Waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities can offer significant environmental protection, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and play an important complementary role in recycling efforts, according to a new City College of New York report that reviewed the most up-to-date scientific studies of the industry.
The report, titled “The Scientific Truth about Waste-to-Energy” by CCNY professor and chemical engineer Dr. Marco J. Castaldi, calls upon dozens of independent scientific reviews to offer a comprehensive assessment of WTE's influence on environmental sustainability and public health.
The report was peer-reviewed by subject matter experts at Columbia University, University of Maryland, North Carolina State University, State University of New York- Stony Brook, and several international and U.S.-based energy and resource management officials.
“In recent years, it has become evident that local policy makers struggling to manage daunting waste management challenges are doing so with outdated or erroneous information," Castaldi said. "This report is an effort to provide officials with a single source of reliable information that draws its conclusions from a wide range of research and has undergone rigorous vetting by subject matter experts from diverse backgrounds and organizations.”
“My hope is that, moving forward, officials will be well positioned to make policy decisions based on established facts rather than unsubstantiated claims.”
According to recent figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the world currently has more trash than at any point in history—with the U.S. generating nearly 300 million tons a year. Castaldi's report notes the amount of waste to be landfilled can be reduced up to 90 percent when employing WTE.
The report highlights key benefits of using waste-to-energy technology, including significant reductions in GHG emissions, the industry's compatibility with recycling and strong correlation with increased recycling in the U.S., and a significant reduction in the vast U.S. land mass that is being consumed by landfills, which are a significant source of methane.
It also includes peer-reviewed, scientific studies that show WTE facilities do not adversely affect human health and that the highly regulated conversion process has a negligible impact on air quality compared to emissions from trucking and other traffic-related air pollution.
"Until global manufacturing and packaging practices change dramatically, we will have to contend with significant amounts of unrecyclable waste. In the meantime, there are only two ways to manage the unrecycled waste our society produces: landfill it or use it to safely generate energy," said University of Maryland Professor Ashwani Gupta, a member of the peer-review panel. "Every credible study conducted on this subject has concluded converting waste to energy is preferable to landfilling."