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Frequent Questions about Energy Recovery from Waste
- How does energy recovery relate to renewable energy?
- Is municipal solid waste considered a renewable resource?
- Will I get money if I send my trash to waste-to-energy facility?
- What is the best way to manage our trash?
- Are MSW combustion facilities subject to Clean Air Act (CAA) standards?
- How many MSW combustion facilities are there in the United States?
- Why isn't MSW combustion more common in the United States?
How does energy recovery relate to renewable energy?
Our country is searching for alternative fuel sources to power our nation. Renewable energy sources such as wind, biomass, and solar can be used to supplement coal and oil to produce energy. The carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with combustion of plant or animal-based products (paper and forest products, yard trimmings, food discards) are considered to close the loop in the natural carbon cycle. The CO2 emissions from combusting these materials are not counted in greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories. Conversely, CO2 emissions from materials that are made from fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, coal) are counted in GHG inventories, because these emissions would not enter the cycle were it not for human activity. Similarly, methane (CH4) emissions from landfills are counted in GHG inventories because, CH4 would not be emitted were it not for the human activity of landfilling the waste.
Is municipal solid waste considered a renewable resource?
MSW has been defined as renewable in several places. The EPA-finalized rule (March 2010) titled Regulation of Fuels and Fuel Additives: Changes to Renewable Fuel Standard Program defined the biogenic component of MSW as renewable. Many states grant renewable economic credits to facilities that use MSW to produce electricity or fuel. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 includes MSW-derived electricity as a renewable energy resource. Also, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included a production tax credit for renewables, which included a one cent per kWh tax credit for energy produced from MSW.
Will I get money if I send my trash to waste-to-energy facility?
No. MSW combustion facilities operate on negotiated contracts with municipalities. The same collection system that takes trash to landfills also takes trash to MSW combustion facilities.
What is the best way to manage our trash?
Municipal solid waste (MSW) is composed of different materials or commodities, many of which have both economic, energy and environmental value. The hierarchy of how to manage MSW illustrates the preferred management options, starting with source reduction. Each community must find a way to balance environmentally friendly management options with what is economically feasible. Using an integrated waste management strategy to get the most value out of MSW can help a community sustainability manage waste.
Are MSW combustion facilities subject to Clean Air Act (CAA) standards?
Yes. MSW combustion facilities operate in conjunction with air emission standards set by the EPA.
How many mass burn MSW combustion facilities are there in the United States?
There are 86 mass burn facilities in the United States.
Why are MSW combustion facilities not more common in the United States?
MSW combustion accounts for a small portion of US waste management for multiple reasons. Generally speaking, regions of the world where populations are dense and land is limited (e.g. many European countries, Japan), have greater adoption of combustion with energy recovery due to space constraints. As the United States encompasses a large amount of land, space limitations have not been as important a factor in adoption of combustion with energy recovery. Landfilling in the United States is often considered a more viable option, especially in the short term, due to the low economic cost of building an MSW landfill verses an MSW combustion facility.
Another factor in the slow growth rate of MSW combustion in the United States is public opposition to combustion facilities. These facilities, as explained in the Basic Information section, have not always had air emission control equipment, thus gaining a reputation as high polluting. In addition, many communities do not want the increased traffic from trucks or to be adjacent to any facility handling municipal waste.
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