September 7, 2017
GAIA, an international environmental network, and the Tishman Environment and Design Center at The New School released a new reporttoday that finds “zero waste to landfill” and similar landfill diversion or “waste-to-energy” programs may rely on increasingly unregulated co-incineration of waste in cement kilns and coal plants. In fact, the nation’s largest waste company, Waste Management, and other similar companies are already pursuing co-incineration.
Though touted as a sustainable waste management practice, co-incineration faces economic, environmental, and operational challenges and businesses and cities that use it face increasing scrutiny. Just last month, a firm called RePower lost a key government contract in Virginia to process municipal waste for co-incineration, which sent ripples through the industry.
“Consumers are looking for businesses to be leaders in sustainability, and to rely on incineration, in any form, is to squander an opportunity to truly embody the sustainable models that customers demand,” says Monica Wilson, Research and Policy Coordinator at GAIA.
This controversial practice is described in a new report called “Green businesses and cities at risk: How your waste management plan may be leading you in the wrong direction,” which sheds light on the practice of waste burning under the guise of landfill diversion or energy generation. The report also highlights an EPA loophole that recently made co-incineration of waste in cement kilns and boilers more dangerous, with weaker emission regulations and reporting requirements.
“To some businesses, the concepts of ‘zero waste to landfill’ or ‘waste-to-energy’ may seem to be alternatives that are not associated with the distasteful concept of burning waste, but these terms are misleading euphemisms,” says Ana Baptista, Associate Director for the Tishman Environment and Design Center at The New School. “Incineration is at the core of these practices and incineration is becoming increasingly scrutinized for inefficiencies, high costs, financial risks, and pollution.”
“Cement kilns are major sources of air pollution, with a history of serious Clean Air Act violations across the nation. As a cement industry watchdog for a quarter-century, Downwinders at Risk knows all too well the threat to public health posed by burning wastes and plastics in cement kilns. The only thing recycled are the toxins into our lungs,” said Jim Schermbeck, Director of Dallas-Fort Worth-based Downwinders At Risk.
The report is released as Dow Chemical and Keep America Beautiful accept a round of applications for two new locations in their “Hefty Energy Bag” program to collect plastics for co-incineration in cement kilns or other facilities.