Incineration and Environmental Racism

Trash incinerators (a.k.a. "waste to energy" facilities) in the United States are located in communities where people of color (especially Black residents) are disproportionately impacted. The largest and most polluting trash incinerators tend to be in communities of color, a major environmental justice issue. The trends show that race is more of a factor than class, as has been found in other studies of environmental racism.

Some studies exaggerate the environmental racism trend, using poor location data that misclassifies communities, and pretending that a community is a "community of color" is people of color are any more than 25% of the population. Few would consider a 74% white community to be a community of color, especially when the non-Hispanic white population in the United States averaged only about 60% in 2020.

The situation is serious enough that there is no need to exaggerate and make false claims such as "the majority of trash incinerators are in communities of color" which is not true, nor is it true that a majority are in low-income communities.

Of the 71 commercial trash incinerators operating in the U.S. as of early 2021, 24 (34%) are in communities where people of color are a majority. Another 8 (11%) are in communities that are majority white, but still have more people of color than the national average (i.e. 50-64% white). All told, 66% of trash incinerators are in majority-white communities and 55% are in communities where the white population is above average. So, how is this environmental racism?

There are two reasons why people of color are more impacted by trash incinerators in the United States:

  1. the trash incinerators in communities of color are in far more urban locations, affecting many more people, and
  2. the largest (and most polluting) trash incinerators are the ones located in communities of color

16 of the 20 largest trash incinerators are in communities where the population of people of color is higher than the national average, and people of color are a majority of the population in 14 of these top 20. It's therefore true to say that, of the 20 largest trash incinerators in the U.S., 70% are in communities of color and 80% are in communities where people of color are disproportionately impacted.

A good example is Connecticut. The state has five trash incinerators. Three of them are in majority white communities. However, each of the two that are in communities of color are larger than the other three incinerators combined, and are in urban areas affecting far more people.

The two charts below are from our SpatialJusticeTest.org site, an environmental justice analyzer that can evaluate race and class disparities at a range of distances across many locations at once. If the trash incinerators in the analysis were equitably distributed, all racial and ethnic groupings would follow the '1' line. Those above it are disproportionately impacted at the mile distance on the X axis. As you'll see, Black people are the most disproportionately impacted and are disproportionately impacted all the way out to 250 miles. White people are less impacted than average until somewhere between 100 and 250 miles away, which means that people of color generally are more impacted than they would be if trash incinerators were equitably distributed. This analysis factors in population, but does not factor in the size of incinerators or their pollution levels, which magnify this disparity.

As the second chart shows, the racial disparity is not simply a result of incinerators being located in poor communities. 11 of 71 (15%) are located in low-income communities, and on average, trash incinerators are located in communities with household incomes that are very close to the national average. This affirms other research on environmental racism that shows that race is more of a factor than class on where many noxious industries are located.

This is based on 2010 U.S. Census data (for race/ethnicity) and a more recent 5-year average of American Community Survey data (for household income) from our JusticeMap.org site and trash incinerators location data from our mapping project where we manually and precisely mapped every incinerator.


Click here for a more specific breakdown of the Spatial Justice Test charts above.

Click here for a map of trash incinerators in the U.S.

You can also click on the incinerator names below to find more detailed race and class breakdowns around each incinerator listed below.

