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waste to energy

Maryland, Maryland, Quite Contrary-land

Since 2011, Maryland has been notorious for being the only state to classify trash as equivalent to wind power in a renewable energy mandate. Over half of the "renewable" energy used to meet the mandate still comes from smokestacks at paper mills, landfills, trash, and biomass incinerators in 12 states spanning New Jersey to Wisconsin to Tennessee.

For the past few years, we've been warning that expanding a dirty renewable energy mandate without first cleaning it up would mean trouble. In recent years, Maryland has faced plans for two large new incinerators, which were closer to reality than any in the nation. These fully permitted incinerator proposals both fell to defeat after five and eight year grassroots efforts. Destiny Watford, a Baltimore resident who got involved while attending the high school within a mile of the proposed Energy Answers incinerator, just received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership in that battle.

Despite these high profile incinerator battles, the Maryland Climate Coalition (a coalition of mainstream environmental groups, led largely by Chesapeake Climate Action Network) chose to keep pushing to expand the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) while declining to support the parallel effort to first remove smokestack technologies from the mandate. The bill we drafted to clean up Maryland's RPS was introduced with strong support from the Maryland Chapter of Sierra Club, and many of us testified at hearings on the bill, which was aggressively opposed by the incinerator and paper mill industries.

While our legislation was handily shot down, we did a lot to educate legislators and build momentum for next year. As the RPS expansion bill passed, an amendment to strip trash incineration out of the law came within one vote of passing! This is a good sign for next year, especially as both major trash incinerator proposals in Maryland are now dead, and the smallest of three existing incinerators just closed for good in March.

The data for 2015 just came out, showing that
wind power declined for a second year in a row, while dirty "renewable" energy increased again, with biomass use nearly doubling while black liquor burning at paper mills also increased, though use of trash incineration thankfully fell.

Victory: Stopped a bad bill!

In related legislative efforts, the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority was the subject of a battle we won. The Authority has been the driver behind existing and proposed waste incinerators in Maryland. In 2015, we worked with Caroline Eader and Frederick, Maryland residents (who fought off the Authority's incinerator proposal in an 8-year battle) to pass a bill redefining the Authority's mission to be about zero waste. The Authority objected and we came within one vote of passing the bill. In 2016's legislative session (that ends in early April each year), the Authority pushed a bill to expand their powers, pretending they were about "resource recovery parks," but seeking to be able to bond a wide range of waste and energy facilities, including many dirty technologies, while bypassing state utility approval processes.

Energy Justice staff, Dante Swinton and Mike Ewall, were the only ones to testify at the hearing before the Maryland Senate Environmental Committee. The Authority testified that "waste-to-energy" (incineration) is not politically or economically viable in Maryland, and insisted that they're a service organization to their member counties and that they'd follow the lead of the legislature if they prescribe a zero waste hierarchy.

The Senate committee then took the zero waste hierarchy straight from our testimony and amended that language into the Authority's bill. Within a day, the Authority interfered and replaced our zero waste hierarchy with EPA's waste hierarchy that includes incineration and puts it above landfilling, yet still branded it a "zero" waste hierarchy. This dreadful bill passed the Senate unanimously.

With help from Sierra Club and other allies, we beat back the bill in the House, with spectacular skepticism expressed by Maryland Delegates at the hearing where we all denounced the bill. In the course of all of this, we developed some good momentum to beat back incineration and push for true zero waste in the 2017 session.

See more at http://www.energyjustice.net/md

Zero Waste Hierarchy

You’ve probably heard the term Zero Waste before, but not been sure about what it meant. 
 
The peer-reviewed definition of Zero Waste by Zero Waste International Alliance involves “designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.”
 
Notice the last part disqualifies burning or burying waste. Unfortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency still includes incineration (“energy recovery”) in their Waste Management Hierarchy, a concession to the incineration industry that makes achieving zero waste impossible.
 
