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Science writer highlights how recovering energy from waste helps fight climate change

In a recent article for the Huffington Post, science writer and founder of ScienceDebate.org Shawn Lawrence Otto writes about how misperceptions concerning waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities have actually worked against the effort to address climate change.

Otto characterizes opposition to WTE technology as “misguided,” and adds:

Today’s Waste To Energy plants (WTEs) are not your granddaddy’s trash burners, and some liberal groups…are starting to look at the actual science and reevaluate long-held assumptions in light of new information and increasing concern over climate change. When they do, they are finding that today’s Waste To Energy plants look surprisingly good for the environment and for fighting climate change.

In the article, Otto points out that Americans recycle and compost 94 million tons of waste annually, and that even if that rate doubled, a significant amount of the solid waste would still be landfilled.

So, instead of burying this untapped energy source, Otto contends that a better option would be to harness the energy potential of our waste by increasing the use of technologies that can convert waste into energy or fuels to power America’s homes, transportation and businesses.

And Otto explains how increased use of energy conversion technologies would help address climate change at the same time.

In regard to questions about the environmental impacts of WTE facilities, Otto notes that the Clean Air Act requires WTE facilities to have the most modern air pollution control technology available.

According to Otto, “This new equipment must meet or exceed the EPA’s Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) Standards. WTE plant emissions are far below the limits the EPA set as safe, and get better all the time.”

Otto also points out that diverting solid waste to WTE facilities greatly reduces the amount of methane (72 times more potent than carbon dioxide) emitted into the atmosphere. Specifically, one ton of municipal solid waste processed in a WTE facility prevents one ton of greenhouse gas emissions from being created in a landfill, which helps combat climate change.

There are many demonstrated environmental and economic benefits associated with energy recovery.

“American liberals and environmentalists who care about climate change need to reexamine the science and get behind expanded recycling and waste to energy programs. Fortunately for the sake of our children, a few bold leaders are starting to do just that,” Otto said.

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