February 2015
Volume 6, Issue 2

Out of the Garbage Can and Into the Fire
(February 2015)

Out of the Garbage Can and Into the Fire

- by Josh Schlossberg and Mike Ewall, The Biomass Monitor

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.


Compost Poultry Waste, Don't Burn It

- by Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network

Dan Rodricks' recent column urged the new governor to get a large-scale poultry waste incinerator built on the Eastern Shore ("Larry Hogan has a chance to be a green governor," Dec. 13).

This awful idea has been floated for 15 years now and has gone nowhere despite an array of government subsidies. In that time, these incinerators have been banned in Delaware and at least 10 proposals have been stopped throughout the U.S. (and several more around the world). I know because my organization, Energy Justice Network, supported most of these communities in their justified opposition.
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One has been built in the U.S., in Minnesota, and it was plagued by air pollution violations requiring expensive new pollution controls and was later caught burning unauthorized waste streams.

Nearly all of these incinerators are in the United Kingdom. Data presented by university researchers in Ireland at a biomass industry conference a few years ago showed that dioxin pollution from burning poultry waste was 2.6 times the legal limit in Europe. Dioxins are the most toxic man-made chemicals known to science and mainly accumulate in meat and dairy products, including contaminating poultry.


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.


The Biomass Monitor is the nation's leading publication covering the health and environmental impacts of bioenergy. We are accepting submissions at thebiomassmonitor AT

Cover photo: GMVA trash incinerator, Westphalia, Germany


Josh Schlossberg, Mike Ewall, and Samantha Chirillo

Editors, The Biomass Monitor

Back issues and blog:




- by Josh Schlossberg, Editor

The trash-to-fuel industry has an answer to our garbage problem. Reducing consumption? Forcing corporations to cut back on packaging? Upping recycling rates? Actually, their solution isn't to reduce waste at all, but to ensure a constant stream of it so they can burn more of it for electricity and convert the rest into liquid fuels.

OK, you might ask, but until the day comes when Americans produce less trash (we're #1!--as in literally the biggest waste producers in the world), what's wrong with making use of it?

First, trash incineration emits high levels of toxic air pollutants, including dioxin, mercury, and lead, disproportionately impacting communities of color.

Second, trash incineration pumps out 2.5 times as much carbon dioxide as a coal plant, kind of a no-no if we're going to avoid runaway climate change.

Third, trash-to-fuels incentivizes waste. When waste management companies profit more from selling trash to industry than they do  recycling, which direction do you think they'll lean? In fact, it's already happening. In 2010, Ocean City, MD dumped their recycling program in favor of hauling the trash to the Covanta incinerator in Chester, PA.

If our eventual goal is to reduce the amount of waste we produce, we need to take a serious look at whether an industry whose mission is in direct conflict with that goal is in our best interest.

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New Biomass Power Facility on Michigan's Upper Peninsula?

2. College Trash Habits Cause Concern, as Does Incinerator in Chester, PA

3. Minnesota Ethanol Plant Fined $25K for Air Pollution and Noise 

4. Report Urges Governments to Reconsider Reliance on Biofuels

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6. $181,000 Fine for Ethanol Air Pollution in Albany, NY

7. Study Finds Ethanol Worse For Air Quality Than Gasoline

8. Biomass Facility Fires a Regular Occurrence

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10. Concerns About Syracuse, NY Trash Incinerator Pollution



Biomass Truth Conference Call

Mike Ewall, director of Energy Justice Network, has been fighting the trash incineration industry for over two decades due to its toxic pollution, climate impacts, and facility siting in communities of color.

Call in on Thurs, Feb. 19 at 4pm PT / 7 ET to learn about the health and environmental impacts of burning trash for energy.

Email for call-in number.