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Make that Four Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Renewable Energy

When it comes to waste management, we have all learned the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle (practiced in that order please). But there is another R on the block that should not be overlooked. Waste to Energy (WTE) facilities convert non-recycled waste into renewable energy. This approach to waste management provides a cost effective alternative to landfilling while creating additional economic benefits to local economies.According to a recent study by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) economic benefits include:

  • Creating full time jobs for operation and maintenance of facilities – for the most part, salaried skilled positions with relatively high pay.
  •   Monies spent on waste disposal through WTE can be kept in the local economy whereas many communities choose to dispose of waste in remote regional landfills.
  •  Development of a WTE facility creates hundreds of construction jobs.

For example: Palm Beach County recently announced an expansion to an existing facility. The construction of a 3,000 ton per day unit will create employment for 325 onsite construction workers and up to 600 subcontractors. Once in operation, the facility will employ 60-70 full time workers.

The SWANA study also reports that the US’s  87 waste-to-energy facilities have a power generating capacity of nearly 2,700 MW – accounting for nearly 20 percent of all renewable electricity generation in the United States. And unlike wind or solar sources, WTE facilities can contribute 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, providing baseload renewable electrical power.

WTE is used extensively in areas of high population density. For example, in Japan, 80 percent of the municipal solid waste is incinerated generating nearly 1000 MW of electric power.

In addition to population density, the key is to integrate these facilities into coordinated waste management programs – making sure that recyclable materials are recovered first.

The ecomaine facilities in Portland are a great example of integration. Comprised of a 35,000 ton per year single stream recycling facility, a waste-to-energy plant, and a landfill operation ecomaine provides services to a 44 communities in southern Maine (representing a combined population of 335,000).

Laura M. Thompson, Phd, is director of sustainable development and technical marketing at Sappi Fine Paper North America. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire and an M.S. and PhD in Paper Science from the Institute of Paper Science and Technology.  Since 1995, she has held a variety of positions within the paper industry including R&D, mill environmental, product development for specialties and coated fine paper, and, most recently, sustainability.  Since joining Sappi in 2006, Laura has quickly emerged as an industry leader in the field of sustainable development. This is reposted from The Environmental Quotient with permission from Sappi Fine Paper North America.  For more information, please visit Sappi’s eQ Microsite.  You can also follow @eQLauraThompson on Twitter.

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3 thoughts on “Make that Four Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Renewable Energy

  1. There are almost 40 U.S. states still having NO comprehensive waste recycling mandates.
    If these jurisdictions (Most found in the South, Midwest, Intermountian West) are already indifferent and unresponsive about reducing, reusing, recycling waste, how can they be expected to care about mandating
    Waste-to-Energy facilities for their citizenry?

  2. “a power generating capacity of nearly 2,700 MW – accounting for nearly 20 percent of all renewable electricity generation in the United States” – really? According to the AWEA, “the U.S. wind industry now totals 46,919 MW of cumulative wind capacity through the end of 2011”. The SEIA says that there are a total of 3,957 MW of solar PV capacity installed in the U.S. through the end of last year. And according to the EIA, in 2008, there were a total of over 116,000 MW of renewable electric generating capacity in the U.S. (and that was back in 2008, before recent dramatic gains in wind and solar).
    2,700 MW is nowhere near 20% of 116,000 MW. It is less than 3%.

  3. I am working on an energy policy that would be fostered in a the most remote part of Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan. This region is known as the richest part of water resources in Pakistan and is estimated more than 55000 MW hydroelectricity could be generated but due to not been connected with National Grid the generation could not be linked with industries for utilization due to which no investors attracted to come in and produce power on commercial bases. On the other hand GB Government has limited resources to get the power generated on its own finances. How would I go to get this issue resolve??? needs help.

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