Florida: Trash Incineration Capital of the United States

Florida has more trash incinerators and more trash burning capacity than any state in the nation. Since the 2021 closure of the Bay County incinerator, there are now 10 trash incinerators in Florida at nine sites.

Incineration is the most expensive and polluting way to manage waste or to make energy. It's dirtier than burning coal, and worse than landfilling waste directly. For South Florida's urban areas, it would make more economic and environmental sense to ship waste north to landfills than to support aging and polluting incinerators and dump their toxic ash in landfills.

ACTION ALERT: Massive Incinerator Subsidy Bill would Prop up Existing Incinerators and Help Expand the Industry

Urge Governor DeSantis to VETO Senate Bill 1764!

Senate Bill 1764 would throw hundreds of millions of Florida taxpayer dollars at the state's trash incinerators, first propping them up by covering reduced electricity sales revenues, then granting the rest in subsidies to build new incinerators and expand existing ones, as Covanta is trying to do at their Pasco County incinerator.

Initially written to allocate $100 million dollars a year for this purpose, the dollar amount was replaced with matching funds to build new incinerators or expand existing ones -- a blank check that could amount to far more than $100 million a year.

On March 1st, the former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Trump Administration wrote a powerful article in the Floridian blasting these bills as a step backwards, undermining the state's recycling goals.

TAKE ACTION: Please take one minute and message the governor to veto this bill.

Florida incinerator map
Florida stands out in several ways:

  • West Palm Beach has two incinerators adjacent to one another. One is the only new trash incinerator built in the U.S. since 1995 (not counting a small number of expansions where one boiler has been added to some other incinerators). This new incinerator cost $672 million to build -- six times more expensive than a new gas-fired power plant, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (see footnote 4 on page 24 of this section of the meeting packet on the senate bill).
  • The Pasco County incinerator is the only incinerator in the U.S. currently proposing to expand. A fourth boiler is being pursued at that facility.
  • Covanta Lake is one of three trash incinerators in the nation burning medical waste. It does so without being subject to the stricter emissions requirements that apply to medical waste incinerators.
  • 70% of Florida's incinerators are located where people of color are disproportionately impacted. Read more about incinerators and environmental racism.

Trash Incinerators in Florida
Click on map for an interactive map

County

Facility

Operator *

Year Opened

Trash burning capacity (tons/day)

# of Burners

Electricity (MW)

Population within 2.5 miles

Notes

People of color

Household income

Broward Wheelabrator South Broward, Inc. Wheelabrator 1991 2,250 3 66 46.0% $54,000 Electric sales contract with FPL expires 12/2026; Privately owned
Hillsborough Hillsborough County Resource Recovery Facility Covanta 1987 (units 1-3); 2009 (unit 4) 1,800 4 47 58.1% $44,000
Hillsborough McKay Bay Refuse-to-Energy Facility Wheelabrator 1985 1,000 4 22 68.1% $42,000
Lake Lake County Resource Recovery Facility Covanta 1990 528 2 15 5.2% $50,000 Burns up to 8% medical waste; Privately owned
Lee Lee County Resource Recovery Facility Covanta 1994 (units 1-2), 2007 (unit 3) 1,836 3 57 50.7% $51,000
Miami-Dade Miami-Dade County Resource Recovery Facility Covanta 1982 2,592 4 77 85.4% $77,000 Burns refuse derived fuel (processed trash)
Palm Beach Palm Beach Renewable Energy Facility 1 Covanta 1989 2,000 2 61 63.2% $60,000 Electric sales contract with FPL expires 3/2034; burns refuse derived fuel (processed trash)
Palm Beach Palm Beach Renewable Energy Facility 2 Covanta 2015 3,000 3 96 63.2% $60,000 Electric sales contract with FPL expires 3/2034. This new incinerator took $672 million to build.
Pasco Pasco County Resource Recovery Facility Covanta 1991 1,050 3 30 13.0% $65,000 Electric sales contract with Duke expires 12/2024; 4th burner planned
Pinellas Pinellas County Resource Recovery Facility Covanta 1983 (units 1-2); 1986 (unit 3) 3,150 3 75 21.9% $50,000 Electric sales contract with Duke expires 12/2024

* All are publicly owned except for Covanta Lake and Wheelabrator South Broward. All are privately operated by one of these two trash incineration corporations.

