Capitol Hill to adopt growing energy recovery process, waste-to-energy, as part of larger sustainability effort

The Architect of the Capitol (AoC) announced last week that Congress will begin converting up to 90 percent of its non-recyclable solid waste into electricity through a process known as waste-to-energy (WTE) – one of the “woefully underutilized technologies in America,” according to Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA).

Traditional waste-to-energy involves converting non-recycled materials into electricity, although newer conversion technologies transform non-recycled plastics into alternative fuels, such as diesel, crude oil, etc.

AoC expects the energy recovery program, beginning in November, will generate enough electricity to power a major Congressional office like Dirksen or Longworth for several months.

Ted Michaels, President of the Energy Recovery Council (ERC), a national trade group, spoke positively about the AoC announcement:

Waste-to-energy is recognized around the world as a renewable, low-emission power source and a sustainable waste management tool. It also provides thousands of well-paying, clean energy jobs that can’t be exported. It is extremely encouraging to see Congress stand behind this technology in a bipartisan way.

In its 2010 Directory, ERC lists 86 waste-to-energy plants currently operating across 24 states. Combined, these facilities can process more than 95,000 tons of municipal solid waste per day, generating approximately 2,700 megawatt hours of electricity – enough to power 1.7 million homes for a year.

Today, it is estimated that 7 percent to 12 percent of U.S. trash is converted into electricity through the WTE process, while 60 percent goes to landfills and the remainder is recycled.

However, of particular value among the heap are non-recyclable plastics, which boast a higher energy value than other municipal solid waste and can be diverted from the landfill to conversion facilities to create oil and fuel.

From the plastics industry’s perspective, recycling and energy recovery can work hand-in-hand. For example, many communities with energy recovery have recycling rates that top the national average as shown in numerous case studies.

Important yet often overlooked, energy recovery complements recycling while providing the U.S. with another valuable source of domestic alternative energy.

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