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Renewable Energy Vision
Expert analysis on the most pressing issues facing the renewable energy sector in the U.S and abroad from ACORE staff, members and supporters.

From Trash to Treasure

Published on 02 Jul 2014  |   Written by    |  

Wherever there are people, there is waste. That’s just a fact. However, what humanity has chosen to do with that waste has changed throughout the years. First, of course, we didn’t do anything. But that wasn’t sanitary, so we started to bury it. Now, advances in technology have made burying waste inefficient.

Thanks to significant innovation, we can now go above and beyond burying waste by recovering valuable energy and materials from waste that was destined for a landfill. Waste-to-energy is an advanced clean energy industry that creates jobs, protects the environment, and isn’t susceptible to wild price swings driven by foreign affairs. It’s time we take notice.

The Energy Recovery Council (ERC) is doing their part to make sure we do notice. The organization recently released their 2014 ERC Directory of Waste-to-Energy Facilities. The report provides some interesting facts on the impact of the industry.

Taking waste and turning it into electricity gives an entirely new meaning to the term “one man’s trash is another’s treasure.” And according to the ERC report, America is already taking advantage of all that treasure, with 84 facilities in 23 states. Those 84 projects have a generation capacity of 2,769 megawatts, and they process just more than 30 million tons of trash per year. That waste would have otherwise been sent to landfills, which is the third largest source of methane emissions in the United States.

In addition to avoiding landfilling, waste-to-energy offsets the need for fossil fuel plants, which reduces the carbon intensity of the nation’s power sector. In fact, according to EPA, waste-to-energy plants avoid approximately one ton of carbon dioxide equivalents for each ton of trash processed. So not only are these projects recovering valuable energy from waste, but they’re fighting climate change as well.

Renewable projects can have a very positive economic influence on local economies, and waste-to-energy projects are no different. Consider Palm Beach Renewable Energy Facility #2 in Palm Beach, Florida, which will process 3,000 tons of trash per day and have an electric capacity of 96 megawatts.

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(Palm Beach Renewable Energy Facility #2)

Despite its unassuming name, this project is set to deliver some exciting economic and environmental benefits to Palm Beach when it commences operation in 2015. It has already created 900 direct jobs during its construction, and it will employ over 60 full-time employees for decades to come. In 2015 alone, the facility will spur $176.4 million of economic activity! On top of all that, he project will power 45,000 homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an incredible 874 million pounds per year.

The good news is, Palm Beach isn’t the only municipality that can take advantage of this efficient, job-creating, sustainable technology. The source of this clean energy can be found pretty much anywhere, including in the trashcan near where you’re sitting. That’s pretty innovative. And with more than 60% of the nation’s waste still being buried, there is substantial room for growth in both the recycling and waste-to-energy sectors.

You know what they say: “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Maybe soon they’ll be saying “when life hands you garbage, make clean energy.”

Kyle McGuiness

Kyle McGuiness is a Communications Associate with ACORE.

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