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Are burning garbage a suitable method to dispose of it? Waste incineration

Burning garbage is a tradition that has existed for decades across America. United States and municipal solid waste incinerators have provoked protests in several locations. Being an environmental justice researcher who works with disadvantaged communities, I view burning trash as a poor solution for managing waste.

While these facilities generate electricity by heating the air from burning waste, Their primary function is to dispose of trash. The emissions from burning waste exacerbate environmental injustices, cause risk for the host communities financially, and decrease the incentive to adopt more sustainable waste management practices.

I recently co-authored a report that outlines indicators of declining within the U.S. industries of waste disposal due to a variety of factors. It includes a fluctuating revenue model, the aging of facilities, high operational and maintenance expenses, and the growing interest of the public in reducing waste pro,moting environmental justice, and fighting climate change.

However, 72 incinerators are still in operation today throughout the U.S. A majority around 58 or more than 80% of them – are situated in communities of environmental justice, which we defined as places in which at least 25% of the residents are of low income, persons of color, or both. Incinerators can exacerbate the cumulative effects of numerous sources of pollution on the overburdened communities.

Environmental Justice Flashpoints

The majority of waste incinerators are located in the northeast states and Florida states, which have large populations and small landfill spaces. Some states provide economic incentives that are favorable for incinerators, like allowing them to earn credits for renewable energy when creating electricity.

In the last year, environmental justice advocates have been able to shut down the incinerators located in Detroit, Michigan, and Commerce, California. It is worth noting that the Detroit incinerator was built during the 1980s and was funded by more than US$1 billion of public funds borne through local taxpayers. Groups such as BreatheFree Detroit as well as Zero Waste Detroit have rallied the city’s residents to protest against the public funding and health costs that the facility imposed on communities that were impacted by environmental justice. The plant was shut down in March 2019.

The California plant shut down in June 2018, following an entire year-long campaign led by two community-based organizations, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice and Valley Improvement Projects, to stop incineration from being eligible for state-funded renewable energy subsidies. The plant eventually shut down when the power purchase agreement for 30 years in partnership with the city utility was terminated lef,t the facility with no source of revenue.

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Aging facilities

The average lifespan is 30 years. The majority of the waste incinerators that are operating within the United States are at least 25 years old.

The revenue of these facilities comes principally from tipping fees waste haulers are required to pay to dump garbage and then through the generation of electricity. These streams of income are not stable and could threaten the stability of the sector’s finances. There have been at least 31 incinerators that have shut down since 2000 because of issues like insufficient income or financial difficulties to fund the necessary upgrade costs.

Maintenance and operations costs generally get higher as plants age and their performance diminishes. Modernizations, like the installation of new equipment for pollution control, could cost thousands of millions of dollars, sometimes over US$100 million.

The large capital expenditures pose a risk for host communities, which typically offer public financing via tax hikes or bonds. These measures pose a threat since the energy and waste services that generate revenue are less long-term and are subject to changing regulations and market conditions. As plants get older, their environmental performance can be affected as time passes, creating more risk to the environment and the health of the public.

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Jane S. King

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