Trash or Treasure?

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, or so the saying goes. Waste-to-Energy technology takes many people’s trash and makes it into usable energy, at the same time reducing landfill carbon footprints. As the United States pursues carbon legislation and alternative energy sources, what role will trash have? Waste-to-Energy is a technology that burns municipal solid waste to generate electricity and can provide heat for buildings or industrial processes.  Instead of dumping garbage into a landfill, the waste is taken to a WTE plant where it is used as fuel for making steam and generating electricity. This process reduces the final volume of the trash it burns by 90 percent and simultaneously reduces the carbon footprint of the landfill by converting methane to carbon dioxide. These advantages have made WTE technology attractive to many cities, including Austin. The City of Austin already has a history with Waste-to-Energy that dates back 30 years. In the early 1980s, city staff and outside consultants projected that a WTE plant would have lower tipping fees than a landfill.  In 1984, Austin voters approved a bond to build a $71 million WTE facility in southeast Austin.  A design firm was hired, a site selected, and $20 million worth of design and purchasing of equipment was performed.  In the meantime, environmental and environmental justice groups protested the city’s decision, energy prices dropped, and the project...

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