Clean Harbors has completed its $120 million waste incineration facility expansion in Southern Arkansas — the first commercial hazardous waste incinerator to come online in the US in almost 20 years, the company says.
The expansion added a third incinerator to the 370-acre El Dorado facility, which incinerates regulated waste materials such as industrial and laboratory chemicals, manufacturing byproducts, medical waste, fertilizers and other solid and liquid materials.
In a statement, the company officials called the new incinerator “North America’s most technologically advanced hazardous waste incinerator” adding that it meets the “most stringent air emissions standards under the Federal Clean Air Act.”
The new equipment almost doubles the facility’s capacity from 90,000 tons of material annually to about 160,000 tons each year.
The project was four years in the making: a two-year permitting process followed by a two-year build. Clean Harbors says it is the largest single capital infusion to a facility in the environmental and energy services company’s 36-year history.
In a recent filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Clean Harbor said the new project will make up a major portion of its capital spending in 2016.
“We anticipate that 2016 capital spending will be approximately $200 million. This includes the construction of the new incinerator at our El Dorado, Arkansas facility, which will account for approximately $50 million of capital expenditures in 2016,” the company said.
More commonly used in Europe, incineration and waste-to-energy facilities remain controversial in the US.
Despite advances in emissions control technologies and Clean Air Act amendments in 1990 brought waste-to-energy facilities under the purview of the federal air pollution regulation, opponents including the Sierra Club argue that waste-to-energy plants pollute the air and that burning trash should not count as renewable energy.
Proponents, on the other hand, say incineration is the safest and best way to manage difficult-to-dispose of waste streams that can’t be reused or recycled. They also argue that for cities and companies to achieve zero-waste goals, energy recovery must play a part.
In an earlier interview, Covanta’s chief sustainability officer Paul Gilman said burning waste for energy saves money on trash hauling, provides a renewable source of power and is better for the environment than landfills. Covanta works with companies including Subaru and American Airlines to help them achieve zero waste to landfill.
“These companies have found that zero waste to landfill is a theme that really resonates with their client base and so they look to us, especially for hard-to-dispose-of materials like paint sludges that can be used to create energy,” Gilman said.
According to the EPA, waste-to-energy plants actually reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere compared to landfilling. The agency estimates these facilities save about 1 ton of greenhouse gas emissions per ton of trash burned.