Like it or not, there is a landfill at the back end of any waste system. There are three main options for what to do with the waste we fail to eliminate:
Incineration (and landfilling ash) is the most polluting and expensive option
Direct landfilling is bad, but preferable to incineration
Digestion before landfilling is the best option, so that the remainder is stabilized to avoid having gassy, stinky landfills.
 
The last is part of the zero waste approach, minimizing the volume, toxicity and nuisances of landfills. Incineration includes experimental gasification, pyrolysis, plasma and trash-to-ethanol schemes), where the toxic ash, slag or other residue still must be landfilled—unless they try to get away with something really inappropriate, like pretending ash is a useful building material, or dumping digested trash on farm fields.
 
After years of careful study, Energy Justice Network has designed its own Zero Waste Hierarchy, with each of its ten steps summarized below (and in the graphic).
 

Waste Done Right

- by Ruth Tyson, Energy Justice Network
 
In 2012, Americans disposed of 251 million tons of trash, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Story of Stuff Project neatly lays out the way materials move through our economy from extraction to production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. Most consumers don’t think beyond the “consumption” step. Once the undesirable mess is tossed from households, it might be considered “out of sight, out of mind” as long as it’s not seen or smelled. But where does it all go? Where should it all go?
 
With the finite space for landfills running out, discovering ways to deal with our waste problem is imperative. The trash incineration (a.k.a. “waste-to-energy” or WTE) industry would like to persuade the public that they're the answer. However, incinerators cause more problems than they solve, and are the most expensive way to manage waste or to create energy. Incineration reduces every 100 tons of trash to 30 tons of toxic ash that must be disposed of landfills.
 

Energy Information Administration: Trash Incineration About Disposal, Not Energy

The federal government's U.S. Energy Information Adminstration puts to rest the idea that "waste-to-energy" facilities exist to create electricity, instead admitting that their main function is to dispose of trash, with electricity as a byproduct.
 
 
At the end of 2015, the United States had 71 waste-to-energy (WTE) plants that generated electricity in 20 U.S. states, with a total generating capacity of 2.3 gigawatts. Florida contains more than one-fifth of the nation's WTE electricity generation capacity, and in 2015, Florida's Palm Beach Renewable Energy Facility Number 2 became the first new WTE plant to come online since 1995 and the largest single WTE electricity generator in the United States.
 

WE WON!! Environmental Justice Victory in DC, as Mayor Pulls Incinerator Contract

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

We just stopped Washington, DC from approving a $36-78 million contract that was awarded to Covanta to burn the District's waste for the next 5-11 years.

In a rigged bidding process, the city allowed just four incinerators (no landfills) to bid to take 200,000 tons of waste a year. The one of the four that is in a rural white community does not accept out-of-county waste, leaving three incinerators in heavily populated communities of color as the only ones eligible to bid. The contract was awarded to Covanta's incinerator in Lorton, VA -- 4th largest in the nation and one of the largest polluters in the DC metro region. Lorton is the 12th most diverse community of color in the nation, and is also home to a sewage sludge incinerator and three landfills.

As I documented in an article last year, DC's waste system is a glaring example of environmental racism, from where the waste transfer stations are, to where much of it ends up in Lorton. On the way to this latest victory, we got the large (389 living unit) cooperative where I live in DC to change its waste contract to disallow incineration, a tiny step toward starving the Covanta incinerator. Now, we have a chance to shift the entire city away from incineration. I hope we can also repeat this in Philadelphia as their Covanta contract (for burning in Chester, PA) comes up for renewal in each of the next few years.

We did our homework and made a strong case, got diverse allies on board, educated and pressured DC city council, and flattened Covanta's 11th hour lies. Energy Justice Network was joined by 20 environmental, public health, civil rights and business organizations in calling on city council not to move the contract to final approval, and ultimately, our new mayor withdrew it from consideration, killing it.

The city will now have to cut a 1-year contract (hopefully not with any incinerator, if we can help it). This buys us time to convince city leaders that incinerators are indeed worse than landfills and that we need to resort to landfilling as we get the city's zero waste goals implemented, including digestion of residuals prior to landfilling.

