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Posted at 7:40 PM ET, 05/19/2010

Less trash would be the real treasure

By washingtonpost.com editors

By Tim Stevens
Falls Church


The May 15 Metro article “D.C.’s trash becomes Fairfax facility’s treasure” suggested a marriage of convenience between those who produce trash and those who need it to feed incinerators. But it overlooked some serious environmental impacts for which better solutions exist.

To keep the waste-to-energy plants working, the plant operators have to actively seek trash. This contributes to a mind-set that diminishes the importance of recycling. It also plays down the importance of reducing trash generation in the first place by reducing excessive packaging and unnecessary purchases.

Labor unions such as the Teamsters prefer recycling because it produces more jobs than incinerator plants.

The incinerator plants also produce carbon dioxide, perhaps as much as coal-burning power plants. These plants require lots of upfront capital to build, with the funding usually involving taxpayer subsidies. The electricity produced by these types of plants and sold to utility companies can be used to fulfill their “renewable” energy requirements (crowding out purchases of wind or solar power).

Better to focus on minimizing trash than on optimizing its disposal.

By washingtonpost.com editors  | May 19, 2010; 7:40 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Virginia, environment  
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Comments

Incineration doesn't "reduce our carbon footprint" as the original article states. Incinerators emit more carbon dioxide per unit of electricity produced than coal-fired power plants and emit indirect greenhouse gases as well.

Implementing a comprehensive national reuse, recycling, and composting program would cut greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking half the nation’s cars off the road, or shutting down one-fifth of the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

We at the Teamsters support recycling alternatives not only because they create 10 times more jobs than landfilling and incineration, but because our members work in communities polluted by these industries, and our members want to slow the rate of climate change and breathe clean air.

As Tim Stevens points out, it's no accident that our recycling rate in this country is so low - huge landfill and incineration companies need us to throw aware more to feed their beasts and keep the money rolling in.

Posted by: CeliaPetty | May 20, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Maybe you all want to get your facts a little straighter. The largest landfill owning and operating company in the country is also the largest recycling facility owner and operator: Waste Management. They make money either way, so they don't care whether it's through recycling or landfilling. The waste-to-energy facilities are a different matter. You may be right about the comparison to *burning* coal, but you show me a waste-to-energy facility that creates toxic sludge and blows the tops off of mountains, filling the air with pollutants and dust.

Posted by: jenms | May 24, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

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