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RE: [greenyes] Waste-to-Energy


At 10:39 AM 3/8/2004 -0800, you wrote:
Dear GreenYes-
I hesitate to raise this issue, but here goes. The City I serve sends its
refuse to a waste-to-energy plant. I'm conflicted about the relative
environmental impacts of landfilling vs. WTE. It is my understanding that
our WTE plant meets Air Quality Management District standards. Obviously,
the AQMD does not regulate everything, and you only know about the
emissions that you test for. WTE has more immediate impacts from what is
coming out of the stacks, as compared to the more long-term (and
uncertain) groundwater and other impacts from landfilling. But is it
possible to truly label one of these as the lesser of two evils? Is one
really lesser?

Well, you are asking for a comparison between two unacceptable alternatives. But you already know that.

IMO, any comparison in general terms between incineration and landfilling is going to be somewhat arbitrary, depending on the assumptions, how wide the net is spread, and the weights assigned to different impacts. For example, incinerator promoters claim that greenhouse gas emissions are reduced because one is burning garbage rather than fossil fuels. Recycling advocates point out that a lot more energy can be saved by reusing resources than by burning them up. People just tend to select from the argument that fits their interests. Generally community health advocates are a lot more concerned about toxic emissions that "global warming." On the other hand, fat-cat policy-wonk enviro organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists may disregard local concerns. Pick your priorities.....

Now, if you want to compare the specific alternatives being used by Long Beach, it gets easier, in the sense that you can find out how much poison your incinerator is putting into the air (lots!) v the groundwater threat of the landfill you are using, both immediate and longer term (of course, nobody will readily agree). You can find out what is in your waste streams and whether there is any purposeful separation between what is burnt and what is dumped. But how are you going to compare the significance of ten apples v five oranges, or whatever. How do you compare the long term and the short term?

I would argue that the definition of acceptability that consultants and bureaucrats like to use (compliance with current laws and regulations) is about the least inherently significant.

All this is why one has to end up back with "zero waste" and how to get there....

"Waste to Energy" is a propaganda term of the industry. None of the waste gets "converted into energy" or anything like that....

Alan Muller
Green Delaware


I am personally fully committed to zero waste. However, the City that I
serve continues to generate "waste" and this is an issue I have to deal
with on a daily basis.

When you respond to this post, please do so gently. I am not responsible
for my City's policies, for WTE in general, or for much else in this
world. Please do not offer suggestions as to how to get rid of our WTE
plant. I'm really looking narrowly at the lesser-of-two-evils question.

Sharon Gates
Recycling Specialist
City of Long Beach, California
562/570-4694

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