Sustainable energy comes in many forms. In fact, sometimes energy can be found in a place you would least expect: trash!
By burning municipal solid waste (MSW), waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities turn our garbage into energy, which is then harnessed to create electricity. The Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and its Applied Research Foundation (ARF) released a report last year documenting Europe’s WTE facilities and their thermal treatment of municipal solid waste.
The report covers the benefits that WTE facilities have provided in Europe and why the facilities are so widely used. There is also a section in the report that speaks to how WTE tactics championed in Europe could be adapted to North American markets.
According to the report, Europe is converting waste by the tons into renewable electricity for their citizens. Many European markets have embraced this novel method of extracting energy from waste, and the report shows that WTE facilities in Europe are processing 97 million tons of MSW in over 500 facilities spread across 22 countries.
There are many differences between the waste markets in Europe and North America, so the report is careful to discuss how these differences may affect WTE facilities’ ability to function well in American markets. In particular, it alludes to the legislation that Europe has in place, which deals with the treatment and stabilization of waste before it gets to the landfill. Because of this, European markets are primed for WTE facilities, which has expedited their success.
“In the U.S., many WTE facilities were built in response to a perceived landfill shortage more than twenty years ago, and there was a focus on volume reduction,” explained David Biderman, SWANA’s Executive Director and CEO. “With landfill capacity getting tighter in certain parts of the U.S., particularly New England, there may be additional new opportunities for WTE.”
Biderman’s observation is astute in that it points to the pragmatic function of increasing WTE facilities in America. Aside from creating renewable energy, WTE facilities are often needed to reduce the amount of waste in a landfill in order to make room for more.
SWANA has a keen eye for sustainability, and their work encompasses many aspects of the business. For example, they released an updated technical policy for measuring recycling. The policy looks at quantifying recycling processes to improve a consistent methodology.
We’re glad to see that WTE is progressing and embrace the ingenuity and efficiency this sector has demonstrated.