Last summer, we helped pass a law that bans Styrofoam and other food service-ware that isn't recyclable or compostable, gets e-waste and composting going, and requires the city to come up with a zero waste plan (and we got it amended to ensure that incineration is not considered "diversion," but "disposal"). We're at a good crossroads in DC, where we can get the nation's capital setting good examples. The long-standing head of the Department of Public Works is stepping down, giving the city a chance to replace him and others anti-recycling incinerator zealots in the agency with real zero waste leaders. Any good candidates are encouraged to apply here.

EJ Victory! Taking Responsibility for Where Your Trash Goes...

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

I’m excited to open this issue by sharing our first victory of its kind: stopping a major city (Washington, DC) from signing a long-term incineration contract that was expensive, polluting, unhealthy, and racist.

The worst thing that can happen with your waste is for it to be burned. We’ve found this to be the case with waste from Washington, DC, Philadelphia and New York City, where trash ends up being burned in some of the nation’s largest and filthiest incinerators – in communities of color in Lorton, Virginia and Chester, Pennsylvania that are already heavily polluted by a concentration of dirty industries.

These major cities have closed incinerators within their borders many years ago, and DC, New York and Los Angeles are among many that have examined and rejected the idea of building their own new incinerators in the last few years. However, they have not been shy about sending waste to be burned in other communities.

The zero waste term is being hijacked by these cities, auto companies, Disney, and others claiming “zero waste to landfill” goals. This term is a code word for “incinerate our remaining waste and pretend the toxic ash doesn’t still go to landfills.” Leading zero waste consultants and activist allies are even now greenwashing these schemes through certification and membership in bodies like the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council. Just last month, the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a zero waste resolution that includes a waste hierarchy that, like EPA’s, places incinerators above landfilling, driving more misguided city decisions to opt for incinerators.

Our victory in DC shows that environmental justice allies in a major city can take responsibility and stop their waste from being burned, as we chart the way to true zero waste strategies.

As the last few articles in this issue show, there are conflicts between waste strategies among grassroots activists in New York City. What started as an effort to have fair distribution of transfer stations within the city resulted in the worst possible outcome for environmental justice: a 20-30 year contract to send much of the city’s waste to be burned in Covanta incinerators in Niagara Falls, NY and in Chester, PA. Our efforts to stop the trash train plan on the Chester end failed last summer, and efforts are still underway in Manhattan to stop one of the two transfer points that would feed waste to Covanta’s incinerators, but aren’t looking good.

Unfortunately, NYC Mayor de Blasio’s “One New York” plan, announced this past Earth Day, is a “zero waste to landfill” plan that masks the city’s intent to keep burning its waste in facilities that would never be accepted within the city. The Covanta contract contains clever “put-or-pay” provisions that ensure that NYC pays for waste transportation to Covanta incinerators even if zero waste efforts are so successful that the city doesn’t have enough waste to give. Will the city even come close to its zero waste goals, and if so, will they suck up the penalty of paying for a service they no longer need, or will budget constraints keep NYC poisoning people with incinerator pollution?

Shuttered Claremont, New Hampshire Incinerator to Reopen

- by Patrick O’Grady, April 15, 2015, Valley News

wheelabrator incinerator in claremont new hampshireThe shuttered Wheelabrator incinerator on Grissom Lane was sold at auction Tuesday for $1.63 million, with the buyer saying he plans to use it to burn municipal waste.

As several bidders stood outside the plant hoping to pick up pieces of equipment at a bargain price, auctioneer Stuart Millner explained that he would allow a bidder to buy everything, including about 9 acres of land.

Millner started the bidding at $1.5 million and Ed Deely — who said he was there on behalf of Hybrid Tech Farms — quickly raised it to the final price of $1.63 million. Other bidders who were not present at the site communicated with Millner by phone, but it was unclear how many there were.

