Read the full post at ReVolt.
At a May 11 event in Washington, D.C. cohosted by the German Embassy and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, panelists discussed the differences in how Germany and the United States deal with their municipal solid waste (MSW). Germany, which created a national ban on landfilling MSW without pre-treatment in 2005, sent only 1 percent of its MSW to landfills in 2007. Sixty-four percent of Germany’s waste was recycled or composted, and the remaining 35 percent was incinerated in waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities. The United States, on the other hand, landfills 69 percent of its MSW, recycling only 24 percent and using 7 percent for WTE.
At first glance, WTE would seem to be a win-win. It involves incinerating MSW to run a turbine and produce electricity. WTE reduces the amount of space needed for landfills by 90 percent, prevents the expenditure involved with procuring fossil fuels and disposing of MSW, and lowers greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding methane emissions from landfills and replacing fossil fuel consumption in waste transport and electricity production.
But WTE has many opponents, for a wide variety of reasons. Some object to the high costs. In the United States especially, with so much unused land, landfilling is cheap and the economics of any alternative are not good. Other critics worry about local air pollution or simply don’t want an industrial facility that deals in garbage near their homes or businesses. And some see WTE as taking attention and urgency away from recycling and composting (a better method of dealing with waste) and therefore believe it does more harm than good. This post will look deeper into this last claim.