Commercial Trash Incinerators in the U.S.
(largest to smallest)
Population within 2.5 miles
St City County Facility Name Tons per day Non-Hispanic White Household Income
PA Chester Delaware Delaware Valley Resource Recovery Facility 3,510 28.4% $30,000
FL St. Petersburg Pinellas Pinellas County Resource Recovery Facility 3,150 78.1% $50,000
VA Lorton Fairfax I-95 Energy-Resource Recovery Facility (Fairfax) 3,000 38.8% $109,000
FL West Palm Beach Palm Beach Palm Beach Renewable Energy Facility 2 3,000 36.8% $60,000
HI Honolulu Honolulu Honolulu Resource Recovery Venture—HPOWER 3,000 27.5% $83,000
NY Westbury Nassau Hempstead Resource Recovery Facility 2,850 54.0% $102,000
NJ Newark Essex Essex County Resource Recovery Facility 2,800 39.4% $55,000
MA West Wareham Plymouth SEMASS Resource Recovery Facility 2,700 88.5% $90,500
FL Miami Miami-Dade Miami-Dade County Resource Recovery Facility 2,592 14.6% $77,000
CT Bridgeport Fairfield Wheelabrator Bridgeport Company, L.P. 2,250 29.7% $46,000
FL Ft. Lauderdale Broward Wheelabrator South Broward, Inc. 2,250 54.0% $54,000
MD Baltimore Baltimore City Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems Company (BRESCO) 2,250 37.5% $51,000
NY Niagara Falls Niagara Niagara Falls Resource Recovery Facility 2,250 76.4% $38,000
NY Peekskill Westchester Wheelabrator Westchester Company, L.P. 2,250 44.8% $61,000
IN Indianapolis Marion Indianapolis Resource Recovery Facility 2,175 77.0% $30,000
CT Hartford Hartford Mid-Connecticut Resource Recovery Facility 2,028 24.2% $35,000
FL West Palm Beach Palm Beach Palm Beach Renewable Energy Facility 1 2,000 36.8% $60,000
VA Portsmouth Portsmouth Southeastern Public Service Authority of Virginia 2,000 28.6% $40,000
FL Fort Myers Lee Lee County Resource Recovery Facility 1,836 49.3% $51,000
FL Tampa Hillsborough Hillsborough County Resource Recovery Facility 1,800 41.9% $44,000
MD Dickerson Montgomery Montgomery County Resource Recovery Facility 1,800 81.7% $145,000
MA Haverhill Essex Haverhill Resource Recovery Facility 1,650 76.0% $55,000
MA North Andover Essex Wheelabrator North Andover Inc. 1,500 61.4% $62,000
MA Saugus Essex Wheelabrator Saugus, J.V. 1,500 55.6% $58,000
MA Millbury Bucks Wheelabrator Millbury Inc. 1,500 92.7% $65,000
ME Orrington Penabscot Penobscot Energy Recovery Corp. 1,500 96.7% $71,500
NJ Rahway Union Union County Resource Recovery Facility 1,500 41.8% $75,000
PA Morrisville Worcester Wheelabrator Falls Inc. 1,500 76.3% $68,000
CA Long Beach Los Angeles Southeast Resource Recovery Facility (SERRF) 1,380 7.4% $40,000
PA York York York Resource Recovery Center/Montenay York 1,344 85.2% $62,000
PA Conshohocken Montgomery Covanta Plymouth Renewable Energy 1,216 73.0% $70,000
PA Bainbridge Lancaster Lancaster County Resource Recovery Facility 1,200 94.3% $72,500
OK Tulsa Tulsa Walter B. Hall Resource Recovery Facility 1,125 64.7% $48,000
FL Spring Hill Pasco Pasco County Resource Recovery Facility 1,050 87.0% $65,000
NJ Camden Camden Camden Resource Recovery Facility 1,050 36.0% $36,000
MN Minneapolis Hennepin Hennepin Energy Resource Co. 1,000 53.2% $48,000
FL Tampa Hillsborough McKay Bay Refuse-to-Energy Facility 1,000 31.9% $42,000
NY Jamesville Onondaga Onondaga County Resource Recovery Facility 990 52.8% $50,000
VA Alexandria Alexandria City Alexandria/Arlington Resource Recovery Facility 975 42.4% $93,000
CA Crows Landing Stanislaus Stanislaus County Resource Recovery Facility 800 30.0% $55,000
PA Harrisburg Dauphin Susquehanna Resource Management Complex (Harrisburg Resource Recovery Facility) 800 37.7% $43,000
WA Spokane Spokane Spokane Regional Solid Waste Disposal Facility 800 82.2% $60,500
NY Babylon Suffolk Babylon Resource Recovery Facility 750 51.3% $83,000
NY East Northport Suffolk Huntington Resource Recovery Facility 750 89.4% $114,000
MN Mankato Blue Earth Xcel Energy-Wilmarth Plant 720 92.4% $54,000
MN Red Wing Goodhue Xcel Energy - Red Wing Steam Plant 720 90.5% $51,000
AL Huntsville Madison Huntsville Solid Waste-to-Energy Facility 690 41.9% $33,000
CT Preston New London Southeastern Connecticut Resource Recovery Facility 689 70.7% $72,000
CT Bristol Hartford Bristol Resource Recovery Facility 650 82.2% $68,000
MI Grand Rapids Kent Kent County Waste-to-Energy Facility 625 41.2% $39,000
NJ Westville Gloucester Wheelabrator Gloucester Company, L.P. 575 81.5% $58,000
OR Brooks Marion Marion County Solid Waste-to-Energy Facility 550 75.6% $53,000
FL Okahumpka Lake Lake County Resource Recovery Facility 528 94.8% $50,000
CT Lisbon New London Riley Energy Systems of Lisbon Connecticut Corp. 500 82.0% $65,000
ME Portland Cumberland Greater Portland Resource Recovery Facility 500 83.8% $56,000
NH Penacook Merrimack Wheelabrator Concord Company, L.P. 500 93.1% $80,000
NY Ronkonkoma Suffolk MacArthur Waste-to-Energy Facility 486 84.9% $111,000
NY Hudson Falls Washington Wheelabrator Hudson Falls Inc. 472 95.4% $45,000
NY Poughkeepsie Dutchess Dutchess County Resource Recovery Facility 450 74.1% $73,000
MA Agawam Hampden Pioneer Valley Resource Recovery Facility 408 27.6% $30,000
MN Rochester Olmstead Olmsted Waste-to-Energy Facility 400 74.7% $58,000
WI LaCrosse La Crosse Xcel Energy French Island Generating Plant 400 87.3% $25,000
MA Pittsfield Berkshire Pittsfield Resource Recovery Facility 360 93.3% $59,000
VA Hampton Hampton City Hampton-NASA Steam Plant 240 62.0% $92,000
MN Alexandria Douglas Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management 240 95.3% $44,000
ME Auburn Androscoggin Mid-Maine Waste Action Corporation 200 95.9% $64,000
NY Fulton Oswego Oswego County Energy Recovery Facility 200 92.5% $44,000
MN Perham Otter Tail Perham Resource Recovery Facility 200 93.0% $61,000
IA Ames Story Ames Municipal Electric Utility 175 82.6% $44,000
WI Almena Barron Barron County Waste-to-Energy & Recycling Facility 100 96.8% $55,000
MN Fosston Polk Polk County Solid Waste Resource Recovery Plant 80 90.4% $47,500

Non-Hispanic white populations in red are communities of color, and those in orange are majority white, but still disproportionately impacting people of color (i.e. white population is 50-64%). [National average non-Hispanic white population in 2010 census was 63.7% and is estimated at just under 60% in 2020.]

Incomes in red are low-income.