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New Studies Underscore Potential for Increased Waste-to-Energy Facilities as Alternative Energy Sources

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Studies Show Counties with WTE Facilities Have Recycling Rates above National Average.


Today the American Chemistry Council released a series of case studies on four U.S. counties which turn municipal solid waste into energy using so-called waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities. The studies, which examined facilities in Marion County, Oregon; Olmstead County, Minnesota; Palm Beach County, Florida; and Westchester County, New York, were conducted by Government Advisory Associates, Inc. of Westport, Connecticut.

The four facilities serve a range of populations, from 141,000 at the smallest facility to 1.3 million at the largest. The smallest facility processes 60,000 tons of municipal solid waste annually, and the largest facility processes ten times that amount. Westchester County, New York, for example, produces enough electricity to service 41,000 homes and displace the use of 243,000 barrels of oil each year. The four case studies also showed that non-recycled plastics contribute 25 percent to 35 percent of the total energy recovered from municipal solid waste in each of the counties.

Importantly, the four case studies also found that WTE and recycling are complimentary—not competitive—processes. Consistent with prior studies that have found that communities with WTE typically have higher than average recycling rates, each of the four counties studied achieved recycling rates higher than the national average.

“As the United States strives to enhance energy diversity, energy recovery—including waste-to-energy—should be part of the mix,” said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council. “Plastics, including non-recycled plastics, have energy content that should not be overlooked as we develop renewable and alternative sources.” 

Currently in the United States, there are 86 WTE facilities that process nearly 30 million tons of solid waste annually, recovering enough energy to power 2 million homes—enough to save the equivalent of 30 million barrels of oil and prevent the release of 40 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Russell emphasized that there is a tremendous potential to increase these numbers—and a source of domestic energy—by expanding waste-to-energy in the United States.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the United States currently recovers the energy from about 14 percent of waste through WTE facilities. But these technologies are more prevalent in Japan and Europe, which use WTE to recover energy from 75 percent and 40 percent of municipal solid waste respectively. 

Plastics makers strongly support the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s waste management hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycle and recover. Each of the four facilities studied is part of a waste management system whereby residents first place recyclable plastics in recycling bins with other recyclables before non-recycled materials are converted into energy to power local homes and businesses.

In addition to energy, the case studies examined landfill diversion, employment, recycling levels, reductions in fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, and air emission controls. The full studies, executive summaries, and an overview are available on ACC’s website.

Source: American Chemistry

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