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Energy from Waste, or How We Eliminate Landfills

How many times have you thought as your carrying your garbage to the curb or driven by the landfill, there must be a better way to dispose of all the waste that is created.  As the land is being converted to just a place to “get rid of garbage.”

As the population continues to increase, so does the amount of waste created.  It is a particular problem as wealth increases in countries like China.

And how many times have you, like me, wondered how we as a nation could find an alternative to fossil fuels to feed the needs of the increasing populations?

What if there was an answer to both of these problems and the answer is here in the United States.  It does exist.  One of the answers is energy-from-waste or EfW.

One corporation that is not only working on the problem, but is in full operation.  Covanta Energy Corporation has over 40 facilities in operation worldwide.  The majority are here in the United States.

Looking at several companies in business currently, Covanta Energy appeared be the only one that converses the waste into electricity.  In fact, according to company information on their website,  they have turned 20 million tons of waste into 9 million megawatt hours of clean renewable electricity each year.  In addition, the process has provided 10 million pounds of steam for industrial use.

In layman’s terms, this is how it works.  You and I take our trash to the curb.   The garbage trucks comes and collects that garbage, but instead of transporting that waste to a landfill that pollutes the environment, the trash is taken to a facility that heats that waste at a high temperature creating steam which is turn is used to create electricity.   Instead of using coal, which is bad in so many ways.  Strip mining comes to mind (see earlier post of strip mining in Appalachia, one of the most beautiful areas of America).  In fact for every ton of waste processed through their plants, it eliminates the need to use 1 barrel of oil or one ton of coal.

Landfills generate methane through the decomposition process.  Methane is a green house gas that has been linked to global climate change and is released into the atmosphere from these landfills.   For every ton of waste processed at  Covanta Energy plants almost a ton of green house gases are avoided.

Their system has drawn the attention of the Army Corps of Engineers for use on the battlefield.  Trash generated by remote bases can through this system be used to create diesel fuel.  In 2008, the Department of Defense supplied more than 68 million gallons of fuel every month to support the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This according to the Government Accountability Office.  (Info from Scientific American )

By converting our waste into energy, we can lessen or eliminate our need to drill and strip mine fossil fuels.  At the same time create a cleaner environment for ourselves and future generations.

National Wildlife Federation

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