Photo via Boston
Trash never gets any love. Just because it's dirty and smelly and it clogs up landfills, it gets a bad rap. That's why Waste Management, the largest waste hauling company in the US, is saying Obama overlooked trash as a huge resource for "renewable energy" when he drafted his green stimulus bill. Some companies have indeed found success in burning trash for energy—in 2007, 450 landfills and 87 incinerators produced about 24 million megawatt-hours of electricity, about 2 days of total U.S. electricity use. So should Obama take out the trash, and put it into the US energy plan?According to Bloomberg, trash companies
say their success producing power from landfills and waste incinerators is being ignored as the U.S. doles out $60 billion in energy grants and tax breaks from President Obama's economic stimulus . . . "We've become the unseen renewable energy source that no one pays attention to," Waste Management's CEO David Steiner said . . . "Why not help us? We are underrepresented because we are the garbage guys."
So $60 billion for wind farms, solar systems, and electric car battery development, and nil for trash-tricity. Unfair?
Maybe, if you like a dose of cancer with your energy production. Part of the "bad reputation" that trash has gotten as an energy generator is from the fact that when you burn it, two of the byproducts are dioxin and mercury.
Dioxin is classified as a likely human carcinogen and has caused changes in the hormone systems of animals and humans and alterations in animal fetal development, according to the EPA. The agency links mercury to impaired neurological development in children and fetuses.
Not exactly a duo we want to welcome on into our atmospheres in any greater quantities, but . . . what's that? Oh, right. The waste companies are planning on attempting to double the amount of revenue they get from burning trash by, well, burning a lot more of it.
Waste Management aims to double power generation's contribution to 20 percent of revenue by 2016, according to Steiner. The company reported $13.4 billion in revenue last year.
That's a lot of burned trash, boys and girls. And the kicker is, that even though the companies are complaining about being excluded from the stimulus, technically they're not: they're eligible to apply for $20 billion worth of funding for energy grants. So we could be seeing a lot more trash shoved into incinerators, and a lot more mercury and dioxin floating around near landfills in the near future. And while better waste-to-energy technology is on the way, right now it's dubious at best to consider it clean energy.
So the answer is no, Obama didn't 'forget' or 'ignore' trash generated energy—he excluded them for good reason. Not to mention that goal of funding sustainable energy is to create a situation that doesn't rely on the generation of new trash. Anna Aurilio, of Environment America puts it best:
"From an environmental perspective, the best solution is to generate less trash, and the garbage industry is not very interested in that solution."
Follow me on Twitter @bcmerchant
More on Trash Incinerators:
Bishop Refuses To Bless New Incinerator In Naples Italy
Dubious Waste-to-Energy Incinerator Project to Put Delhi Waste Pickers Out of Business