Eyeing Waste to Energy Options

The debate has commenced — the debate over who gets your trash.

Typically, landfills have been the most common dumping ground for people’s trash, but Chris Skaggs, the new executive director for Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal, informed GBC’s Energy & Natural Resources Committee about the benefits of having waste management facilities.

Waste management facilities turn trash into usable energy. He estimates 85,000 homes in various counties throughout Maryland have been provided renewable energy annually. The process is not all that complex. Trash trucks dump their loads into a pit, where an ash management/recovery system separates metals from other trash and burns what is unusable.

Waste-to-energy processes reduce the space trash occupies by 90 percent, turning 100 cubic yards of waste into 10 cubic yards of ash, which generates 13,000 KWh of electricity, Skaggs said. These processes are safe, not harmful to the health of people living and working in their vicinity, and actually reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions released into the air. Such facilities must follow strict guidelines set to protect public health and the environment.

Nations outside of the United States are progressing rapidly on these types of facilities, Skaggs said. Europe creates two to three new facilities a year, compared to China’s four to five facilities. But even in terms of quality, European facilities are becoming advanced. A waste incinerator in Brescia, Italy is close enough to surrounding neighborhoods that a direct pipeline is able to generate heat for a house and hot water — all with a push of a button.

These types of facilities would take major planning around entirely new infrastructures, so the idea of implementing them in United States is a long-term prospect.

Recycling is a key part in the waste-to-energy process, Skaggs said. Of communities with waste-to-energy processes, 33 percent implement recycling tactics. In Montgomery County, recycling is mandatory. Harford County has the highest recycling rate in Maryland, according to a report done in 2009, which Skaggs attributes in large part to the education efforts the county has put into informing its residents and businesses of the benefit of recycling. He said education is the key to getting communities to see the benefit of recycling.

But Skaggs noted some roadblocks to getting the full benefits out of these systems, including the fact that landfilling is less expensive. Waste management facilities in Virginia and Pennsylvania receive large amounts of materials from places such as New York, which has infrastructure issues in terms of finding places to put such facilities, and North Carolina because they are the closest waste management facilities to that state.

Skaggs said building and staffing more waste management facilities in Baltimore could create as many as 650 jobs per facility.

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