, recycled or composted, the "back end" contracts ought to require that waste be anaerobically digested before landfilling, avoiding gassy, stinky landfills, and helping the city meet its goals regarding climate change."

"There are several landfills that could bid. The remainder of DC’s waste currently goes to landfills in much more rural areas in southeastern Virginia, affecting far fewer people (1,500 to 4,500 people within 5 miles of the landfills, compared to 103,000 people living within five miles of the Lorton incinerator)."

    Covanta Fairfax Trash Incinerator in Lorton, VA

    I-95 Energy/Resource Recovery Facility (Covanta Fairfax trash incinerator) in Lorton, VA.

    Here are the populations around the Covanta Fairfax incinerator vs. the southeastern VA landfills that also take DC waste:

    Facility Population within 5 miles
    Covanta Fairfax incinerator 103,000
    King & Queen Landfill 1,472
    King George Landfill 4,540
    Middle Peninsula Landfill 2,958

    The reality of it is that the incinerator releases far more pollution (7 times more than landfills) at a much higher altitude (note the tall stack in the picture), spreading that greater amount of pollution across many more people, not just those within 5 miles, but over the entire DC Metro region, affecting millions of people (there are 2.4 million people within 25 miles of the incinerator).