This article discusses the deleterious impact that incineration is having on our environment and our health.
U.S. cities have been burning municipal solid waste since the 1880s. For the first century, it was a way to get rid of trash. Today advocates have rebranded it as an environmentally friendly energy source.
Most incinerators operating today use the heat from burning trash to produce steam that can generate electricity. These systems are sometimes referred to as “waste-to-energy” plants.
Communities and environmental groups have long opposed the siting of these facilities, arguing that they are serious polluters and undermine recycling. Now the industry is promoting a new process called co-incineration or co-firing. Operators burn waste alongside traditional fossil fuels like coal in facilities such as cement kilns, coal-fired power plants and industrial boilers.
I study environmental justice and zero-waste solutions and contributed to a recent report about the health and environmental impacts of co-incineration. Since that time, the Trump administration’s lenient approach to enforcing environmental laws against polluters – including incinerators – has deepened my concern. I’ve come to the conclusion that burning waste is an unjust and unsustainable strategy, and new attempts to package incineration as renewable energy are misguided.