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Governing Magazine explores the potential of converting waste into energy

When Dylan Scott from Governing Magazine took a recent tour of Covanta’s waste-to-energy facility in Northern Virginia, one of the first things that struck him was how much trash this facility processes daily:

[quote]The folks at Covanta Energy’s plant in Alexandria, Va., like to remind you that America isn’t going to run out of trash any time soon. Judging by the unfathomable piles of rubbish being sorted by a three-story-tall crane run by Covanta employees on a summer afternoon, they’re probably right.[/quote]

Each day, Covanta converts nearly 100 tons of municipal solid waste (that would otherwise be lost to landfill) into energy – that’s enough to power 23,000 area homes. The U.S. EPA says that energy recovery “is better for the environment and produces more power than burying it in a landfill and then attempting to extract energy later.”

This left Scott wondering, “So why hasn’t energy recovery become a staple of America’s renewable energy portfolio?”

Underscoring this question is Scott’s comparison with Germany, which converts 38 percent of its waste into energy (and recycles the rest), in contrast with only 12 percent conversion in the U.S.

In his conclusion, he sites three key policy initiatives that could help the U.S. capture more valuable domestic energy from its trash:

  • Ease permitting processes for energy recovery facilities,
  • Lead by example: Diversify government’s own energy purchases
  • Redefine energy recovered from waste as a renewable

The more people know about the benefits of converting America’s waste into energy, the louder the drumbeat.

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