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[greenyes] Waste-to-Energy

Dear Sharon et. al,

Given a choice, we believe that waste incineration -- especially mass
burn waste incineration -- is the more evil choice over landfilling.
Here's our thinking:

-- Incineration produces additional toxic chemicals. Incineration does
not eliminate or adequately control toxic emissions from today's
chemically complex municipal discards. The heterogeneous mixture of
natural and synthetic materials that comprises the urban discard stream
undergoes a variety of chemical reactions during and after
incineration. Even new municipal solid waste incinerators emit toxic
metals, dioxins, and acid gases. Many of the 228 organic compounds
found in incinerator emissions and ash are created during the
incineration process. According to the 1999 dioxin and furan inventory
from the U.N. Environment Programme, municipal waste incinerators are
responsible for 69% of the dioxin in the global environment.

-- Incinerators still rely on landfilling. Far from eliminating the
need for a landfill, incinerators produce an ash residue that is toxic.

-- Incinerators are expensive to build and operate and are the most
costly option available for managing municipal discards.

-- Incineration, perhaps more than landfilling, competes with source
reduction, reuse, recycling and composting. Most incinerators require
put-or-pay contracts stipulating that local governments deliver a
guaranteed tonnage of material to the incinerator or pay a penalty.
These contracts are a major disincentive to maximizing waste reduction,
and thus an obstacle to zero-waste planning and strategies. With
landfilling, if you reduce waste, you extend the life of your landfill.
With incineration, you still have to pay.

-- One alarming new trend is the increase in projects that use
incinerator ash. Incinerator ash that comes from the stack may be
classified toxic and require handling as hazardous waste, but if it is
mixed with ash from the bottom of the burner, it may be labeled less
toxic. Many efforts disperse this incinerator ash throughout the
environment by mixing it into road sub-base materials, asphalt,
concrete, and structural fill.

ILSR's report for GAIA (the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance/Global
Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives), Resources up in Flames: The
Economic Pitfalls of Incineration vs. a Zero Waste Approach in the
Global South, is due to be
released next month. The report lists 20 reasons why waste incineration
is a losing financial proposition for host communities. While it
focuses on communities in developing countries, it is relevant to any
community considering an incinerator proposal.

The importance of revealing the dramatic negative public health and
environmental impacts of waste incineration was a critical starting
point for the anti-incineration organizing battles of the l980's. These
battles defeated 270 of 300 incinerators planned all across the US.
Indeed, ILSR was among the first national groups to alert citizens of
these environmental dangers. See our 1986 report, An Environmental
Review of Incineration Technology.

Throughout we urged the metaphor: Even if you could make the garbage go
away by snapping your fingers and not harming the environment, we would
still be against incineration! Why? Because incineration destroys the
materials that are needed to rebuild our communities and our national
economy. Recycling is the key to all sustainable approaches to
industrial society. It decentralizes the economy, reduces each
community's footprint on the earth, allows for modern production
without depleting or polluting natural resources, it builds community,
it gives communities leverage against an oft-times volatile outside
world, including giant landfill and incineration companies which seek
monopoly control over 'waste' management. Recycling teaches our values
and it reinforces them through daily habits. It comes naturally, and
reminds us of our natural place.

Recycling is important in its own right. Avoiding toxic pollution is a
wonderful dividend of a sustainable society, one that reduces, reuses
and recycles its materials as if communities and matter mattered.

Neil Seldman, ILSR
Brenda Platt, ILSR
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
927 15th Street, NW, 4th Floor
Washington, DC 20005
Phone (202) 898-1610
Fax (202) 898-1612

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