Fish Thermometer
Florida's mercury problem

From 2011-2020, Florida's trash incinerators are responsible for 1/3rd of the industrial air emissions of highly toxic mercury in the state, according to data reported by industrial facilities to Florida's Department of Environmental Protection. There is no safe dose of mercury.

The Florida Department of Health has over 2,000 fish consumption advisories warning about the safety risk of consuming various species of fish in water bodies in throughout the state. There are warnings in every Florida county. See sortable spreadsheet of Florida fish consumption advisories.

Mercury is the reason for 98.6% of these advisories, and some of the remaining advisories are also due to pollutants released from trash incinerators, such as dioxin, lead, and arsenic.

38% of the mercury emitted from Florida industry from 2011-2020 was from the state's trash incinerators. Two are now closed, but one new one opened in 2015. Covanta Pinellas (the largest in the state and second largest in the nation) is responsible for the vast majority of the industry's mercury emissions in Florida. If you pretend that the two incinerators that are now closed (Wheelabrator North Broward and Bay County) never existed, the industry is responsible for 34% of the state's mercury emissions. Incinerators are in red in the chart below.

County

Name

Total mercury emissions in pounds (2011-2020)

Duval CMC Steel Florida 1,284
Pinellas Pinellas County 998
Sumter Sumterville Cement Plant 561
Putnam Seminole Generating Station 418
Suwannee Branford Cement Plant 381
Hillsborough Hillsborough 354
Orange Stanton Energy Center 346
Broward Wheelabrator North Broward [closed in 2015] 257
Broward Wheelabrator South Broward 159
Nassau Fernandina Beach Mill 136
Lee Lee County 116
Bay Bay County Waste-to-Energy [closed in 2021] 111
Pasco Pasco County 111
Hendry U.S. Sugar Clewiston Facility 110
Palm Beach West Palm Beach #1 & 2 103
Lake Lake County 102
Nassau Rayonier Fernandina Sulfite Plant 99
Polk Polk Power Station 90
Lee East Water Reclamation Facility 79
Palm Beach Glades Sugar House 74
Miami-Dade Miami-Dade County 72
Duval Jacksonville Facility 59
Palm Beach Okeelanta Cogeneration Plant 47
Palm Beach Osceola Farms 42
Pinellas City Of Largo Wastewater Treatment Plant 38
Hillsborough McKay Bay 36
Pinellas South Cross Bayou AWRF 28
Polk C.D. Mcintosh, Jr. Power Plant 25
Taylor Foley Mill 18
Duval Jacksonville Mill 17
Escambia International Paper Pensacola Mill 17
Orange Stericycle - Apopka 15
[Multiple] [24 other facilities with under 10 pounds each] 29
TOTAL 6,334
TOTAL FROM TRASH INCINERATORS 2,419

Source: Florida Department of Environmental Protection Air Permit Document Search

What is the alternative to incineration?

Incineration does not avoid landfills. Incineration creates 30 tons of toxic ash for every 100 tons of waste burned. The remaining 70 tons end up in the air, including significant amounts of air pollution. Ash makes landfills more toxic and dangerous to groundwater. It's less harmful to use landfills directly while implementing genuine waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting measures to stretch out the life of the state's landfills.

There are several privately-owned landfills in central Florida that could serve the needs of south Florida's incinerator communities without excessing hauling distances. Most can be handled within a 50-100 mile trucking distance, and some might have to go as far as 150-200 miles, which is not unusual compared to other parts of the country. Even at a trucking distance of hundreds of miles, the emissions from trucking do not justify incinerating closer to home. Trucking emissions are tiny compared to the emissions of landfills and incinerators themselves, and incineration is so much more polluting than landfilling that life cycle analysis has shown that it's far less harmful to truck to distant landfills than to burn nearby and bury ash in landfills. See pages 56-58 and 63-67 in the Beyond Incineration report for results of a study on this.

Florida's operating landfills are here:
Click on map for an interactive map

Florida landfill map

Find EPA's Excel spreadsheet of operating and closed landfills in Florida here.