Waste to Energy? The Burning Question

by Teresa Austin, Asst. Ed.; Civil Engineering Magazine, ASCE World Headquarters, 345 East 47th Street, New York City, NY.,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1991, Vol. 61, Issue 10, Pg. 35-38

Document Type: Feature article


For all their bad press, waste-to-energy plants actually provide a one-two environmental punch—they reduce garbage volume and provide alternative energy. But increasingly, state and local governments overlook these pluses when developing long-term solid-waste management plans: Recycle, reduce or reuse first, then incinerate or landfill. Many states have taken it one step further: Legislate. Thirty two states have recycling programs on the books, with most of them enacted in the last two years. Eighteen programs require communities to meet goals of 25-50% by the end of the decade. Coexisting with the recycling industry is a top priority for the resource recovery industry. The industry likes to point out that many recyclable materials, including glass bottles and aluminum cans don't burn well. Nor does resource recovery necessarily compete for compostable yard wastes (almost 10% of the waste stream), because they're too moist to burn efficiently. Plastics on the other hand are a problem. Plastics can generate as much energy as oil, but can also bring income to recycling programs. Commercial recycling centers pay up to $300 per ton for separated postconsumer plastics, according to a recent issue of Fortune magazine. Newspapers are also a priority of recycling programs but one with a less reliable market. Both burn well and are especially efficient when converted to refuse-derived fuel.

Subject Headings: Recycling | Solid wastes | Industries | Plastics | Waste management | Energy conversion | Power plants | State government

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