A while back Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick reinstated the Incinerator Moratorium. The Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has had in place a moratorium on new municipal solid waste combustion facilities since 1990 (greenfutures.org). Incinerators that produce energy are also known as waste to energy facilities (WTE). These facilities burn solid waste (garbage, trash, etc.) and produce energy from the incineration of trash. Many hope this moratorium will increase and expand recycling efforts.
In a perfect world we wouldn’t need incinerators or landfills. The Governor is pushing towards a zero waste society. No society like this currently exists.
Trash still exists even without new incinerators being built. The trash is instead many times being trucked out of state to landfills. This is far from environmentally friendly. Large trucks hauling trash far distances create a large amount of emissions from the diesel trucks exhaust.
Incinerators automatically get a bad rap from people. They're not as evil as most people think. Modern incinerators create energy and power themselves. Most modern incinerators create enough energy to put back into the grid. In Pittsfield, MA a waste to energy facility powers itself and helps power a paper making facility down the street from it.
Many people feel incinerator emissions will increase pollution. They do emit pollutants, but at very low levels. Emissions of incinerator are highly regulated under the Clean Air Act. Incinerators are equipped with modern scrubbers and other equipment to reduce pollution. For every Kilowatt of energy produced by a WTE the emissions are usually lower than from a Kilowatt of energy produced from a coal and oil fired plant.
Landfills are the second option for waste. It’s not a question of if; it’s a matter of when the landfill will fail. Eventually all landfills will leak leachate into the ground water. Within this leachate could be toxic or hazardous materials. Landfills need to be vented as well. The gases vented are mostly CO2 and methane. Methane is highly explosive and a global warming gas.
There are positives to landfills. Once a landfill reaches capacity and is covered the land can be used for a variety of things including parks and small buildings. The methane can also be captured and used to create energy.
There are negatives to Incinerators and WTEs. Incinerators do create waste. There is ash that is leftover and that ash has to be brought to a landfill. Even with waste to energy facilities we still need landfills. Many times this ash is classified as hazardous waste.
As a society we create trash. Every civilization has created waste. We can try and reduce and recycle as much as we can, but some trash will still exist. This waste needs to be disposed of in someway. WTE facilities shouldn’t be totally eliminated. They aren’t the answer, but they are an option for disposing of waste.
Sources: Greenfutures.org Dr. Burton Ogle WCU ENVH Energyrecoverycouncil.org, Is It Better To Burn or Bury Waste for Clean Electricity Generation