Environmentalists’ Opposition to Waste-to-Energy
ARTICLE AND RECORDING OF FULL PANEL
Thanks to the Earth Engineering Center for making this knowledge sharing possible
What accounts to some environmentalists’ opposition to waste-to-energy as a component of the overall waste management system?This is a problem that is uniquely difficult in the United States. And a lot of it has to do with our history around science and the birth of environmental science in the 1970’s with Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring and the revelation that chemicals in the environment maybe poisoning us without our knowledge. That caused a political split in our conversation between environmentalists on the political left and the chemical and petroleum industries which moved to the political right. And, we see that alignment existing even to this day. So, when we talk about burning something, and putting it into the atmosphere, the term is called “sky dumping”. The concern is that we are indeed adding to more of those invisible pollutants and polluting the environment and endangering our health.
It used to be the case that that was in fact what was happening. If you burn plastic in a backyard barrel, you increase PCBs and other pollutants that are carcinogens. We have advanced technology now that is implemented through the Clean Air Act all over the U.S. waste-to-energy facilities that has reduced those emissions of toxic chemicals by – in the – high 90 percentile range and in some cases well over 99.9 percent. We are doing a very good job, far better than – for instance – coal fired power plants. When you hear the talk about clean coal, its about trying to catch up to what waste-to-energy plants have done a long time ago.
There is a lot of health evidence from Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, as well as the British Health Protection Agency that have found that there is really no evidence to show that there is any increase in any kind of measurable health effects between those who live close to a waste-to-energy plant and those who do not. So, the concern is really a left-over and a justifiable left-over, but a left-over from 1970’s and early 1980’s era of thinking.
We just need to educate people to get them to realize that this is no longer the case.
Report: Recycling and Waste-to-Energy: Are They Compatible? – Eileen Berenyi (Link to PDF)
White Book: Waste-to-Energy in Austria, Figures, Data and Facts – Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management (Link to PDF)