The sale price was referred to as “restricted,” which Deely explained means there will be restrictions, agreed to with Wheelabrator, on the municipalities from which the company can accept solid waste. Late Tuesday, Deely said it is too early to predict when the sale would be finalized or when the plant would start burning trash.

Landfill Keeps Rhode Island Incinerator Debate Alive

- by Tim Faulkner, March 4, 2015, Eco RI News

The seemingly annual debate about building a waste incinerator in Rhode Island resolved little on the issue this year, except that any such facility is too expensive and likely at least 10 years from ever being built.

The sole advocate for considering an incinerator is the operator of the Central Landfill in Johnston, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC). The agency simply wants to take a hard look at an incinerator as it investigates options for the state’s waste when the landfill inevitably runs out of space.

Currently, state law prohibits RIRRC from owning and operating an incinerator and from even considering it for its comprehensive plan. A pending bill would void the prohibition on studying incineration. It also would remove language in the state law that says incineration is the most expensive method of waste disposal.

“Removing this language is not consent to build,” Sarah Kite, RIRRC’s director of recycling services, said during a Feb. 26 Statehouse hearing. “This is not giving us permission to do anything other than really intensely study this issue and to bring those recommendations back to this board.”

Out of the Garbage Can and Into the Fire

- by Mike Ewall

So-called “waste-to-energy” (WTE) is usually a euphemism for trash incineration, disposing of waste while making modest amounts of electricity and sometimes steam for heating purposes. Now, waste-to-fuels (WTF?) — turning waste into liquid fuels for transportation — is starting to emerge as a subset of WTE.

Noting their acronym problem, the industry has redubbed itself from “W2F” to “waste conversion.” These waste conversion facilities would turn such things as trash, sewage sludge, tires, plastics, organic wastes, or agricultural wastes into liquid fuels such as ethanol, diesel fuel or other fuels and chemicals.

Fifteen years ago, several companies tried to get into the trash-to-ethanol business, but couldn’t get off the ground. One company president told us that everyone wanted to be the first to invest in the second facility. It didn’t help that the leading company in the field, Pencor-Masada Oxynol, got as far as getting permits for a facility in Middletown, NY to turn trash and sewage sludge into ethanol, then financially collapsed.

In the past few years a resurgence of proposals, spurred by government incentives, is starting to gain ground. The industry is holding annual “waste conversion” conferences, and the chemical industry trade association giant, the American Chemistry Council, is pushing any sort of “plastics-to-energy” technologies that it can, even daring to call it “renewable.”

The Municipal Solid Waste to Biofuels and Bio-Products Summit held on October 6-7, 2014 and February 20-21, 2013 in Orlando, Florida, is touted by its host, Advanced Biofuels USA, as a place to “receive leading waste and biofuels market intelligence and analysis from the very best in the business.”

The annual conference is an informational and networking smorgasbord geared towards helping industry players “penetrate the high energy value of the municipal solid waste stream.” The conference is attended by biofuels and chemicals producers, developers, and stakeholders, investors and financial institutions, government agencies, and multinational consumer product companies.

If you ever wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes in the emerging waste-to-fuels industry, your wish has been granted.

Zero Waste to Landfill: How Incinerators Get Promoted

- by Caroline Eader

The incinerator industry promotes a false belief that the only choices we have in handling our waste is to either burn it for energy or to bury it in a landfill. The existence of what is known as a "waste-to-energy" (WTE) facility does not eliminate the need for a landfill. First, 10% to 15% of the waste stream cannot be incinerated and secondly, after burning there is a significant amount of ash (10% to 15% by volume, or about 30% by weight) which is still sent to a landfill. 

The industry notion that trash incineration doesn't compete with composting or recycling is misleading. Industry would have people believe only material which can't be recycled is processed, but the truth is incinerator contracts do not exclude recyclable material from being incinerated. When I´ve asked industry representatives why they do not remove the recoverable material, they say, "It's not my job."

If you read Covanta and Wheelabrator incinerator contracts, you'll find that their job is to get BTUs from municipal solid waste (including plastic and paper) for energy recovery. 

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