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Furthering Waste Reduction Through Waste To Energy Recycling

Illustration by Kelsey King

Illustration by Kelsey King

Waste to Energy (WTE) plants have been a viable waste reduction tool for quite some time. But they have still produced waste in the form of ash. Now that ash can be recycled.

Covanta, a leader in sustainable energy, and TARTECH eco-industries, a German firm, have joined forces to launch the first metals recycling project reclaiming ferrous and non-ferrous metals from WTE ash. Appropriately, the project has been launched in Massachusetts, which is a national leader in U.S. recycling policy and sustainability efforts.

A few of the benefits that are expected to result from this collaboration:

  • Recovery of thousands of tons of metals from the Peabody Ash Monofill
  • Reduction waste deposited in landfills
  • Reduction of greenhouse gasses
  • Energy savings
  • Creation of new high-paying jobs 
  • Increased revenue opportunities for the town of Peabody

While these benefits would seem to make this project a no-brainer, WTE is still highly controversial, and has met with significant opposition in many parts of the country. Incinerators are banned in many states based on concerns that the burning process releases toxins such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, the acid gases, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen chloride, ordinary smoke and soot, known as particulates, which can contain dioxins and solid metals, and mercury. However, modern WTE technology operates at much higher temperatures than their older counterparts, and they operate at close to zero emissions. This is prompting many states (including Massachusetts) to reexamine their bans and take another look at WTE technology.

Another opposing view claims that WTE undermines recycling efforts. If trash can be burned away then consumers can continue to dispose of unwanted household materials and buy new. And the manufacture of virgin materials puts a higher burden on our natural resources. This claim, however, is not borne out by the evidence.

According to the European Environmental Agency the five European nations with the highest recycling rates (Sweden, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and Austria) recycle at least 50% of their waste stream, and virtually all other waste is used in WTE plants. Austria is recycling 70% of its waste. This means that at worst these countries are still recycling 20% more of their waste than we are in the U.S. (currently our recycling rate is approximately 34%).  

We should also recognize that recycling is not a waste-free activity. Even with the newest MRF plants using advanced fiber optic technology about 10-15% of the material that goes in comes out as landfill matter on the other end. Likewise, WTE produces ash waste. The ability to reclaim metals from the ash answers one more of the opposition’s questions.


Covanta TARTECH Commences Metals Recycling Project in Peabody, MA (via MarketWired)

SOURCE: Covanta Energy November 14, 2013 15:59 ET Project to Recover and Recycle Ferrous and Nonferrous Metal From Ash Monofill PEABODY, MA–(Marketwired – Nov 14, 2013) – Covanta TARTECH, LLC, a joint venture of Covanta Energy Corporation, a world…

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