In addition to recycling and composting, there’s another way communities can help fight climate change – by converting more of their waste into energy. The Center for American Progress (CAP) recently published a great story on how recovering energy from waste reduces greenhouse gas emissions and supports local economies.
According to CAP, the United States currently generates 390 million tons of trash per year, or 7 pounds per person per day. The majority of this waste is sent to landfill where it sits and decomposes, emitting greenhouse gases like methane.
The issue brief cites EPA’s findings about the positive environmental impact netted from energy recovery:
According to the EPA, for every ton of garbage processed at an EfW facility, approximately one ton of emitted carbon-dioxide equivalent in the atmosphere is prevented.
CAP’s report also indicates that even the best attempts by landfills to trap methane gas fail to achieve the emissions reductions found through energy recovery:
EPA scientists concluded that sending waste to EfW facilities is the better option not only for generating electricity, as the technology is capable of producing 10 times more electricity than landfill-gas-to-energy technology, but also because greenhouse-gas emissions from landfills—even those with optimum conditions for capturing methane and turning it into electricity—are two to six times higher than those generated from EfW facilities.
Along with environmental benefits, CAP underscores the positive economic impact that energy recovery has on the economy. In Connecticut, energy from the waste industry is creating jobs and producing significant revenue for the state:
Connecticut has the highest percentage of its waste going to EfW plants of any state—about 70 percent of its nonrecyclable trash—and nearly 25 percent of its waste is recycled. According to Eileen Berenyi of the research and consulting firm Governmental Advisory Associates, EfW in Connecticut contributes $428 million annually to the state’s revenue and has created nearly 1,000 jobs.
Recently, more states and communities have begun to explore what energy recovery technologies can do for them. CAP presents several insights into how energy recovery can help fight climate change while boosting local economies.