February 2015
Volume 2, Issue 2

In January, the New York Times ran a piece claiming that trash incinerators are making a comeback. While the industry keeps trying, this couldn't be further from the truth. Here's the op-ed response we sent in...

Trash incinerators are the most expensive and polluting way to make energy or to dispose of waste. Since they impact health and property values, they're one of the most unpopular technologies in the world, and are actually on the decline in the U.S.

Of the currently operating commercial-scale trash incinerators in the U.S., the last one to be built at a new site came online in 1995. From 1995 until now, at nine existing incinerator sites (including West Palm Beach), operations have expanded, adding nearly 6,000 tons/day (tpd) of new capacity. In that same time, 74 U.S. incinerators have closed, shutting down nearly 21,000 tpd of capacity. Another 2,250 tpd incinerator (Florida's North Broward plant) is talking about closing soon for lack of waste to burn, as waste is sent to the new 3,000 tpd West Palm Beach incinerator one county north, to the displeasure of West Palm Beach residents.


Many hundreds of proposed incinerators have been stopped in the past few decades as well. One compilation shows that 280 incinerator proposals were defeated in the decade between 1985 and 1994, and that trend has continued to this day, with several proposals defeated just last year.

At the industry's peak in 1991, there were 187 commercial trash incinerators in the U.S. There are now about 80, with two more looking to close in the next year. Waste Management, Inc., the world's largest waste corporation, has moved away from incineration. Last year, they sold off their Wheelabrator subsidiary, abandoning their role as the nation's second largest operator of conventional waste incinerators. Several experimental types of incinerators, using gasification, pyrolysis, and plasma arc technologies have failed to prove capable of commercial operation. WMI invested in a variety of these companies in recent years just to abandon them as well.

With this industry, there is a lot more "blowing smoke" than actual fire. The plan in Baltimore for the nation's largest incinerator is permitted, but not actually being built. This past week, Free Your Voice won their campaign to get the incinerator's energy contracts terminated.

Incinerators supposedly under consideration in four other states aren't anything likely to happen, either, and are largely unknown to state permitting agencies. One of those states, Virginia, confirmed that they have no active applications for incinerators anywhere in the state. However, an informal proposal for one was "shot down due to public opposition" last year, after a year-long battle.



Out of the Garbage Can and Into the Fire

- by Josh Schlossberg and 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.



One Bin for All?

- by Melanie Scruggs, Texas Campaign for the Environment

Right now, the City of Houston is expanding its two-bin or “single-stream” recycling program to finally cover all the nearly 350,000 homes that it services. As an avid zero waster, you may be thinking two things: 1. It is fantastic that Houstonians finally have access to a curbside recycling program; and 2. It’s quite embarrassing that the nation’s fourth largest city took so long to extend curbside recycling city-wide. Those two thoughts are both true, but unfortunately Houston is considering trashing the progress it has made by investing in a boondoggle project that would eliminate real recycling altogether.

The proposal known as “One Bin for All” is a misguided plan designed to eliminate curbside recycling and direct all residents to go back to putting both trash and recyclable materials in the same bin—hence the name—which would then be sent to a new waste facility known as a “dirty MRF” (Materials Recovery Facility) where the recyclable materials would supposedly be separated out after the fact. This plan has met stiff resistance locally and across the nation for the past two years, and rightfully so—it’s a terrible idea, and not a new one either. Dallas and Austin officials have considered this proposal and rejected it within the past three years.

In Houston, however, the technology has been hailed as the “next revolution of recycling.” Mixed signals are coming from officials in the Mayor’s Office about whether or not they actually plan to invest in the program, especially considering the recent and significant investment in source separated recycling. Still, the official plan under consideration is to give everyone in the city a curbside recycling bin, then take away their old garbage bins and tell residents to put all their trash and recyclable materials together in their nice, big, green recycling bin. Presto, now it’s all getting recycled thanks to the magic of “One Bin for All!” But not really—in the real world, similar programs have been shown to send most of the mixed-together materials straight to a landfill or incinerator.


Energy Justice Now provides critical reporting on the full spectrum of the Dirty Energy Resistance, highlighting the voices of community organizers battling fossil fuels, nuclear power, and biomass and waste incineration from sea to shining sea. We are accepting submissions at Josh AT energyjustice.net.

Cartoon by: Pacific Daily News

In Solidarity,

Mike Ewall, Josh Schlossberg, and Samantha Chirillo

Editors, Energy Justice Now

Donate here (please & thanks!): http://www.energyjustice.net/donate

Logo by Alex Zahradnik Design



What's Energy Justice Network Up To?


In recent months, Energy Justice Network has been busy advising, supporting and (in some cases) leading grassroots battles against incinerators around the U.S. and Canada.

In addition to fifteen incinerator victories in 2014 that we can now put behind us, we're aiming to stop proposed incinerators in nine communities throughout Maryland (including some for poultry waste and a couple of trash-to-fuel schemes), and will continue to support efforts to stop proposals in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Sandy City, Utah, and Logansport, Indiana.  We'll be working to cement victories against incinerators in Hilo, Hawaii and Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Existing incinerators are much harder to tackle, but we're doing what we can to take on existing incinerators in Syracuse, New York, East Liverpool, Ohio, and Baltimore, Maryland, as well as efforts to cut off waste supply contracts from Washington, DC and Philadelphia to the large incinerators in Lorton, Virginia, and Chester, Pennsylvania. Maryland keeps pushing awful pioneering policies to advance incineration as a renewable energy source and in fake "zero waste to landfill" policies.  We're actively working to beat these policies back as well. 

Finally, we just crushed the Canadian incineration industry in a balanced panel at the Canadian Federation of Municipalities conference, swaying opinions strongly against incineration among nearly 100 local officials who attended.


All About Incineration

incinerator_mauritania copy.jpg

Everything you've ever wanted to know about trash incineration but were afraid to ask.

Map of Existing and Proposed Trash Incinerators

Take a look at the location of incinerators across the U.S. and join (or start) organized resistance.

Fact Sheet

Read up on the basics regarding the health, environmental, social, and economic impacts of trash incineration.


A useful and informative presentation on trash incineration.

More Polluting Than Coal

Think trash incineration is "clean" energy? It's actually more polluting than fossil fuels.

Most Expensive Way to Manage Waste

Burning garbage is the most costly way to deal with waste.

Most Expensive Way to Generate Energy

Trash incineration isn't cheap either. In fact it's the most expensive way to generate electricity.

U.S. Incinerator Numbers Dropping

The trash incineration industry is a failing industry.

"Waste-to-Energy" Doesn't Exist

Industry propaganda terms are often used by the media to paint a pleasant picture of trash incineration.

Zero Waste Solutions

There are many other options besides burning trash.


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