Could waste-to-energy become our country’s cleanest source of electricity?

A former top science advisor thinks it can.

For the last 28 years, a waste-to-energy facility in Alexandria, Virginia, has processed trash from the surrounding community. A few years ago, the U.S. Capitol began sending its waste –about 5,000 tons every year – to the same facility, Covanta Alexandria/Arlington, Inc., producing enough additional electricity to power 250 area homes.

According to Paul Gilman, a senior vice president with Covanta and the company’s chief sustainability officer, the facility’s mission is “to make energy-from-waste the cleanest, most renewable source of electricity.” In a recent meeting with E&E News reporter Emily Yehle, Gilman, a former U.S. EPA science adviser, made the case for energy recovery with statistical data. Gilman knows “the country has a waste management problem, and facilities like Covanta are part of the solution.”

In Yehle’s article, she outlines the many benefits of energy recovery:

Indeed, Americans generate about 250 million tons of trash each year. Eighty-seven million tons of that is recycled or composted. Most of the rest goes to landfills. EPA considers burning waste for energy a better alternative to the landfill – and a tool to combat climate change. A 2008 study from the agency found that turning trash into energy reduced carbon emissions by offsetting the need for energy from other sources – like coal – and reducing the amount of methane that trash produces when left to rot.

In order for the vast potential of waste-to-energy to be realized, it is crucial for policymakers to get on-board. As one former lawmaker stated, “This is one of the woefully underutilized technologies in America. And if we can give a boost to a technology that is underutilized, that’s an added benefit.”

The more lawmakers work to support energy recovery investment, the more widely waste-to-energy benefits can be felt.

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