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Incinerators’ incentives are to burn, not to recycle

In Shawn Lawrence Otto’s Community Voices commentary, “Waste-to-energy technology is cleaner and safer than generally believed,” he acknowledges “maximum recycling effort should be put in to remove all recycables and compostables before the remaining waste is disposed of in a landfill or a WTE facility.” Agreed. However, when he states, “Evidence shows recycling and WTE are complementary,” I ask: What evidence? I have yet to be presented an incinerator contract that includes “maximized” recycling, or any significant recycling other than the removal of “white goods.”

If you read the contracts of the two companies that operate the 89 facilities in the U.S., you’ll find incentives to burn in order to increase electricity production. Also, the service operator can receive additional payments (what I have termed “burning bonuses”) if additional material is “processed,” aka burned. Within the contracts there are no processes (nor incentives) to recover recyclable material.

Additionally, Frederick County, Md., is currently in the permitting stage of building this country’s first incinerator in over 20 years, and in its solid waste management plan it states, “The proposed WTE facility will be constructed and operated with energy recover[y]. The singular identifying feature of mass-burn facilities is they do not process incoming waste prior to combustion, other than the removal of and recycling of bulky white goods and other bulky items that may inadvertently be delivered to the facility.”

Any increase in recycling rates are due to the steps taken by the community to divert or to recycle materials, and cannot be attributed to using an incinerator since the two processes compete for the same resources. If recycling were truly maximized, then the “fuel” for these facilities would be minimal. I encourage people to read the incinerator service contracts before trying to make a positive correlation between burning resources and recycling.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 06/10/2013 - 02:30 pm.

    An important point, well-made.

  2. Submitted by Matt Johnson on 06/10/2013 - 03:43 pm.

    Common sense

    It seems like common sense and I appreciate your writing on it.

    We definitely need to maximize waste avoidance, than recycling and finally other options after that. I think companies should be on the hook for how their old products are ultimately recycled. I just watched a documentary called Terra Blight and it’s absolutely horrible the e-waste that’s going to third world countries and into land fills.


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